The solemn burial of The Bulletin earlier this year sent even the most stoic media professional into a long, hard navel gaze. Things used to be so simple. Once, all the news you ever needed could be found in your local newspaper, supplemented by a smattering of high profile national magazines. But the internet changed all of that. Newspaper content went online, free for anyone, anywhere to read. Classified advertising fled to Google, eBay and Craigslist. The distribution monopoly that media barons enjoyed for centuries dissolved inside a decade. So it goes.
But now, in a world where anyone can create a blog for free in five minutes and many people (including me) no longer buy newspapers, the journos are fighting back. Scott Karp, former Director of Digital Strategy for Atlantic Media (publisher of The Atlantic magazine), recently launched Publish2, a new US-based venture providing a platform for the aggregation and digital distribution of news. You might already be asking, “Doesn’t Google News do that? Don’t Digg and Techmeme and del.icio.us do that?” Well, here’s the kicker: Publish2 is just for journalists.
In his blog post launching Publish2 back in August 2007, Karp stated that Publish2 was “creating a platform for networking the one group of people who are disproportionately more likely to be effective news filters across every conceivable topic: journalists”.
While this is likely to warm the cockles of every journalist’s heart, it’s not likely to ingratiate Karp or Publish2 to the many non-journalists out there who think their taste in news is impeccable. But Karp isn’t interested in engaging in the parlour game of defining the official boundaries of journalism.
“One of the reasons why bloggers have so much influence on the web is they are the ones linking to everything,” says Karp via phone from Virginia, USA. “Those are the links that Google reads and determines what shows up in search results…. Journalists don’t link to anything, so they don’t influence anything on the web. We want to give newsrooms the power to do it as a network with many other newsrooms, so they can gain more influence on the web.”
Publish2 allows members to bookmark articles on the web. Soon, it will have a voting function similar to Digg where users can vote for stories that appeal to them. Digg is a wonderful resource if you are looking for quirky videos or for tips on how to re-engineer a Mac. But the most popular stories on Digg are usually confined to the fairly narrow interests of its small cadre of hard-core users. Karp wants to network journalists in newsrooms around the world. The most impressive feature planned for Publish2 (being tested this year by Knox News in Knoxville, Tennessee for US election coverage) is the ability for news organisations to embed secure RSS feeds of stories bookmarked on Publish2 by selected journalists. The business model will be advertising-based rather than enterprise licensing.
“Right now most media companies put content online. That’s it,” says Karp. “Then they put it under their brand, because that’s how people always found it. Most media companies don’t help people do the fundamental thing that they want to do on the web, which is find content. That’s why search dominates the web.
“The traditional media mindset says, don’t link someplace else, don’t send people away – you want to keep people on your site…. But I can think of a company on the web that does nothing but send people away. All it does is link to someplace else. It sends people away and sends people away and sends people away. That’s all it does and, amazingly, people keep coming back again and again and again, and that allows the company to make ten billion dollars. When you look at Goggle as the fundamental entity of the web, you realise that if you do a good job sending people away they will keep coming back to you. In many ways we want media companies to be more Google-like.”
Armed with the premise that publishing content on the web is now free, Karp established Publish2 with business partner Robert Young to tackle what they believe is the fundamental challenge for the web right now – distribution. With so much content online, they’re searching for the balance between the traditional, non-scalable, hierarchical command-and-control editorial decision-making process and the new, open, gameable free-for-all exemplified by Digg.
Karp has far loftier ambitions for Publish2 than creating merely a digital scrapbook for working journalists, and he has the support of new media doyens such as Jeff Jarvis. The idea is to break down old media silos and allow cross-pollination of news based on the new reality of the web. Publish2 will embrace the blogosphere and its reportorial intimacy and immediacy. But the sources will be qualified by experienced news professionals.
Read the FULL TRANSCRIPT of Paul Ryan’s interview with Publish2 co-founder, Scott Karp. Click here.
Paul Ryan is editor of Australian Anthill.
UPDATE: On 31 March, 2008, Karp and his colleagues at Publish2 announced that the venture had raised US$2.4m in a series A funding from Velocity Interactive Group.