Billy Penn and Knight Foundation want to build ‘Yelp for mobile news’
Jim Brady doesn't think the press can afford to keep trade secrets anymore.
In the years before the Web came along and blew up the business model for journalism, the media landscape was much less volatile. If one publisher gained the upper hand on its competitors by dint of innovation or improved strategy, that technique could eventually be rediscovered and replicated in a stable business environment. Not so today.
"We're all trying to figure this stuff out at the same time," Brady said. "You could afford to not pass any of your trade secrets on to your competitors when you're dealing with pretty static technology, like a printing press. But as journalism has changed and the tools have changed by the day, there's so many things that we're all trying to learn."
He speaks from experience. His current project, a mobile news site covering Philadelphia called Billy Penn, was preceded by a run as editor in chief at newspaper chain Digital First Media. Before that, Brady ran TBD, a local news site in D.C. under the auspices of Albritton that folded about two years after it started. (Disclosure: Brady is also a member of Poynter's National Advisory Board, a body that consults with the institute on its direction and priorities).
In the hopes of imparting some of his hard-won digital experience to a new generation of publishers, Brady is partnering with The Knight Foundation to create what Knight deems an "interactive, real-time mobile journalism guide." Brady and Billy Penn will use a $106,000 grant from the foundation to build a site that he hopes will take some elements of Yelp and Wikipedia to build a resource for a community of mobile news leaders.
The idea stemmed from talks between Brady and Jennifer Preston, the vice president for journalism at The Knight Foundation, Brady said. Over the course of their discussions, they realized that annual journalism gatherings like the Online News Association conference leave something to be desired for mobile publishers who crave quick feedback and guidance in a rapidly changing media environment. Brady, who was formerly president of ONA, kept getting asked, "what is mobile-first news?" It's a question he thought deserved a more definitive answer.
"After I answered the question for the 30th time, I thought to myself, 'maybe we ought to just come up with something,'" Brady said. "An idea that allows people to answer that question instead of asking me at a conference, they can actually begin somewhere and read up on what makes mobile-first — from a design standpoint, an editorial standpoint, a storytelling standpoint, a revenue standpoint."
Brady and The Knight Foundation haven't yet hammered out the exact details for the site, but a few key components are coming into focus. It will be searchable, and it will have some kind of social component — a sort of rallying point around which mobile news entrepreneurs can exchange information and share their stories of success and failure.
"Let's try to formalize the 'huddling for warmth' philosophy that we've all had in digital for 20 years, which means sharing, talking to each other, helping each other — and try to do that in some way that could help people in a more broad basis as opposed to a word of mouth," Brady said.