New Media for a New Kind of Economy

Crowd at Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1938.
Crowd at Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1938.

Things were looking pretty rough for the economy when I started to fill these pages with content in January 2009.

For many journalists, the recession meant that though many of us were collecting unemployment, we could begin to experiment with the blog format without traditional media managers looking over our shoulders. Innovation started happening on these pages at the edges of the industry and there was no going backwards.

Brooklyn The Borough’s new model was developed outside of the mainstream media, yet is imbued with the lessons of traditional media’s ethical platforms for reporting and discovery. The only thing that has changed here is the business model – now it includes you. We’ve created a new role for independent local business in media, that reflects our new freelance economy and gives creative people a local platform to bring in new customers and up cycles that desire to support a local free press by and for the people.

The hierarchical structure of traditional media and the business interests that support it means that power and money are centralized with information, repackaged and filmed or printed up nice and pretty for consumption. That is a passive action.

The inherent problem the internet poses to this model is that replicating the passive hierarchical structure here is antithetical to what the internet naturally wants to be: a horizontal network of equal interests who all have something to say.

Don’t get me wrong – there is much value in the vaunted halls of American journalism and scholarship and the daily reporting done all over the world. The people who bring you those stories are professionals and they should be compensated as such. Frankly, if we want this type of honest journalism to flourish, public media and non-profits like ProPublica are the way to go. There just isn’t one way to do things anymore, there are many.

As the world moves to a mobile digital platform, our devices have become our megaphones out to the world.  Local Wikis have popped up to crowdsource the local knowledge base of colleges and towns across the country. On twitter we have seen private people instantly transform themselves into citizen journalists, relaying what they see. Many of our mainstream media networks have begun culling this citizen data to report on their communities. Many more will follow the crowdsourcing trend and try to profit from it. They will want you to give them your time and your content for free and they will sell advertising based upon that value.

There is no financial or reputational reward for citizens who distribute information in this way. Information and profits are centralized with the media company. This is especially true for performance and art related content. Media organizations want your video, interview and special streaming audio for free, but don’t feel comfortable posting links to where an audience can actually support artists financially.

Here is why we need cooperative public media: so that our local information systems are kept democratic and reward quality content creators, not pageviews. Citizens, artists and DIY businesses should have as much of a voice in local media as any corporation. Those free speech values are overwhelmingly supported by the creative and independent commercial ventures in Brooklyn. Now this new central media information source will connect us all in the same decentralized way we share and learn in real life.

Many of our formerly independent local news sources are now mediated by their corporate interests. News Corp owns The Brooklyn Paper, AOL owns the Patch blog network, and by the looks of local web ads, the dominant local blogs in Brooklyn sway heavily in the favor of local real estate interests.

Local food entrepreneurs need more than Groupon and Yelp. Many of us live here and actively participate in the cultural landscape Brooklyn offers; now that landscape requires its own cultural media and digital economy that is not the passive consumption experience offered by Time Out, Ticketmaster and iTunes.

Brooklyn The Borough’s new model for cooperative public media taps into the cooperative culture that has taken hold all over the borough. In fragments on blogs, we see citizen journalists popping up where they see a void in relaying crucial information, building blogs and live streams for local bands to promote themselves and artisan e-commerce is booming. Let’s get together and build a place for everyone to connect these dots, share art, dialogue and the necessary information to be informed citizens who support our local economy.

Brooklyn The Borough is a platform that builds out into the digital world what our real physical culture is eating, seeing, doing and sharing. It connects people to local ideas and resources in a natural word-of-mouth way that supports our independent culture and economy. The more of us reporting on it from all angles and interests, the better quality information we’ll get.

People follow information that provides substance and connection to their interests and we’ve built with that in mind. By getting rid of banner ads and building a borough-wide skill and resource share forum; Indie Interchange marketplace for local sales, openings, deals and tickets; and a central events calendar for art, music and civic events, we will engage all corners of Brooklyn to participate in sharing and expanding our local knowledge base of culture by inviting the crowd to participate. But it will take all of us to join in one tiny little piece at a time and contribute actively to make this community a success.

We’d like to work on sustaining our local DIY culture all year around by expanding their audience and informing people about the DIY culture and cooperative lifestyle all around the borough. This sounds better than swooping in on Tuesdays and Thursdays to call our artisans trendy.

Here, independent speech and independent commerce go hand in hand. Forums for sharing resources and local sales of deals for food, art and live music will live next to citizen and cultural reporting on the real time news happening all over the borough. The more you contribute content, the more visible your reputation and your business will be to the community and you can translate that cultural capital into real sales in the same place.

If you’re an author with a new book out, contribute an essay or excerpt of your book and we’ll link to where readers can buy it. If you have a band, post your new video or audio stream and link to where people can get tickets to see you. If you run a movie theatre, post reviews of the films you screen and we’ll post ticket links. If you run an art gallery write about the artists you love and add your opening event to the borough’s events calendar for maximum draw.

The incentive will be to contribute content that reflects your experience, art and business in Brooklyn. Everyone can contribute to the community, on whatever topic they choose, and all authors will have profiles that denote their business and interests, as they desire. As in life, the source of information will mediate the trust we have for the content. Editors of the site will copy edit and post the content, meaning that quality will be top priority and you won’t get stuck with a libelous Yelp review.

We are offering initial memberships through our crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo.com. Your membership in the community is tax-deductible and supports the maintenance and growth of the community. Everybody starts out with a two-year membership and a profile customized with any relevant social media, video and live stream embeds. If you have a YouTube, uStream, SoundCloud, podcast, eBook, etc, your profile links up with it directly.

Brooklynites ($5 or $15) are content creators – artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers – who are seeking a local audience for their material: journalism, photography, theater reviews, fiction, featured local art, music, movies and ideas.

Beta Testers ($25) get to be the first to build a profile and give the new crowd sourcing content system a whirl in early 2013.

Indie Interchangers ($60) are local small businesses, blogs and venues seeking new audiences by promoting content, events, tickets, openings, sales, and digital coupons. Interchangers can set up a free profile right now to start.

You only share profits – a small percentage based fee – if you make them from selling deals or tickets through our pages. Those dollars are also reinvested into maintaining and growing the site and producing community events. If you only want to promote your stuff and don’t want to sell through Brooklyn The Borough, then just become a member at your level and start uploading your content. Write it off your taxes, and boom – you’ve just created a new two-year promotional revenue stream for next to nothing, and it does good in your community by creating a public media platform for everybody.

Anyone who signs up can post any combination of multimedia content like text, music, podcasts and video. Instead of ads alongside the content, each article will have tags – notable topics mentioned for the local people, places, things or events that are discussed. Click on tag links to delve further into information on specific topics for natural active discovery led by you, the reader.

This content is already being created by you – for four years it has filled my inbox everyday about the people, places and amazing cultural experiences this borough has to offer. Here is a platform for all of us to share it, because I can’t do it alone – I need your help.

Join Brooklyn The Borough and support cooperative public media for Brooklyn’s future, and keep independent business and speech strong in our Bohemian burg! Support our IndieGoGo campaign right here.

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