Rocky Mountain News: Go online only and local only

NPR’s Marketplace talked with longtime journalist David Westphal earlier this week to talk about the challenges faced by newspapers.

A big challenge for the print media is that while online costs are substantially less than printing a dead tree edition, online advertising revenues are only 10% of what newspapers typically have gotten. Veteran news people are having a difficult time trying to find a business model that works for them.

Westphal has noticed the rise of hyperlocal political and issues blogging, though:

The start-ups that are online only, and that are very small — in some cases one-person operations, in some cases two or three — that are, however, more just focused on city government, city politics, development in kind of the core city. They don’t try to do everything. They try to do kind of the fundamental civic pieces that are important to a metropolitan area’s operation. And we’re seeing those develop rather quickly, actually.

Some of these metro, issues oriented blogs might be something like the local editions of Streetsblog, which started in New York and now has spinoffs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Here’s my modest proposal for the people of the Rocky Mountain News: Hearst is selling the name, the website and the archives. Perhaps a core group of the laid off people can buy these assets and become a local-only and online-only publication.

There’s tremendous risk involved, and it’s important to get it “right” — many news agency attempts at social media I’ve seen don’t work too well. Many locally owned businesses are still reluctant to advertise online, preferring to spend thousands on a print ad over hundreds in online advertising. Most issues and metro blogs operate on a shoestring budget and depend on benefactors for most of their income.

We’re in the midst of major changes in the news industry. I’m hardly a news pundit or advertising expert, but I do believe strongly that the Fifth Estate of investigative and critical journalism is essential for democracy. Can a scaled back, online only Rocky Mountain News exist as a good resource to help Colorado citizens keep an eye on their government?


Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

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