Do It Yourself or DIY helped build Home Depot, and it built one of Scripps' prime cable properties, DIY Network. Now it looks like a vanguard of journalists, fed up with endless downturn, moanin' and groanin' within Old Media, is blazing paths in DIY Journalism. We've had many websites that have re-purposed news -- from the early Snaps and Excites to the latter-day Googles, Yahoos and Topixs. Clearly there's been lots of gold in that re-purposed journalism, with a few trinkets trickling down to the journalists who produced the journalism, and their employers. Now journalists are seeing that the technology of web creation and distribution becoming more transparent, and they are starting their own businesses or moving to start-up websites.
This week's news tells us about the pugnaciously named Baltimore Bulldog. It's a project involving newspaper people and public radio people, with a nod to involving serious online ad expertise, to interactivity and to engaging community content. "The point is not to create a printed newspaper online but to do something that couldn't possibly be done on paper," says Sean Carton of the Bulldog.
On Jan . 23, The Politico, backed by Allbritton Communications, will debut in DC. It's a political inside-the-Beltway website/targeting paper. The talents come from Bloomberg, Time Magazine and the Washington Post. And it is hiring on young reporters to add "energy" to the Beltway names -- Mike Allen, Roger Simon -- that will draw first readers. ThePolitico is trying to get the "online first" dynamic right and using the deep databasing abilities of the web for its political junkie readers.
Both new ventures show us the energy of DIY, a good antidote to these troubled times of layoffs, budget cutbacks and the-end-is-near gloom and doom. Clearly the underlying financial models for new ventures -- contextual ads, sponsorships, non-profit funding, angels, etc., etc., etc. -- are uncertain and ungainly. But combine them, with more than a dash of enthusiasm and sense that good journalism reaching readers who want to use modern media to learn and to know, and you have the beginnings of a future, rather than just the handholds of past glories.
Many journalists -- I've talked with several -- are dusting off business plans, seeking ways forward (apologies to President Bush and Ford Motor). In 2007, I think we'll see more of such efforts. Some will harness user-generated content, trying to artfully combine it with professional journalism. Others will be heavier on local knowledge, or local investigation. Still others will be portals of commentary and opinion.
It all reminds me of one of my first Internet epiphanies. Some time in the early '90s, I participated in a Knight Ridder session at Harvard (yes, that's one of the reminders of what a then-forward-looking journalism company could provide its people). Professor Jeff Rayport told us about this weird idea called "disintermediation." He drew out a top-to-bottom flow chart. At the top: a singer, say Springsteen. At the bottom, you, the music buyer. In between, agents, labels, distributors, retailers. He drew a looping line from Springsteen to you and said, that's the relationship the music buyer wants, to hear Bruce's music. Direct-to-buyer sales, or close to it, he said, was the promise of the Internet, and it would cause economic havoc and opportunity. That world has begun to develop, fitfully, and it's giving journalism fits.
DIY Journalism, growing, becoming sophisticated and increasingly networked, is one of journalism's futures. It is getting the news, gathered, written and analyzed by professionals, to the readers. Now all we have to do is figure out how to pay those professionals professional wages. Onward.