News ways of doing news business
Despite the popularity of electronic media, newspapers are far from dying. Moreover, the newspaper methodology of gathering and generating news is still the default means used around the world.
"The print media newsroom, with its in-depth reportage, is still the content engine for most online news," said Justin Arenstein, a distinguished investigative journalist who is now manager of the $1-million African News Innovation Challenge.
The challenge is looking for "disruptive" digital ideas for improving the way in which news is collected and disseminated, and AfricanNewsChallenge.org has announced the 40 finalists (including the clever Green Hornet project from South Africa) for the inaugural competition.
It aims to "spur solutions to the business, distribution and workplaces challenges that face the media industry".
Arenstein said: "There is a fallacy, almost manic depression, that journalism is dying when, in fact, more people than ever before are consuming news. The difference now, though, is that they're getting it through different channels."
But though journalism isn't under threat, the legacy media's business model is.
"Advertising is the mainstay for traditional media, but advertising is following the audiences and is moving elsewhere. The uncertainty that this brings to media's revenue model means the media have become very risk-averse.
"What we're trying to do with this innovation challenge is take away some of that risk by offering seed-funding for experimentation."
African News Innovation Challenge will give grants of between $12500 and $100000, and technological and business support, to an expected 20 winners, who will be announced on November 10.
"How do you get people to engage with your content beyond the traditional media model," asked Arenstein, who believes publishers need to think of news in a different way: "as something of a utility that people will use to make decisions".
A crime report, for instance, should tell a reader "what it means in the greater scheme of things, what it means to me (from a hyperlocal and hyperpersonal perspective) and the report should then tell me what I can do about it.
"The big shift here is that we need to engender action," said Arenstein.
Stories in Kenya, for example, about the schooling crisis are accompanied by apps that let parents see if their child's school is affected. The app allows them to take action, either through petitioning or some kind of proactive outreach.
"In Kenya this kind of reporting has changed laws and government services. South Africa has a lot to learn.
"This more proactive approach doesn't erode the journalist's role as a reporter because all that we are doing is giving citizens the tools to self-organise, to engage with the government or other civic organisations.
"The media become an empowering, or change, agent."