Browse the FAQ
- Why are we called “Important Media”?
- What does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs have to do with web content?
- Who is Important Media’s audience?
- Is Important Media for profit?
- What is our business model?
- How do we compensate our editorial team?
- Why did Important Media choose this editorial compensation structure?
- If Important Media’s mission is more “important” than maximizing profit, what is it?
- What values back up our mission?
- Do we consider Important Media to be engaged in “social enterprise”?
- Where did Important Media’s current sites come from?
- What did GO Media do right?
- What do we want to do better with Important Media?
[spoiler] We define it specifically through our own interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy. If it fits that, it’s “important” to us. Our take on Maslow’s hierarchy: (starting from the bottom, with current sites in parenthesis)
- Priority 1: Nature – air, water, planet, and its ecosystems (PS)
- Priority 2: Civilization – business, economics, self-sufficiency, energy, infrastructure, transportation, industrial design (IE, EP, GBE)
- Priority 3: Daily Life – family, household, community (EDB)
- Priority 4: Society – civic affairs, politics, social justice, internet society, opinions and profiles of thought leaders (RGB, EL)
- Priority 5: Creativity – art, philosophy, crafts, fashion, culture (CGW, FGS)
[spoiler] We realized that Maslow’s insight into individual needs provides an apt metaphor for humanity’s broader needs. As it becomes increasingly complex, our civilization becomes more fragile. Industry that once barely scratched at the earth’s pristine resources now threaten the planet’s homeostatic components: air, water, fisheries, forests, ecosystems, and climates which collectively create the basic assumptions of our everyday lives — and society as a whole. Without a livable natural environment, there’s no point in worrying about the civilization we build on it. That’s why our Priority 1 amounts to “where do we stand on the whole killing our planet thing?” Assuming we figure out how to clean up things like the BP oil spill, and the planet remains livable, though, we’ve still been building our civilization for some thousands of years without thinking about how to do it sustainably. For most of that time, it didn’t matter. But the rapidity of growth in the last few centuries is obviously unprecendented. We hockey-sticked it bigtime in every important category: energy, technology, production, population, infrastructure, etc (P2). The next great question for our civilization is how to make sure it remains/becomes resilient rather than fragile in the face of its own complexity. That’s why our Priority 2 amounts to “how do we upgrade to economy 2.0 in order to cushion/stave off black swans: war, economic collapse, disease, famine, overpopulation?” Assuming we figure out how to avoid letting things like stock market glitches and derivitives destroy commerce as we know it, we’ve still lost much of the sense of self-sufficiency and connectedness that created vibrant homes and communities in our idealized past. Everyone wants to like the place they call home. Healthy, efficient homes and active, supportive communities are within our reach, and have the lowest barrier to an individual making an immediate difference. That’s why our Priority 3 amounts to “how do can people regain a sense of contentment in the tedium of daily life? Assuming we figure out how to find daily meaning in what for many are lonely, disconnected daily lives and surroundings, we still can’t ignore the inherent human need to contribute to a greater whole than our immediate surroundings. The internet has become a conduit for mass participation of all kinds, including civic affairs, politics, social struggles, technological innovation, and many others now and to come. Both the grassroots and the new leaders that inevitably emerge provide examples to inspire and fodder for debate. That’s why our Priority 4 amounts to “how do we organize our society in the midst of rapid social change, and what are the implications?” Assuming we figure out how to organize and enable a connected, globalized society, we’re well on the way to reaching the full potential of human creativity, beauty, and culture for its own sake. People achieve a sense of fulfillment for many types of accomplishment with little to no explicit economic production value: art, music, photography, knitting, summitting peaks, amateur sports. And yet, the value that such creative pursuits provides to humanity is immeasurable. So, all we have to do is take care of all that other stuff in Priorities 1 through 4. That’s why our Priority 5 amounts to “how do we organize culture at a time when humanity’s basic needs are under such stress?” So, if a issue or voice addresses any of those above issues, there’s a good chance we’ll consider it important enough to include in our range of coverage. We won’t always live up to our own creative and logical standards, but we’re sure gonna try. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] Each of our sites has a different target audience, centered around its niche. People we reach might include a suburban mom who learns how to start a victory garden, a college student who wonders why tidal power can’t be deployed on a massive scale, or a middle-aged dad considering the “Vegan before 6” diet. In general, we write for anyone who wants to spend more time thinking about the present and future state of humanity, and wants to spend their time interacting about things that matter, rather than wasting time on things that are primarily a distraction, in that they provide no lasting value to anyone. Where these definitions fall vary considerably between individuals, but primarily, we just want to encourage people to think more. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] Important Media is organized as a “Low-profit Limited Liability Company,” or L3C. The primary reason states have started to pass laws enabling this closer-to-nonprofit designation is that it could make L3C’s eligible for investments from big foundations that are looking for venture capital-like returns in order to fund their grantmaking. However, the primary reason we incorporated as an L3C is that it gave us a responsibility to put our mission into our company charter explicitly ahead of the pursuit of profit.
Important Media’s operations are funded by advertising revenue. We run a series of standard of banner advertisements that you can see on every post. We are exploring many other ways, but for now, banner advertisements are still the primary way to fund freelance content creation. Fortunately, our content generally attracts higher-than-average quality advertisers. (Of course, distracting, value-less ads often sneak themselves in there, especially for frequent visitors…) [/spoiler]
[spoiler] Over the last three years (under the Green Options Media brand), we have gone through many iterations in the effort to meet the financial needs of writers while maintaining a viable business, and we have direct experience with the pros and cons of almost every payment system out there. This summer, Important Media is embarking on an entirely revshare-based payment system for all writers and editors. We think this will help to align the interests of everyone involved as direct financial stakeholders, in a way that hasn’t been seen before in many online media outlets. You can read about the general system on our Write page, or specifics for freelance Authors and site Editors. We think it’s important that content creators understand the limitations of an advertising-based model (e.g. how the dollars flow from advertisers to content producers), because this helps everyone realize how much work remains. For some extra background reading on the reasoning behind performance-based pay-scales in general, see Nick Denton’s justification for nuanced compensation systems in online content. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] At a basic level, there is nothing stopping online content from supporting good journalism and other important content as it has done in print for decades. It’s extremely complicated, new, and different, but in the end, the unsurpassed ability to bring relevance to online advertising versus print media will bring that value back. We just have to make sure that good content survives a lengthy transition — finding new models to accomplish existing goals may take a decade or more. With the above as a basic assumption, we believe two important things:
- Freelance journalists and other content creators can’t expect the honor of their profession to shield them from business realities at hand. The new web means a crumbling wall between editorial and business, if only so that they can feel each others’ pain during the prolonged shift of attention and ad dollars to online content.
- Media outlets should be trying every possible strategy to provide value for content contributors. Funding good content will continue to get increasingly tough during this transition period without multiple layers of incremental revenue, and on the whole, the industry is starting to do just that. We hope to do our part.
The experiment in a direct rev-share editorial model directly reflects the “low-profit” aspect of our for-profit legal structure. Our commitment to link revenues directly to editorial payments amounts to an up-front commitment to limit the company’s ongoing profit margin in a structural, open way. Not a strategy most investors would encourage. We’re giving it a shot. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] Our mission is to push the cognitive surplus in a positive, creative, useful direction. Redirecting even a minuscule percentage of those 200 billion of hours watching television per year in the US alone (“is that right?” you ask. YES.) would make a huge difference. For reference, Wikipedia’s total effort is in the 100 million hour range. Yeah, that’s 1/2,000th. The best approximation we can think of for a direct way to measure that impact will be the amount of time people spend reading and engaging with the content Important Media produces–as long as we keep that information useful and related to things that actually matter for humanity, it should be pretty accurate, if in a fwiw kinda way. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] We have 3 formal values that we intend to define the way we operate our business:
- Purposeful Work: find the important questions that drive you, and always let them guide your activities.
- Group Progress: constantly get better at what you set out to do, provide feedback, and share best practices.
- Open Autonomy: empower stakeholders through honesty, fairness, and freedom of self-direction.
[spoiler] IM absolutely falls within the scope of the current definition of “social enterprise,” but we like to use a different term: “social business”. Broadly speaking, we define a “social business” as one that meets one or more of the following criteria:
- a business that is good for people (in their own judgement) in addition to those who run said business.
- green/sustainable/closed-loop production
- promotes individual liberty while acknowledging structural disadvantages which stack the deck against many
- a business that promotes the sharing of information among people.
- social media/technology/web2
We believe that every business should operate under one of these designations. If a business is too destructive to the public good to measure up, it should be converted over time to meet non-destructive standards. Is that too much to ask? Of course. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] Important Media is the reincarnation of Green Options Media, a lively network of sites that was dedicated to fostering accessible green information online. Launched in February, 2007, GreenOptions.com (now a Huddler forum and community hub) grew into Green Options Media, an early leader among green blogging sources aimed at general audiences. GO Media was acquired in Q4 of 2008 and run for the last year by a year-long activism incubator calledVirgance (which also acquired and spun out newly-funded One Block Off the Grid and Carrotmob). Starting in February, 2010 — exactly 3 years after its original launch — the “first green blog network” began another transition — the current 10 blogs are being reorganized into a new network which aims to build on the successes and the lessons of its previous lives. We want to continue to experiment with approaches to business that are good for a range of people broader than shareholders. [/spoiler]
[spoiler] The momentum created by the Green Options brand has had more of an effect across the web over the last 3 years than we ever could have expected, as people and blogs that were supported by the network slowly metastasized (yes, a bad metaphor), creating content and important conversation where there otherwise would have been less or none. People who saw their first ongoing paid blogging gigs with us now regularly blog for the New York Times, Fast Company, and many other mainstream outlets. Blogs and bloggers who contributed to the growth of Green Options Media back then are now spread throughout the web, improving on the original Green Options network model with the founding and building of their own blog networks, including LiveOAK Media and Simple Earth Media. [/spoiler]
- The first priority has to be ensuring that everyone involved with Important Media are stakeholders with aligned, clear incentives for mutual benefit. This requires opening up and sharing revenue directly, rather than trying to balance reasonable payments with expected (or hoped-for) future income. We firmly believe editorial has to feel the same pain as the business side in journalism, and that’s a key point that we don’t feel is being adequately addressed in the hoopla over the collapse of old media.
- Create an engaged community around our content. In the pre-IM days, we always had steady readership and highlights of huge exposure, but we want to get as close as possible to the true blogging ideal of it being a conversation, both on-page and in the larger media community. As Seth Godin might say, “be the voice of a tribe.” Each of our sites aims to be a respected voice within its niche.
- Be faster. The web software industry has continued to change exponentially since we first started building GreenOptions.com, with huge communities sprouting up around open source software that was just going mainstream at the time. We need to be testing as many new ways to use web technology to connect people as we can, as fast as possible.