Wick Communications

Saving the local news

In Innovation on April 24, 2015 at 8:41 am

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Wick CEO Tom Yunt and Regional Publisher Mike Shepard passed along a recent story in The New Yorker that deserves attention.

The headline isn’t very good; it could use a verb. It reads, “Survival strategies for local journalism.” Much of the story laments the various problems besetting local journalism sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also ticks off some familiar strategies that seem to be working to varying degrees. It does not, however, provide a yellow brick road that we can all follow to prosperity.

I found the trajectory of many 21st century news start-ups fascinating. Many begin with a layoff at a legacy media organization. The big daily lets old-timers go and eventually someone gets the great idea to start his own low-overhead news website. There are usually high ideals. It’s going to focus on big stories that aren’t otherwise being covered.

One common downfall is that these well-meaning newsies often give a lot more thought to the journalism than the business model. Simply selling online display ads likely won’t work. Not enough clicks in these local markets. And most of us don’t have the business savvy to pull off any more than that. …

For the last decade or so, some budding news organizations have found at least temporary solace from private foundations. Organizations like the Knight Foundation have provided generous grants intended to get sites like The Rapidian off the ground. A recent Knight Foundation report, however, suggests that few of these efforts are launching independent news sites that are then capable of sustaining themselves without the non-profit money.

To my eyes, the truth seems to be this: It will just be harder to make a living in the news business going forward. We will have to diversify to support our journalism. Static advertising is part of the equation, but so to are local events, grant funding, crowdfunding, paid subscribers, promotions, online coupons, partnerships with sponsors, native advertising… I don’t think any one funding source is going to do it over the long term.

Read The New Yorker piece. It’s interesting.

— Clay

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