A Modest Proposal, Part Two (for the Jurnos on the Sidewalk)

The Rocky Mountain News published for the last time today. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is next, with its last day likely to be sometime early in March. The Hearst Corporation is threatening closure of the San Francisco Chronicle if it can’t shrink that news organization to zombie status. rockymt(Definition of a zombie newspaper: a skeleton staff operating in an organization that provides them little support, no room to make a complete transition to the Web and holds a death-grip on the paper instead of modernizing it. There are a few out there already. Candidates, anyone?)

My previous post was a modest proposal for the Seattle Times. This one’s for the jurnos left standing on the sidewalk when a metro abruptly closes its doors.

Start your own geographic-based or topic-based Web organizations. Others have, and are making a living, or are closing in on that goal. Yesterday, David Westphal highlighted a few, including the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Baristanet, BlackWhiteRead’s group of community sites, Cornwall-on-Hudson, WestSeattleBlog, QuincyNews.org and New West. Around the country, a plethora of local ad-supported news annarbororganizations popping up. Journalists aren’t waiting; they’re keeping journalism alive in their communities and providing themselves a living.

Many folks have said that one small community news organization in a metropolitan area isn’t going to replace the heft of a large metropolitan daily, such as a San Francisco Chronicle or Seattle Times. That’s true. But many Web-centric news organizations in a regional network can and will. In the previous post, I used my puny artistic skills to produce a graphic of a mini-metro network. The network comprises two main parts: geographic-based sites and topic-based sites. Seattle’s growing both.

Besides WestSeattleBlog, there’s CapitolHillSeattle, run by Justin Carder, who’s part of a start-up that has spun off Ravenna Nation and The South Lake. There’s also MyBallard, myballardpart of Cory and Kate Bergman’s Next Door Media group that includes Fremont Universe, Queen Anne View, Magnolia Voice and Phinney Wood. I’m sure there are others that aren’t mentioned here, and I apologize for leaving you out.

Seattle also has ad-supported topic-based sites. There’s TechFlash (“Seattle’s technology news source”), co-founded by John Cook, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter. TechFlash partnered up with the Puget Sound Business Journal, which publishes a weekly business paper, and is owned by American City Business techflashJournals, which owns business journals (print and Web) in 42 cities. (As a resource for other jurnos who want to start Web-based news organizations, we’ll be doing detailed case studies on these and others, similar to the case study about WestSeattleBlog.)

Although local sites can operate independently, they’ll have more clout and more money if they develop their own smart network. A smart network shares trusted information on the fly, pings reporters in one site with relevant information from other sites, and enables targeted advertising. The jurnos within the network maintain control of their own sites, and share advertising across the network.

The extra revenue could help with the nuts and bolts of running a business: liability insurance, health benefits,  income to hire local freelancers to do special projects or to spell reporters when they want to take a vacation or must deal with medical issues.

So, all this is to say that if the Seattle Times (or San Francisco Chronicle or Chicago Tribune or Philadelphia Inquirer or Denver Post) doesn’t agree with Modest Proposal #1, and becomes a zombie paper or closes, there’s an opportunity for the jurnos on the sidewalk.

In David Westphal’s blog post, there was this from Tracy Record, editor of WestSeattleBlog::

I am adamant about the ‘hyper-local’ space being a place for local independents. I am sick to death of these national VC-funded operations (Patch, American Towns, whoever else) trying to swoop in and say, ‘Hey! We’re your plug-and-play hyperlocal news!’ No, you are NOT. Nor is a voiceless aggregator. Let’s not let this precious new type of coverage be poisoned the way the ‘big corporate media’ world evolved from local, independently owned tv/newspapers/whatever … It may happen eventually but don’t smother this industry from birth!

Every community has different needs, and must be served by someone who tailors the service based on what they learn in interaction with their community. I WISH that the people throwing money around would share some with those of us who are bootstrapping, rather than yet ANOTHER aggregator, or sharing site, or whatever. THIS is where the action is happening and the future is being paved. But I can’t get a Whatever Grant to so much as give me the time of day. Just not considered sexy enough to be busting your butt uncovering and/or sharing information and news in real-time re: your community.

I agree with Tracy. News, local or otherwise, has to be reported by someone who really knows their community…BEFORE they start reporting for it. A newcomer to doing news the Web way surprised me by understanding that instantly. Mallory Perryman, one of the Missouri School of Journalism students who’s part of a group that’s developing a local health site, was presenting the storyboard, or information architecture, for her section– affordable mental health. She’s spent the last couple of weeks mapping the mental health community in Boone County — identifying the communities, people and organizations that are involved or affected. In her storyboard, she included the basics — the beatblog, resources, data, etc. But there wasn’t a spot for traditional indepth storytelling. When I asked her about that, she said, “I’m not ready to do something big like that. Maybe after three years or so, after I get to really know the beat.”