This page includes remarks made by Bill Densmore on Dec. 2, 2009 at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Workshop: “From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” Densmore was part of a panel entitled: “The New News.” (WORKSHOP COVERAGE)

Excerpt of testimony by Bill Densmore to U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop, Dec. 2, 2009

In a story about the Project on Excellence in Journalism’s 2009 “State of the News Media” report, Time Magazine’s M.J. Stephey concluded March 16, 2009: ” . . . [I]f solutions aren’t obvious, the report’s overall message is: Will the future leaders of journalism please, please stand up?” It’s time for the nation’s news creators, aggregators and technologists to do so — together.

THE TESTIMONY: Considering personalization . . . privacy . . . trust . . . advertising . . . commerce

The defining challenge for news organizations in the 21st century is no longer managing proprietary information, but helping the public manage our attention to ubiquitous information. In less than a decade, we have moved from a world of relative information scarcity — access restricted by a variety of technical choke points — such as presses — to a world of such information abundance that the average user’s challenge is not how to access information, or even how find it, but how to personalize and make sense of it.
The Internet as we know it today is not up to this task. To unleash a new user-driven attention economy, the next-generation Internet needs a common platform for sharing user identity and trust, one which explicitly values and allows us to trade our privacy, and makes a market for digital information in the classic retail-wholesale model. In such a world, the new news organizations will thrive, but they will become convenors and aggregators as much as original content providers. They will have a new way to exchange value for information and to participate in trust relationships.


This system . . . platform . . . clearing house . . . should uniformly exchange payments for the sharing of text, video, music, game plays, entertainment, advertising views, etc., across the Internet. It could, for example, manage background — wholesale — payments for content that is repurposed for advertising gain by bloggers, collecting, sorting and settling copyright and other value exchanges among users, publishers and aggregators.

A big idea

It’s easy to think of this as too big an idea — one which will require significant technology and infrastructure. That’s true. To be compelling, the system must have solid technology, a structure that enables the new-media service economy, and a motivating mission and culture. It must be ubiquitous, yet never be owned or controlled by either the government or a dominant private, for-profit entity. It should to be massively distributed and — in some fashion — might ideally be collaboratively owned. It should ride on the existing web, and not interfere with it.
We have achieved this once. When the U.S. defense establishment developed the Internet, its goal was a massively distributed system that would withstand nuclear attack. Forty-some years later, it is the Internet’s design that itself has exploded our information culture more thoroughly than any feared warhead might. But while the system has succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination at opening up access to information, it has done little to enable the transfers of value to nuture and sustain that information. The Internet eliminates physical information product scarcity, becoming the perfect copy machine. As a result, the product-based models sustaining information creation crumble — first in music, now in newspapers, and possibly in books, magazines, video and music. What’s needed is a ubiquitous social network that enables consumers to share value for information services.

The attention economy

So we are now in the attention economy. In the attention economy users seek an experience which values their time and attention, providing them access to the information they need . . . from anywhere . . . quickly and easily. Before the Internet, this was a role served pretty well by daily ink on print. Today the product embodiment of that idea — the newspaper is failing to keep up to the task. We are moving toward a new paradigm, part aggregator, part content creator, part social network and we are searching for a name for the service — for lack of a better term, I’ve called it the information valet and it has been the focus of my research as a Donald W. Reynolds fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism over the last year — and earlier, with the founding in 1994 of what has become Clickshare Service Corp.,which I’m part owner of, and which has a potentially [ related patent.]
It also has lead to the creation, in a major equity partnership with the University of Missouri and with investment from The Associated Press, of a company called CircLabs Inc.. But there is a missing piece — the need collaborative, transparent, non-profit ownership of needed clearing house for information transactions. My hope — and I am speaking only for myself — is that for a missing piece can be formed as something called the “Journalism Trust Association” (or Information Trust Association).
The [Information Trust Exchange Governing Association] can guide the creation of new standards and a platform for exchange of user authentication and transaction records which enables a competitive market for information, respecting and enabling consumer privacy and choice. Like common-gauge railroad tracks, interstate highways or standard, 60-cycle current, this platform should create a level playing field for the things sought by speakers yesterday (Dec. 1, 2009):

  • The “gold-standard” measurement of user-access to web resources sought yesterday by Scripps newspaper executive Mark Contreras.
  • The opportunity (but not the requirement) to charge for content sought by News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
  • The user-controlled personalized advertising which will allow Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post to thrive without charging.
  • And the accountability to users for their privacy sought by the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester.

To make a new market for digital information — and attention — we need to start creating a unique ownership and governance framework, assembling the required technology, and assessing the impact on law, regulation, advertising and privacy. If you’d like to help build this idea to reality, please contact me.
remarks end


A service network of “information valets” should replace the old physical product-oriented music, publishing and entertainment industries, replacing many CDs, newspapers, DVDs, perhaps even books. These valets will compete across geographic and topical spheres with search, advice, community, research, linking, hosting, data storage and other services. They will compete to be best at meeting the consumer’s diverse information needs within communities defined by individual users. Information resources will not typically be owned by the valet. Rather, the valet will be compensated for finding, shaping and referring them to the consumer, much as a retailer aggregates and merchandises for wholesalers.
The information valet will be a service organization — like a law or accounting firm — and it will be paid accordingly. At first, it will be extremely difficult to convince people to pay for such a service. But as the years go by, it will be seen as an absolutely indispensable way to get through the day. People will become as reliant on their infovalet — their “Newshare” — as on their car, doctor, parent or colleague. Larger cities will have multiple “new shares” — offering competing information-valet services.
They will compete largely on technical grounds — which sorts best, who finds the real gems, and who provides premium information at the right price bundle. Advertising will be part of all this, but it will be an option — if you are willing to receive advertising, the cost of your “Newshare” will be less.

Privacy as a service

But the competition for mass-audience advertising on the web is such that it seems hard to imagine sustainable rates will ever support the amount of original reporting the United States has enjoyed for the last 50 years. Audiences are now atomizing and the only future for advertising is in presenting targeted messages to individual users. This means the entity that earns the right to receive value for advertising is going to be the one which does the best job of understanding and then servicing the needs of an individual user — including privacy. In the information-service economy, you information valet will be paid for arranging your attention when you look at an ad, and that payment will be a credit to an account, will offset your purchase of premium information. This represents an ebb and flow of attention and info-currency, depending upon whether it is information someone wants you to have or information you want.


  • Journalism is expensive, and mass-market web advertising alone will not sustain it.
  • Charging for content puts up walls that destroy the brilliant utility of the open web.
  • Sustaining journalism requires rethinking the very notion of advertising, and of news as a service, not a product.

With a new [Information Trust Exchange] ecosystem, the news industry may:

  • Migrate from its historic role as the most-trusted consumer information source in print to a ubiquitous advisor, authenticator and retailer of news, entertainment and service information from anywhere.
  • Aggregate for advertisers audience measurement and selected demographic data by unique users whose identity persists across a federated network that also tracks, aggregates, sorts and shares revenues.
  • Put in place technology for the optional sharing of content by subscription or click with sophisticated pricing and bundling options.

While revenues and advertising will be shared, each owner-user of the collaborative will retain complete control of its existing customer (reader/advertiser) base, including name and account information. Demographics will be shared only based upon the opt-in permissions set by consumers and the joint business rules of the collaborative owners.
The initial form is likely to be a news-based social network, strongly relevant content, absolute control for users over their demographic and financial data, and a means to share, sell and buy content from multiple sources with a single account. The network will support news content creators by delivering high-value commercial content to end users; and will enable a two-way flow of payments or reward points in consumer accounts.

The vision: New revenues for news

To earn new revenue, news organizations need to quickly migrate their historic role as the most-trusted source of information from the product-oriented print world to a service-oriented digital “ecosystem.” The Information Valet Project at the Reynolds Journalism Institute is organizing an information-industry collaborative to build, own and operate a shared-user network layered upon the basic Internet. The IVP network will:

  • ADVERTISING — Advance the role, effectiveness of, and compensation for online advertising and marketing services via the ability to deliver targeted, interest-based advertising to individual, known consumers.
  • PRIVACY — Allow end users to own, protect — and optionally benefit by sharing — their demographic and usage data, with the help of their competitively chosen “information valet” – such as their local newspaper.
  • SOCIAL NETWORK — Provide a platform for customizing, sharing and personalizing the end-user web experience – a “news social network” with one ID, one passworld, one account and one bill.
  • TRANSACTION — Allow online users to easily share, sell and buy content through multiple websites with one bill, one account, one ID and password which work at a plurality of participating websites. </h4>


The origins: “Blueprinting the Information Valet economy:
Dec. 3-5, 2009, Columbia, Mo.

  • More than 50 editors, writers, technologists, publishers, entrepreneurs, academics, researchers and students gathered Dec. 3-5, 2008 at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. Their pre-arranged mission: invent a new way to sustain the role of journalism in participatory democracy. Their approach: Create a shared-user web network for demographic privacy management, advertising and information commerce.

The report: “From Gatekeeper to Information Valet: Work Plans for Sustaining Journalism”:
Wed., May 27, 2009 / 10 a.m.-4 p.m. / The George Washington University / Jack Morton Auditorium / 805 21st Street NW / Washington D.C.