Journalists as publishers
Her main points are that successful startup journalism enterprises are happening, they’re experimenting with different economic models, and there are plenty of lessons being learned. You hear about a lot of the failures, but not much about the successes, which tend to be smaller, and local.
McLellan hits a theme doesn’t get nearly enough attention: startup journalists need to think like publishers, not as just journalists.
Ask Tom O’Malia, professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business, what he sees in journalists who arrive at Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp to learn how to start a new site. O’Malia responds: “They have not yet recognized the difference between what they do, the product, and the value – the benefit – of what they do.”
The first, the product – what we have always called journalism – is what we have been spoiled into believing it is a public good so compelling that people are bound to open their wallets for it despite abundant evidence to the contrary. The latter – discovering and providing what customers value – is the challenging path to actually making money in news.
The thing is: making money in news isn’t a necessary evil. It’s an important measure of accountability. Is your news site (or newspaper, for that matter) relevant to the local community? Do local people use it? Do they count on it? If so, your journalism can support itself through advertising and other revenue streams. Selling advertising (or seminars, or t-shirts) is the clearest feedback loop you can have for a news site – unless and until you can really make a subscription model work. Even then, you’ll still need more revenue streams.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: there’s more to a local community than traditional news. If a startup local online publisher wants to be successful, he/she needs to understand what makes the community tick, needs to understand the role of commercial content (yup, advertising) in the community’s interactions and vibrancy, and then needs to figure out where a new site fits among those interactions.
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