July 16, 2003

Losing Local News to the Web

Mark Glaser of the Online Journalism Review reports that local Web-only news sites “are moving in on editorial and advertising turf that was once a safe haven for newspapers.”

In the last decade, as online traffic grew and newspaper readership continued its decline, newspapers treaded the editorial waters wearing the axiomatic lifejacket that local news was too time consuming and too expensive for a Web-only company to do.

Glaser reports that small online news and advertising operations such as BeniciaNews.com and FultonDailyNews.com are deflating that belief.

The news on these sites is the über-local – “snooze-worthy to the world at large,” as Glaser puts it – mix of Little League scores and sewer board stories that is the traditional franchise of small-town newspapers.

The newspaper industry has a lot to lose if these online startups can expand, as their publishers hope to do.

I summarized what’s at stake in a piece for the American Journalism Review about the difficulties small-town newspapers face in recruiting qualified staff: “Most newspapers in America are in places like Vacaville. Of the nation's 1,468 dailies, 1,250 have circulations of less than 50,000, according to Editor & Publisher. They have a combined readership of more than 17 million people – just under a third of all daily newspaper readers.”

Without the branded base of a newspaper from which to draw readers – and advertising – the publishers of these Web-only sites borrowed another page, so to speak, from their print competitors.

Says FultonDailyNews.com co-founder to Glaser: "We found the only thing that worked well was covering the news. For each spot news story, people talked about it, and we got a bump in traffic -- which stayed up. Word of mouth really works in small communities."

Listen up, newspapers.

 Mark Glaser Local Web-Only News Sites Are Storming the Suburbs
 American Journalism Review Vacancies in Vacaville...

Posted by Tim Porter at July 16, 2003 06:55 AM


Thanks for the interesting comments on our operation and the rest of the very tiny small-market web-only contingent.

Seriously, we could hold our national convention in a phone booth.

And as I mentioned to Mark Glaser, I still don't understand why that's true.

We believed when we opened in 1999 that we had to open when we did because we just knew that there would be stiff web-only competition, and soon.

No paper and ink to buy, no distribution network to fund -- we knew that smart newspapers would begin shifting resources to the web, where more of their money could be spent on content and less on infrastructure.

We're still waiting.

The dailies *have* made some changes, though. They tell us how much they like reading us as a tip sheet for stories they can do later on. Same for the regional TV stations, which make pitiful attempts to get content to the web and do nothing original with or for the medium.

For us however, the metaphor of choice is not newspapers, it's radio. Small-market radio was once the true voice of a community, but nearly all of them are gone. Radio was a far superior creator of community than a small-market weekly will ever be. That's where we're really trying to go.

Posted by: Dave Bullard on July 27, 2003 08:46 AM
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