One of those rare times when you get to hear someone a real journalism entrepreneur talk about what has worked and what hasn’t with their start-up.
— A note on Bobbie’s Hacks/Hackers London talk, taken from an insightful post by Kevin Anderson on the future of investigative journalism.
Further reading on The Ghost in the Cell
At the end of each MATTER piece, we give you a list of references — both academic papers that relate to the story and further reading if you’re eager to find out more about the topic we’ve covered.
This month our further reading included a Scientific American piece by Eric Nestler, whose work we refer to, on the "hidden switches in the mind" ($). Then there’s this Nature piece on epigenetics and a New York Times column on "why fathers really matter".
But of course it doesn’t stop there.
Reader Briggio pointed out this TIME story on a study showing women who were abused as kids are more likely to have children with autism, and there’s also an intriguing study on inherited traits in plants.
Ask not what the crowd can do for you…
Last night I spoke at the Hacks/Hackers London meet up as previously advertised. Others on stage included John Bracken of the Knight Foundation (via Skype) and David Leigh, the award-winning investigations editor of The Guardian. The subject? Business models for journalism.
It’s obviously a big, scary topic. It’s also one where people don’t actually share very much, so it was edifying to hear (and speak) about terrible things like spreadsheets and expenses and sustainability. And what’s clear is that there are no answers and many answers all at once: John admitted that Knight wanted to do more to make journalism projects viable beyond its philanthropy; David outlined a future of donor-sponsored investigative journalism that was both important and terrifying (because, as he pointed out, free-spending donors suddenly have a lot of indirect power over editorial).
(photo courtesy of Juhi_Tweets)
I chipped in by talking about how, at MATTER, our relationship with our supporters has helped us test and improve what we do as a business and a service — and all with sustainability in mind: things like our Kickstarter campaign, of course, but also product development (supporter feedback is why we added audiobooks for our Members, but have stepped back from offering them deals) and (with our co-piloting programme and our collaborative commissioning process). It was a lot of fun and people seemed to get something out of it.
Charming, funny, story from @readmatter at hacks & hackers tonight. This is the (2nd) closest I’ve seen to the future of journalism.— Martin Alderson (@martinald) March 20, 2013
Best thing about the night, though, was the tremendous audience. They were full of great questions and helpful advice about ways we could make our payment services work better for us, get stories funded, and try to push what we do in new and interesting directions.
Watch this space.
Why less is more
One of the core principles that underpin what we’re trying to do with MATTER is that less is more.
What do I mean? Well, all over the web, and all over the media in general, we’ve seen a gigantic, supernova-sized explosion of stuff. We joke about information overload, but it’s real: a while ago Google’s Eric Schmidt said that we now produce as much information in two days as we have managed in the previous 12,000 years of human history.
For publishers, that vastness has caused its own pressures. What do you do when the world is shouting a million times louder than ever before? The answer for many seems to be to shout back: publish more stories, about more things, and try and distribute them to more and more people.
But does that really make sense? There may be an apparently infinite supply of material; there is certainly not an infinite supply of attention. Being bigger and carrying more stories may not always be the best way to get that attention.
When we were trying to understand how MATTER might work, we quickly realized that it wasn’t just a case that we couldn’t publish big stories every day — it was that we wouldn’t.
We think that publishing a careful, discrete amount of stories is a strength, rather than a weakness, because it allows us to focus on doing the best possible job in all kinds of ways.
For example, we’ve done a lot of thinking about what happens when you aren’t trying to build an online publication that produces 5, 10, 50 or 100 stories per day. What stories become possible that weren’t before? What can you do that turns that lower frequency to your benefit? What can you do that everybody else struggles with? How can you promote the stories you produce? How can you talk about them?
We’ve learned a lot and listened a lot, and we think that less can most definitely be more. I’ll share some more on the ideas of how to make that happen in the next post.
Bobbie, MATTER co-founder