The New Media Consortium: updates and next steps

Nearly one week ago the New Media Consortium stunned the education technology world by announcing it was shut down and liquidate its assets.  It’s been a wild and weird few days.

With this post I’d like to update everyone.  Please offer your additions, corrections, and thoughts in comments below.

nmc.logoThe court (United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California) has appointed a trustee, Sheri L. Carello, to conduct the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process.  The lawyer selected to launch the process, Reno Fernandez, informs me that the trustee’s timeline can be as short as a few days or as long as years, depending on various factors.  Gardner Campbell remains the NMC board’s spokesperson, as far as I know.

I haven’t seen any updates from the NMC website or the official Twitter account since the liquidation announcement.  I haven’t heard anything about the financial standing of the organization (assets, debts), or any information to add to the original announcement’s explanation of the collapse as due to “apparent errors and omissions by its former Controller and Chief Financial Officer”.

Media coverage: articles have appeared in EdSurge, Campus Technology, and Inside Higher Ed.   I think this is the last mention of NMC at the Chronicle of Higher Education; have they published anything since?

The president of EDUCAUSE, John O’Brien, wrote a short but important blog post yesterday.  For me the key part is this:

Although EDUCAUSE has been notified the NMC has recently ceased its operations, we remain committed to completing this work and facilitating the release of the 2018 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report.

On social media, Twitter traffic continues under the hashtag #NMCliquidation.  As of this morning Wikipedia now recognizes NMC in the past tense:

The New Media Consortium (NMC) was an international 501(c)3 not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. [emphasis added]

I and other members of the (former) NMC community launched a Slack group to discuss the future of the Horizon Project,  As of a few minutes ago there are 77 people participating. If you’d like to join in, please add your email address in a comment to this post or contact me directly.

Horizon dark, by Cogdog

On reflection, I think there are three main issues in play right now.

  1. The fate of the 2018 Horizon Report for Higher Education.  It’s about one half completed, and scheduled for release around February 1st, I think.
  2. The future of the Horizon project in general.
  3. The community that gathered around NMC.  How can that group continue, or should it?

Around these main issues are some additional and open questions:

What will happen to NMC staff?  These are fine people, laid off at the year’s end, right before the holiday season.  Will organizations snap them up, quickly?

What will happen to the site? Several pages have disappeared for days at a time (staff, board ones, at least; link).  People have worried about this on Twitter.  Should the Internet Archive host copies in a formal collection, or should a member institution (university, museum, library) archive a copy?  Are there copyright restrictions which would prevent this?

What’s going on with the current Horizon Report for Higher Education? At least half of the work has already been done by the 50-odd report board members (not the NMC board) and several NMC staffers.  There was research.  The Delphi process proceeded. There are findings.  What remains, as far as I can tell, is prose and supplemental research.

Those of us who worked on it could simply finish the thing on our own and publish it digitally.  We could use Kickstarter to pay for staff time – ideally, for the NMC staff members just laid off.  A funder could step in to pay for completion, including, perhaps, print publication.  The president of EDUCAUSE sounds interested.

There are problems here, starting with the court.  This current report is an asset, which means it could be sold to pay outstanding debt.  Time is also an issue, as the report might date – badly – as months pass by.

The current report might never appear.

Could a new Horizon Report project begin?  If NMC does not get resurrected, what happens to what might be its best known service?

I can see several paths forward.

  • Some organization adopts the project for itself, like EDUCAUSE (to pick one possibility).
  • A group of passionate supporters self-organizes and crowdfunds new reports.
  • A consortium of backers gathers to power the portfolio.
  • Horizon ends.  It had a grand run, but nothing human lasts forever.

For a new Horizon, I asked people on social media for synonyms that would recognize the original.  Here’s a quick sampling:

Parallax, Edge, Ambit, Compass, Edge, Prospect, Genesis, Panorama, Periphery or ambit, New Horizon(s), outlook, vision, vista, perspective, landscape, view, “The report formerly known as the Horizon Report”, over the horizon, beyond the horizon, sunset, Standpoint, vanishing point, View, Foresight, Vanguard, exploration, terra incognita, wayfinding, North Star, Aurora, Crepuscule or Avenir (“future” en français), frontier, vision quest, future line, destination.

Thanks to Scott Leslie, Angelle Horste, Britni Brown, Jared Price, Sakari Maaranen, Kevin Ashford-Rowe, Damian McDonald, Ed Webb, Rebecca Frost-Davis, Gilly Salmon, Mark Corbett Wilson, Karen Bellnier, Zach Chandler, Steven M. Smolnik, Laurie Burruss and others for these.

Should Horizon resurrect itself as a unitary, portfolio model, or split up into domain-specific pieces?  Consider the possibility that (hypothetically) a library association could pick up the Library Edition.  A museum group could take over the Museum Edition, a higher ed organization the Higher Education one, and so on.  That unbundling would make more sense for such organizations than their participating in the multi-domain model.

Is this a test case for a Creative Commons license?  The Horizon Reports are copyrighted and published under a CC-BY license, giving the public the legal rights to…

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially…

Under the following terms:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

That CC BY license gives interested people the opportunity to literally “build upon the material for any purpose”, especially as a determined effort to carry on the Horizon Report spirit should be understood as a very good purpose indeed.

However, a key purpose of the bankruptcy process is to maximize value from remaining assets.  It seems plausible that the court would decide to sell the Horizon method and back materials to the highest bidder.

Is it worth contesting in court?

For-profit versus non-profit Would the community prefer non-profits over for-profits when considering sponsors and organizational homes for either the Horizon project or the NMC community as a whole?

Looking ahead beyond the current report (remember, it’s about one half complete now), should a hypothetical Horizon organization constitute itself as a for-profit entity or as a non-profit?

Should we stop what we’re doing? . Several people have argued that two processes are under way (the legal process; offline negotiations), and that community activism and communication – like what I’m doing here – should cease, as the latter interferes with the former.

For example, the just-laid-off NMC director, Eden Dahlstrom, argued thusly on Twitter:

Should the community cease its information-sharing and other activism, or should we proceed?

Meta Looking at the past week, I’m not sure of what my role is with this story.  Am I acting as an information broker, connecting interested parties across multiple venues?  Am I a community organizer, helping knit together a shattered network? Or is what I’m doing social entrepreneurship?

Whichever of these most accurately describes what’s going on, I find myself devoting a lot of resources to this process.  Please understand what’s involved: hundreds of email conversations; texts with people who prefer that medium; ditto Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ threads and messages; phone calls; Google Docs.  Then there’s getting up to speed on Slack, creating and helping grow that community across numerous challenges (technical, political), while adding a Future Trends Forum session (possibly the first of several).  These communications include media interviews, legal conversations (NMC’s lawyer, the new trustee, consulting other lawyers for advice, plus research), discussions about hotel rooms with the meeting planning firm NMC hired (seriously), strategy sessions, and the ongoing quest to figure out what the heck is happening, not to mention the emotional work of helping people who are terrified (think of the staff laid off the week before Christmas!), depressed, anxious, and confused. I’ve also connected with large companies, small start-ups, publishers, broadcasters, nonprofits, foundations, and more.  And this paragraph isn’t exhaustive.

Know that many people would prefer not to talk about this in the open, so I’m balancing my respect for them with my practice of openness and transparency.  That means encouraging people to share, and not sharing myself when they choose to run dark.

Nobody from the NMC organization is doing this work.  This is grassroots, DIY stuff.

In short, #NMCliquidation has become a major professional investment of time and political capital.  Money will possibly be called for.  I’m not sure what form this cumulative investment ultimately takes, or how much longer I can keep doing it before it runs headlong into the needs of my more-than-full-time work.  I already scheduled work right through the holidays.  You may have noticed that over the past week I also launched a fundraiser, conducted a Future Trends Forum session, wrote a very long and difficult analytical post, been interviewed for National Public Radio, and published a short EdSurge piece on ed tech in 2017 and 2018, among other public functions.  Offline I’m working with dozens of clients for multiple projects in 2018, developing the podcast, building a web store, and writing the new book.  Among other things.

Over to you.  What do you think of #NMCliquidation?  Do you have developments, thoughts, news, ideas to share?

(thanks to the National Land Survey of Finland for their CC-BY logohorizon photo by Cogdog; edited slightly)

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8 Responses to The New Media Consortium: updates and next steps

  1. Andy Anderson says:

    Re “The Horizon Reports are not copyrighted, but published under a CC-BY license.”

    They are copyrighted, “© 2017, The New Media Consortium” — CC-BY is a license to use from the copyright holder. Perhaps you mean “The Horizon Reports are freely distributable and reusable”?

    The CC-BY license is revokable, but not retroactively: “The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.”. But they might be able to revoke the license for future use, by republishing the material with the CC-BY removed, and hoping this discourages the use of the previous version.

    — Andy

  2. Ryan let me publicly thank you for all your efforts in summarising and communicating what’s happening, helping to continue the community, and just for caring so much. I’m really thrilled about the slack geoup’s enthusiasm so far and regardless of what happens with the more official Horizon report, feel strongly that the community has many more days of supporting innovation ahead of it 🙌🏻😊

  3. Reblogged this on Building Creative Bridges and commented:
    This “guest post,” written by long-time NMC (New Media Consortium) colleague Bryan Alexander, initially appeared on Bryan’s own Future Trends Forum blog at 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 on Monday December 18, 2017.

  4. Pingback: The New Media Consortium: updates and next steps | Building Creative Bridges

  5. Patricia says:

    Thank you for this post and the updates at Twitter. I would love to be part of the transition conversation: trishlet at gmail.

  6. Pingback: Beyond the Horizon Report: towards a new project | Bryan Alexander

  7. Pingback: Looking forward, looking back #TBT #musdigi – Museums | Digital | Research | Learning

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