Journalism

The Future of Local News is You

I’m tired of seeing the small community newspapers go under. Times are tough and traditional business models no longer sustain small publishers in small markets. It appears that most small publishers, particularly in smaller markets, lack the resources and knowledge of new business models to evolve or transform. What disturbs me most about this is the lack of risk-taking among small market journalists. There are thousands of journalists out there that have the potential to solve the local news challenge on their own – they just don’t know it yet. Where are the entrepreneurs?

I live in a suburb of Atlanta where we have two local papers. One is going through some difficult times, recently suspending operations. Through the support of the community, this paper is back up and running for now – but for how long? It’s not a long-term solution to the problem, as I simply don’t see the community willing to bankroll the paper indefinitely. A better solution would be for a well-networked journalist to strike out on her own. Granted, I’m an entrepreneur, so I’m wired this way. But really, how difficult would it be for a journalist to start a local news venture in a market where the local paper can’t hack it anymore?

Here are a few reasons why I think more small-town journalists should consider starting their own local news websites or blogs:

  • The demand is already there – it’s not a lack of demand for local news content that is hurting local papers, it’s a lack of advertising support, combined with high production costs (namely printing and distributing a physical newspaper)
  • Local journalists are already producing local content – they have the contacts and resources to produce an almost infinite amount of content around local news
  • Advertiser support is there – there are plenty of advertisers who would be interested in advertising in a geographically-focused media vehicle, particularly one that produces more measurable results; journalists should be able to tap into an existing network of advertisers to support their need for income

If you’re a journalist working for a paper that’s going under, here’s a rough checklist you could use to launch your own local media empire:

  • Grab your Rolodex and head for the door
  • Contact a local freelance graphic designer and/or Web developer (start with the person that was doing layouts at your paper)
  • Have this person design a blog for you – my suggestion would be WordPress, possibly with an SEO-friendly theme like Thesis
  • Register a domain name that looks something like this: www.yourtownnews.com (replace “your town” with the actual name of your town or small market)
  • Start doing the job you’ve done all along – write stories on local news, contact the people you’ve interviewed over the years and get them on board
  • Let all the local businesses and community influencers know about your plans to provide news for the citizens for your community – invite them to share their information
  • Recruit other out-of-work journalists to jump on board
  • Offer former advertisers banner ads on your blog, for a small fraction of what they were paying before – offer highly-competitive rates in the beginning, to lessen the risk for those willing to sponsor your content during your launch phase
  • Improve the coverage on your local market, now that you’re no longer limited by column inches or deadlines – report on more, in less time and build an audience

Most journalists, from my experience, like the security of a steady paycheck. Many prefer to write and/or edit content, rather than run a business. However, it’s not as difficult as many might think. I’ll go out on a limb here and say I think most small-town journalists know how to run a local news organization as good (if not better) than the place they’re drawing a paycheck from today. Don’t look for another fledgling newspaper to work for, strike out on your own and launch your own local news operation. You’ll probably enjoy the work more, get more recognition for the content you produce, and you just might make more money in the process as well.

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