Prague, Futuroom, and the new hyper-local news hybrid.

I’ve thought for quite some time that print journalism had no future.

In the beginning, I thought that all a newspaper had to do to save itself was to embrace multimedia and video.  However, after being a proponent of this approach for over three years, I began to see that this was also not working. Newspapers were still dying and it seemed there wasn’t a heck of a lot anyone could do about it.

Newspapers were becoming obsolete because of the medium on which they are printed:

  • Newspapers take a lot of capital to create. Think: printing presses, ink, trucks, man-power.
  • Newspapers do not allow for comments, hyperlinks, video, or real-time updates. It’s a one-way conversation.
  • Newspapers are out of date the minute they are delivered.

By all measures, the newspaper is inferior to the instant delivery of news over the Internet and mobile phones because the news is trapped in the inferior medium of PAPER.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a conference in Prague called “Brave new world: media and businesses facing the crisis.” The conference was organized by Futuroom with support from Atex and Google.

(I was asked to speak about my ‘lo-fi’ approach to quickly making compelling video, using amateur equipment: cell phones, point and shoot cameras, Flip Video cameras etc. I believe that by focusing on the fundamentals of storytelling, planning, and technique, anyone can make a great video in a short amount of time.)

Images from the Futuroom Media Conference in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Up to the moment I spoke in Prague, I really didn’t think I had much to say in terms of HOW the newspaper could be saved. In all honesty I had given up on newspapers at that point.  Instead, I was there to tell journalists how to keep up with prolific 18-year-old budding filmmakers and citizen journalists, who were beginning to change the way in which video is created, consumed, and monetized. I was there to tell journalists how to survive once they were laid-off.

I was there to show journalists a way to survive  the ‘newspocalypse.’

Maybe it was jet-lag, but at the time I spoke at the Futuroom conference I still didn’t understand onto what I had stumbled.  As the day wore on, I realized that the Futuroom project was actually DIFFERENT than any other approach I had heard of to save journalism.

The Futuroom approach did not rely on ever more byzantine ways of protecting and profiting from original content (such as the AP is attempting.) It also did not focus on crafting new ‘micro-payment’ or subscription based revenue models to create new revenue for relatively archaic traditional news services.

Instead, Futuroom’s plan is to encourage hyper-local reporting, as well as genuine interaction between professional journalists and citizen journalists.

The bold claim of Futuroom is to have the most hyper-local news available, by combining forces between traditional journalists and citizen journalists at the most local level.  Futuroom understands that citizens are already participating in creating news stories.  Instead of pushing back against citizen journalism, Futuroom works WITH citizen journalists, creating a new hybrid newspaper model.  In light of this, Futuroom is building cafe/newsrooms where citizen journalists will collaborate with professional journalists to provide constant, hyper-local coverage.  (Futuroom will also train and equip citizen journalists…more on this in the next post.)

In return, small communities get extremely relevant and local news coverage.  Also, advertisers are able to target very specific customers.  And the national newspaper that Futuroom produces from these hyper-local branches, will be unparalleled in depth and national coverage, with only supplemental international news pulled from the wire (AP, Reuters, AFP, etc.)

It is too much to go into here, but suffice to say, I extended my trip to Prague.

During my time in Prague, I taught an impromptu documentary ‘lo-fi, hi-style’ video course, trained the first wave of Futuroom journalists, then stayed on an additional fours days to film a documentary about Futuroom.

I did this because I believe Futuroom may hold the key to the future of journalism.

They are taking truly bold steps in the Czech Republic. I was there to witness the very beginning of this project.  It is my goal to show you, and the world, what is happening there through my short film.  I want you to be the judge as to whether or not the Futuroom system makes sense.

To me it is the only thing new under the sun in terms of journalism and I can’t wait to share it with you.