The New Media Consortium: its sudden death and what comes next

Yesterday many of us learned to our shock that the New Media Consortium (NMC) was going to be liquidated.

We learned via an email announcement, as follows:

The New Media Consortium (NMC) regrets to announce that because of apparent errors and omissions by its former Controller and Chief Financial Officer, the organization finds itself insolvent. Consequently, NMC must cease operations immediately. NMC would like to sincerely thank our loyal and dedicated community for its many vital contributions since its inception in 1994. NMC is grateful to its current executive director and NMC staff for their tireless efforts to connect people at the intersection of innovation and technology. NMC will be promptly commencing a chapter 7 bankruptcy case. A trustee will be appointed by the court to wind down NMC’s financial affairs, liquidate its assets and distribute any net proceeds to creditors. The case will be filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California. Please understand that NMC’s assets may be sold as part of the bankruptcy process and another entity, potentially a nonprofit, may yet go forward with our summer conference. Nevertheless, before sending any payment for 2018, please contact our counsel Reno Fernandez at (415) 362-0449 ext. 204, and he will connect you with the trustee once he or she is appointed.

Black background in the original.  This is a screen capture.

Shortly after receiving this Campus Technology asked for my reaction.  Here’s what I told them:

I am heartbroken and gobsmacked. The news comes as a terrible shock. My heart goes out to the fine NMC staff, who don’t deserve this. Instead they deserve being snapped up by smart employers, stat. I also rue the blow to the community of splendid innovators that gathered around NMC since the 1990s. Can we use our imagination and technology to build something new in the NMC’s ruins?

I stand by those words.

Right after the announcement broke Twitter lit right up with questions, pleas, mourning, and brainstorming.  I had just finished a long day of consulting work, and was also wracked by back spasms, so I fired off a furious and perhaps not completely coherent tweetstorm.  I introduced a grim yet accurate hashtag: #NMCliquidation.

Meanwhile, I reached out to dozens of people through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, various IM clients, and text, trying to figure out more about what happened.  So many people chimed and pitched in, offering their interpretations, their information, their perspectives, their hearts.

The first and most important thing to bear in mind here is the human tragedy suffered by the NMC staff (Archive.org link; the official site’s page has been down for a few days).  Every one I’ve spoken to has been utterly surprised by the news, and shocked by a Christmas season termination.  They are good people, and if you’re an employer reading this, check them out.

The second thing is the community that’s grown up around NMC since the 1990s.  NMC has attracted an unusual group, different from what you might see around other educational technology venues.  These folks tend to be more future oriented, more experimental, more focused on creativity.  This is the audience that loves to make stuff, that feeds the Horizon Report.  Now that the NMC home has been bulldozed and the ruins about to be plowed under and perhaps salted, this population is homeless.

On a personal note, this breaks my heart.  I’ve known and worked with the NMC people since around 2003.  Many current and former staffers are friends.  We’ve done tons of projects together, from multiple Horizon reports to digital literacy briefings to webinars to presentations. I was their senior researcher for a couple of years.  I did lots of Second Life work back in the day, relying on NMC projects and support.  We did two live Future Trends Forum sessions from NMC summer conferences.

It was a career honor to be invited to offer the closing keynote for their annual conference.

…but I’m going to stop the trip down memory lane right there.  The point here, today, is what just happened, not the past.  And in this post I want to look ahead to the future.

To begin with, I’m concerned about the NMC staff, and want to make sure they’ll recover from this blow swiftly and well.  That’s the most important human aspect that we need to consider.

Also, as noted above, I’m worried about the NMC community, which is now homeless.  Can it self-0rganize into a new form, a tribe or network, using while exploring technologies?

On a time sensitive point, I’m concerned in particular with the current Horizon Report for higher education (here’s the February 2017 edition).  We (the current report’s board) did the research phase over October and November.  I know NMC staff started researching examples for our findings, and drafting parts of the report itself.  This was scheduled to be released around February 1.  I and others have professional obligations based on the document.  Is there a way we can organize its completion?

There is also the question of NMC web content.  The announcement’s language suggests the site will go away, at least in its current, accessible form.  That’s a lot of material.  As Kim Pearson quickly realized,

Joe Murphy suggested reaching out to the Internet Archive:

That’s four immediate challenges: the fates of the former staff, the community, and Horizon report.  How can we address them?

I am keenly interested in helping, in rebuilding from this disaster, and am willing to contribute what resources I can.

For the staff, I’m going to keep an eye out for positions and gigs for these people.  As they launch web content for themselves, I’ll share ’em.

Re: community, we’re furiously talking now.  I’m going to reprogram next week’s Future Trends Forum (Thursday, December 28, 2-3 pm EST) to focus on NMC and its fate.  I’m reaching out to NMC staff, board members, and people in the community to participate.  Should we set up a temporary website for NMC Community in Exile?  Should we look into starting a new nonprofit?  Can another organization host?

Horizon: how about a Kickstarter to fund some NMC staff to finish writing?  Are there other organizations that would like to contribute money, time, or publication resources to assist?

NMC.org content: on Joe Murphy’s advice I’ve reached out to the Internet Archive to see if they can host it.  Would anyone else like to attempt an archival copying?

…I outlined most of the preceding last night.  This morning I fleshed it out.  I reflected on the problem after some sleep (good advice, Sam).  So I’d like to add one more thought.

There’s a crisis here, one requiring immediate, practical responses.  We can also look ahead a bit and get creative.  One tweet really resonated with me, coming just two days after my call to rethink professional associations:

“everywhere, in us all.”  D’Arcy calls us to be bold and to make a new future.  How can we change things up?  What should we invent?

I think that’s a splendid way – maybe the best way – to honor the legacy of the New Media Consortium: to build upon the smoldering ruins something new, creative and amazing.

Who’s with us?

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39 Responses to The New Media Consortium: its sudden death and what comes next

  1. It has been over 10 years since I have been able to actively participate in the NMC community. I would like to help create whatever comes next. #NMCliquidation #NMCRebirth

    • Excellent wish, Steven. What would you like to work on? What’s closest to your current interests?

      • When I reflect on my time with the community, I remember conversations about the future of higher ed that was not solely focused on pure online education. I later moved into that online-only world and I have since come back to all educational modalities. I remember not just projects such as the Horizon report, but also the work on Learning Repositories (I still have that booklet). I was not as much into the arts as others, but I found those conversations to be rewarding.

        When I look at what I do today, I am having a hard time finding a group/community that is using technologies to support blended and face-to-face learning. A lot of discussion of VR occurs at conferences for online learning, only because they are the most tech-savvy groups and I wish there was someplace else to have this conversation. I was hoping to work my way back to NMC, but time and budget had not been my friend.

        So I guess I am looking to get onto the ground level of something that will advance higher education through purposeful integration and advancement of technology and pedagogy.

  2. Paul McConaughy says:

    Although my heart says grab everything possible from the website, the Horizon Report, and more… I see trouble when the Bankruptcy court goes after those things as assets “owned” by NMC. I suppose it could end up defining new definitions of ownership for non-profits but that may require lots of legal work. The cleanest piece to capture and save in my mind would be the New Media Community. It would seem hard for NMC to define ownership to include that group. Just thoughts. I’m an old guy but I’m in if I can help. Paul McConaughy

  3. You may have saved me a blog post. Besides the shock of the news, timing, and impact on real people, I took thought of the legacy of the online content.

    When I worked at NMC (2006-2011) one of my charges was to update the web static from a static one to a dynamic one. I took on other online resource information myself, project based web sites for Second Life, enabling the Horizon Report to be available in commentable web format, designing the Horizon Project wikis. I spent a lot of effort making archive copies of their previous web sites, and researching details of their past. I got them running their audio/video content from a CDN. I built from scratch a voting tool for the Horizon Board (previously it was done by emailing Word docs) that I understood was used after I left.

    But most of my web efforts were bull dozed after I left. C’est la web.

    Putting their web content into the INternet Archive is a good and doable idea. They’d have to be willing to do so under no copyright restrictions, public domain.

    That’s not the whole enchilada. Uf you want to see an example of an organization winding down that takes the care to manage their legacy, look at IT Conversations https://blogarithms.com/2012/09/16/cn-mission-accomplished/

    Putting thr web content in the IA is good, but every link to their content on the web will be broken, and I bet that only 2% of the web users know to follow up that “Site not found” with a search in the Way Back Machine. What ITConversations did, which seems very rare, is they set up funds to run a web re-direction server on the old domain. So any old link to a URL on their site itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail405.html gets auto redirected to the archive link.

    It hardly takes a lot to run a web direction serve. Some other huge ed tech membership organization with an 8 letter acronym could do it easily. And I remember the former NMC CEO boasting that he had registered the nmc.org domain for 100 years. Maybe he exaggered, but I just checked and the nmc.org domain is lit up until 2027 (Registry Expiry Date: 2027-05-31T04:00:00Z) Might was well use it,

    • Alan, thank you for the reflection on your NMC experience (and please do blog more!).

      That’s really good advice.
      Some of us are looking into fundraising for Horizon. Maybe we need to expand that for a general post-NMC project.

    • Emory Craig says:

      Not so fast with the nmc.org stuff. Their domain name may be one of the most valuable assets in bankruptcy as they don’t own much. I did a quick search of online calculators (terribly inaccurate, btw) and the URL could go from a $1,000 up to $29,000. In the digital era, this is property and I’m sure it will go to the highest bidder.

  4. Reblogged this on Building Creative Bridges and commented:
    The following post is the first “guest post” to ever appear on Building Creative Bridges. Written by long-time NMC colleague Bryan Alexander, it initially appeared on Bryan’s own blog at https://bryanalexander.org/2017/12/19/the-new-media-consortium-its-sudden-death-and-what-comes-next/, and is part of an effort by many of us to maintain the dynamic, vibrant, global ed-tech community the NMC fostered before suddenly announcing its dissolution yesterday.

  5. Pingback: The New Media Consortium: its sudden death and what comes next | Building Creative Bridges

  6. LISA STEPHENS says:

    Indeed, you’re all reflecting my sentiments as well. This is shocking, and I’m so pleased to see everyone endorsing the staff. I grew as the result of participating in the Horizon Report, the Horizon Summits and the brief flirtation with Shark Tank, which assisted in growing some important assets for our community at large. My thoughts are focused on supporting the current and former staff. I hope this comes to a quick resolution.

  7. profwitt says:

    Hi Bryan

    How do we participate in Future Trends Forum on the 28th?

    thanks
    Neil

  8. Bryan, I will miss those Horizon Reports, and the inspiration it has given me over the years. looking forward to seeing what you and your colleagues do with the institutional knowledge you take with you.

  9. Pingback: So Long, NMC, We’ll Miss You | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  10. Vicky Romano says:

    I am “in”. I am end of semester tired so have no encouraging or rallying words beyond the stunned. I will watch the thread and the Forum and be present willing to contribute my crazy organizational skills for the good of this important work. I actually have a Horizon Report dance so just feeling numb.

  11. longpd says:

    Dear Bryan: I’ve been watching the reaction to the sudden announcement that the NMC is being liquidated. I concur strongly with the sentiment that this is tragic for the staff who appear to have been casualties and collateral damage to bad (at the least), or criminal (at the worst) fiscal mismanagement. They deserve better and their talent is obvious from the work they’ve produced.

    You listed the immediate concerns:
    “The fates of the former staff, the community, and Horizon report. How can we address them?”

    I suggest that a practical and most proximate concern is the disposition of the assets of the NMC. The determination of what they are and their value in the bankruptcy process potentially removes them from community and the public. As Emory mentioned the domain name is a potential asset that lawyers may well decide is ‘owned’ by those who NMC owes. But the bulk of the other assets, like the HR, could be argued to be in some form transferred to the public already by virtue of the CC distribution license. That doesn’t mean that NMC doesn’t retain ownership and the new owners, aka the bankruptcy court, can’t change the license at their will. But I do not believe they cannot withdraw the license of those copies already disseminated to the public.

    Thus I’m more concerned about IP in the form of the HR and other reports that were created under CC licenses. They were created in part by the contributions of many in the community, as well as NMC staff themselves, and were made with the expectation that these were to be shared through the CC license provisions. It seems as though a conversation with Cable Green or other CC knowledgeable representative, and or a good IP lawyer, is in order. The question is whether a bankruptcy court can unilaterally rescind the CC licenses and consider them copyrighted assets to be sold despite the stipulation that those who helped create them in the first place who did so with the express intent of making them public. I’m not a lawyer and claim no special expertise there but it seems that there may be some recourse among the many community members to speak up on this issue and their concern (if this is a shared concern) arguing that these assets would not exist were it not for the the community and their expectations need consideration, as well. I’m happy to reach out to Cable if you think this is worth pursuing.

    One of the major issues that was becoming a concern, even during my terms on the NMC Board, was who the constituency of the NMC really was? You’ve described some of their attributes and qualities elegantly. What is less clear is how these qualities translate into something from an institutional perspective. It was, I believe, primarily the institutional annual membership fees that contribute significantly to the recurring revenue of the group, though perhaps insufficiently in the end. I know from my stints on the board it was the success of the NMC in getting grant funding, year after year, that kept the organization afloat and at times even reasonably well off. But non-profit organizations rarely have sustainable longevity when survival rests on this dependency. Understanding who in fact is this community and what is a reasonable expectation for revenue from it is key to figuring out what is possible in the future.

    Cheers,
    Phil

    • Thank you very much for this thoughtful reply, Phil.

      CC: could you ping Cable, please? I’ve already emailed him, but we can tag team.

      The court trustee should be identified tomorrow, which will get things going.

  12. Alistair says:

    As I work through my master’s program, I have used quite a few NMC reports and I’m quite shocked at this sudden turn of events. I can provide assistance in technical transition if that is required, I’m happy to help.

  13. Reblogged this on Becoming An Educationalist and commented:
    #becomingeducational Sad news before Christmas – another blow for creative EdTech…

    The beauty of the web and using the web and the tech for creative education are the networks of creative, enthusiastic and engaged people who have been working for the best possible outcomes for Technology Enhanced learning – for technology and society.
    This post tells of a seismic blow to the EdTech community in the USA…
    And the very nature of this blogpost shows how good people respond when bad things happen…
    Our thoughts go out to the people of the New Media Consortium – their lives are being drastically impacted – what to do? And how to save all that legacy – all that work.

  14. This is a major blow to the museum and library community, the Horizon Reports have been an invaluable resource. And of course to NMC staff! I’m happy to help in rebuilding.

  15. ggevalt says:

    Well that sucks. I left you a long message but I think it got eaten when I was asked to log in. I will try to recreate it later. cheers, g.

  16. Pingback: On the solstice, dark thoughts for 2018 | Bryan Alexander

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  18. Gary Marks says:

    Thank you for expressing the thoughts and feelings of many. We are saddened for the community and the employees. AACE.org and LearnTechLib.org, are willing help!

    For one, all NMC reports that are licensed under Creative Commons will be archived in the next day or so at http://LearnTechLib.org/reports/ Many already are available there.

    In addition, if there is more we can do regarding production of the Horizon Report being edited, please let me know. Thanks again for your efforts.

    Cheers,
    Gary Marks (gmarks@aace.org)

  19. I’be been involved with the NMC indirectly since its inception, and later directly, participating on the Horizon Report for museums, and have always been impressed and a fan. Bryan, I think that your description of the community being a group of educators who think about the future is right on. Please add me to the list of people wanting to get involved in the next stage. This is an important group and I am truly sad about the demise. But, let’s continue the work!

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