A young journalist who lost his job when his newspaper was shuttered earlier this year is now the proud sole owner of that organization’s Web site. Another example of hyperlocal news, and journalism bootstrapping, has been born, and it has some built-in advantages that give him a boost starting up.
Nick Sloan, 24, purchased the Kansas City Kansan from Gatehouse Media and will be a one-man news operation, covering suburban Wyandotte County. It helps that this is Sloan’s home turf, and that he’s got an established and recognizable news brand — “The Voice of Wyandotte County Since 1921.” He’s also retained two major advertisers. Still, he’s philosophically realistic about what he’s getting into:
“I’m not looking to get rich off of this. At the end of the day, if I make enough to satisfy what I need to do, I’ll call it a success. I’m not being paid by anybody to do this. I have to earn my entire way and for now I’ll have to be reporting and selling. It’s going to be fun, but we’ll see what happens.”
There’s no story too small to cover — students of the month, thefts from cars and the fate of a library. Sloan’s clearly got the energy and background to succeed. He’s going to need it. As you can tell from the frequency and wide-ranging topics of the posts, this is more than a job; this is his life.
Earlier this summer I raised the issue of whether the prospects for hyperlocal news were overhyped. This was the wrong question to ask, as I think back on it now, and much too abstract. One of my beefs with the current discourse about the future of journalism on the Web is that it has been hijacked by utopians spouting esoteric jargon that even they probably don’t understand.
The people down in the trenches experimenting with models that fit their communities and their ideas of doing the news are being lost in the discussion, except when the sages are looking for examples of their theories in action.
It’s important to outline the possibilities for hyperlocal news, and to offer words of caution. But it’s also unfair to fold any single effort either into insanely optimistic projections of success or into a dismissive argument that they are unlikely to reach their readership or earning potential.
Each project deserves to be looked at on its own merits, in the context of the unique community and niche it serves.
Clay Shirky — a wise, but occasionally maddening guru in my book — touched on the topic of news experimentation yesterday at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. Dan Kennedy writes:
“And he’s also right to say that, no, newspapers really can’t be replaced. When you think through the dilemma on his terms, it’s clear why that can’t happen — never again will commercial enterprises be compelled through scarcity to subsidize journalism at a high cost and at little benefit to them.
More than anything, though, he’s right that we have to try. It won’t be one big thing; it will be many little things. We’ll fall short. But it’s better than doing nothing. And the challenge couldn’t be more exciting or important.”