I meant to post this here at the time, but perhaps a nearly six-month gap between launching my own local news site and reflecting a little bit about did some good.
Frankly, I’ll admit I’m in way over my head. I’ve spent most of these formative weeks trying to cover the hell out of my community, and I’ve had some successes. But I’m nowhere near where I want to be with this, content-wise, and this is the product I need to build up to get the eyeballs to deliver to advertisers.
My fellow indie publishers say it takes at least a year to feel as though you have any traction, so I’m not getting too panicky.
Mostly, I’m working up the gumption to ask local businesses to support an emerging news source before I have the traffic they might expect. Building some relationships has been helpful, but I’ve barely scratched the surface there.
Why then? This seems nuts, and there are times it does to me. It’s been more apparent to many of us that “we can’t leave the news business to the business side anymore.” I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time, but honestly, I’m absolutely frightened.
Not of failing, I’d like to think. Quite often my biggest fears have come about from having nothing stand between me and the things I want the most. After 30 years in corporate media, there’s nothing more I think I can offer that declining, transforming section of my industry.
No, what I want to do more than anything is to create something for myself—my own news business—as well as for my community, a place where I grew up and that doesn’t have a solid news source of its own. There’s some local and Atlanta media, which are stretched thin and show up for big stories. There are lifestyle magazines that have the advertisers and social media numbers I envy, but sell their readers mostly grandiose consumption.
I know I’m crazy to push the notion that local news still matters, even in an affluent, wired community, but I’m learning from pioneers in this field that you have to be somewhat crazy to take a stab at this in the first place.
I’ve never run a business nor have I attempted before, but I’m giving this my best shot, believing as leaders in my new industry assert that it’s going to be community-minded journalists with an entrepreneurial bent who are going to save what’s left of local news.
We also need to convince those with investment dollars that the one-off, truly local models we’re building are worth funding. Nothing against non-profits, but the critical thing is business development:
“We need money backing business builders because that’s how new engines of prosperity are assembled. This is how dynamic, aggressive competitors are born, how markets change and how jobs are created.”
In 2017 the subject of local news became a frequent topic in the journalism profession, but there’s still precious little investment or patience with rebuilding it online as community newspapers emerged over decades starting in the late 1800s.
Digital advertising is being swallowed whole by Facebook and Google, and even successful web ventures like BuzzFeed are facing grim prospects. Whether the digital media bubble bursts as is being predicted or not, those of us on a much smaller scale have a chance to establish more of the necessary foundation.
But as I learned at a conference this fall for indie online news publishers, most of us are truly on our own. There is money to be made at the hyperlocal level, but getting advertisers to go with us, instead of Facebook, or fading legacy plays, is brutally difficult.
I’ve also spent far too much time making technology fixes and trying to figure out Facebook’s byzantine publishers procedures. So following that first-year-in-hell notion has helped my perspective quite a bit.
These six months have been like dog-paddling, trying to keep my head above water, but I’ve got to splash more decisively in the new year. The first half of 2018 has to be where the big push takes place if this project is going to have the success I’m still bullish about.