How can government coverage survive and make money? Searching for a business model, covened by Bart Peecs.
Last summer, John Fine's media column in Business Week featured a story "Harry & Louise on Steroids." In it, he says the issue-oriented advertising was the only growth area in an otherwise negative picture. Bart asks, how do we capture some of that $50 million in revenue and use it to support the conversation about these issues?
Certain sections of the traditional newspaper have brought their advertising with them to the net, for example, travel, food and fashion. You can create a travel directory for a local area, include basic "Yellow Pages(r)" listings, then sell upgrades to local businesses and attractions. (Most real estate advertising has migrated to the web.)
Would it be possible to create a site that would attract funds from lobbyists wanting to present their unedited positions and videos in an open community space that would also offer links to opposing views? It could contain information about the lobbyists, to whom they donated, the sponsor's legislative agenda and (moderated) reader comments.
Others in the group, including citizen lobbyist Nancy Amadei, ask, where's the value-added? She feels most of this information is available, if you know where to look. A searchable directory and tools for activists would be nice, as would a place to collect various groups' legislative agendas, with keyword search/tags. It would be nice to show the ratings of various legislators by various interest groups. It would be nice to list corporate and contract lobbyists (and government affairs staffers) in a more user-friendly way than the Public Disclosure Commission's site, perhaps by interest area or committee issue (Transportation, Health). We would also like to be able to see who gave what to whom among lobbyists. Some of this research has been lost in shrinking the Olympia press corps. While all these would be nice to have, none would seem to be enough to generate a revenue stream.
How would this website work for the public-interest lobbyists who have no budget and couldn't afford to pay, Nancy asked. They would get a bare-bones listing. Of the 900 lobbyists in Olympia, Bart figures there are 10 to 20 percent with money. Is the model like a voters pamphlet or Town Hall? What is the average citizen's need, vs. the savvy activist and government-watcher? It supposes a very motivated user. Nancy says the information about the lobbyists' donations is known and passed around by advocacy organizations. Trying to understand and track the budget is a whole different thing. Because there are no bill numbers, and negotiations go on in caucuses, individual budget items are very hard to track.
Besides Washington Votes (www.washingtonvotes.org) and the State Legislature's site itself (www.wa..eg.org) a new site called Knowledge as Power (www.knowledgeaspower.org) was supposed to be live before the 2010 legislative session, to provide bill-tracking, but it is still under construction. It got a grant from Progressive States Network.
Minnesota has two magazines that cover the MN legislature in great detail, says David Poulson, who teaches in East Lansing MI. Only lobbyists read them, at a high cost.
The UpTake in Minnesota has live-streaming video of the legislature, and covered the whole Al Franken recount by aiming a robot camera at the proceedings and recruiting several dozen volunteers, including students, to watch them for hours on end and to comment in the concurrent chat and Twitter when something interesting occurred. It drew a lot of comments and an editor would look at the time stamp, get the video, edit a five-minute highlight tape and post it. Traditional and non-traditional new media used it. This inexpensive technique is "video with a crowd filter." Tube Mogul lets you distribute it to multiple media and video sites. As curator, The UpTake owns the video steam and can sell it. They have a Knight grant to get teams of students to organize a "bot" camera to video legislative sessions.
In Olympia, TVW has cameras in every hearing room and in the House and Senate chambers. Others must get permission in advance to film, by building. TVW is a 501(c)(3) with exclusive rights to its footage.
By this time we were all aware and very appreciative of the powerful potential of Trevor Griffey's Olympia Newswire (www.olympianewswire.org) expanding coverage in Olympia from eight to 11 full-time reporters (a 37.5% increase!). Trevor is a University of Washington history Ph.D. student ("with very little to lose") who launched this idea four months ago. His fiscal sponsor is Real Change, a successful weekly Seattle alternative newspaper. Real Change has contracted to cover the human services beat in Olympia. Two other reporters are covering education and the economy (budget, jobs, taxes), all areas that Griffey believes are getting short shrift in the MSM.