In the months since the November election, we’ve seen a huge nationwide uptick in digital newspaper subscriptions, with the NY Times and the Washington Post leading the way. But while national newspaper brands are thriving, local news is different. Consider the story of our own KOMO news, forced to create content to appease its new national owners, the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group.
Ben Thompson, one of my favorite tech writers, argues that the traditional newspaper model – a bundle of comics and Ann Landers and sports and local news – is obsolete in the internet era. The future of local news is a small, subscription-powered outlet with a distinct niche:
A sustainable local news publication will be fundamentally different: a minimal rundown of the news of the day, with a small number of in-depth articles a week featuring real in-depth reporting, with the occasional feature or investigative report. After all, it’s not like it is hard to find content to read on the Internet: what people will pay for is quality content about things they care about (and the fact that people care about their cities will be these publications’ greatest advantage).
That’s exactly what we’re trying to build here at STB. I’ve been a blogger since 2003 and a long-time believer in the power of the internet to inform and entertain us. The glorious future isn’t here yet, and local papers like the Seattle Times still have resources that dwarf even the biggest local Internet pubs (which is why I subscribe, editorial page be damned). But the only way we’re going to get there is if organizations like ours continue to search for new revenue streams and fund new reporting methods.
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13 Replies to “Support Independent Local Media”
Considering how little media covers transit outside of right wing talkback radio, I’m happy to chip in $15/month for Seattle Transit Blog. Right now, we’ve got legislative hearings inbound to Sound Transit and without a pro-transit media outlet with the data (I’m asking for it: https://t.co/pb89GUYeBn ) and the vigor and the resources to fight back, we can expect a lot worse than just a cut in voter-approved car tab revenue. A lot worse.
Folks, what Seattle Transit Blog has done for transit advocates and spawning transit advocates is nothing short of amazing. If we’re going to keep improving transit in this region, we need STB and eventually one for the North by Northwest and another for Pierce & Thurston Counties. Period.
“The future of local news is a small, subscription-powered outlet with a distinct niche.” This basically defines the problem with media today — it’s fractured into specialty niches. People only see what they want, and rarely or never read anything that might broaden their interests or challenge their biases. One big reason this nation is so politically fractured. I came up during the era of mass media, and I miss it more and more each day.
A general newspaper and a niche news outlet are different things. Both are needed and can’t replace each other. A niche outlet covers one topic or viewpoint better than a general newspaper can. But a general newspaper answers the question, “What’s happening in this region? What’s important for me to know?” You can’t get that from one niche outlet or several niche outlets: they leave a lot of things uncovered. You need an editor with broad-based knowledge and reporters, grounded in traditional journalism. The “news magazine” format used by Morning Edition and The Economist includes not just the top news stories but also a mixture of education, health, literature, art, sports, etc, and the Times covers things like native gardening and neighborhoods. The reason is that all these things are a part of life, and they affect the main news (or as The Economist would say, they affect the economy). Western culture has gone overboard in specializing and compartmentalizing knowledge and information — so we especially need more wholistic approaches to get back into balance.
Newspapers are being partly replaced by neighborhood blogs. Those are valuable, but people need to know what’s happening in all the neighborhoods. I try to read some of the neighborhood blogs but there are so many of them that I can’t read all of them; in fact I don’t even know all the ones that exist. So I end up reading mostly my own neighborhood’s and feeling like I don’t have a good handle on the rest of the city, or getting knowledge of neighborhoods I might live in in the future (but maybe I don’t know it yet). This is the kind of thing were somebody needs to select the most important articles from them, or do reporting in parallel in the neighorhoods, and publish it in a general newspaper.
Thompson has an interesting idea of a subscription-based newspaper that’s ad-free. I don’t know of any existing ones, all the local “new media” seems to be ad-based. And Thompson may be right that traditional newspapers have distorted their story selection by basing it around ads, and that a subscriber-funded newspaper might make different selections. That’s worth trying and seeing if they do. Some publications may have too niche a subscriber base and may be too narrow, but there are also people like myself and RDPence that mainly want to be informed on everything significant, and want what an editor with traditional journalist ethics and experience to decide what’s significant. To go alongside whatever niches I also read.
I love newspapers too (I subscribe to three) but I think his point is simply that the business model is intertwined with the product. Newspapers have high fixed costs (printing presses, delivery trucks) and therefore have to spread those costs over the widest possible audience. That necessitates a certain kind of broad, non-ideological news product with comics and horoscopes and classifieds and international news all bundled together to be attractive enough to the marginal household.
In the new world, the fixed costs are gone, so the product will need to evolve as well. Ad sales are great (thank you advertisers!) but ad prices are falling and too many ads make for a terrible reader experience, especially on mobile.
Sinclair Broadcasting bought KOMO about 4 years ago. The KOMO content manipulation is not a particularly new issue, just a lot more noticeable in this political climate.
The new issue is that Sinclair is trying to buy Q13, which would make Sinclair’s content manipulation even more egregious when holds 2 of 4.local stations.
And it’s not just Seattle if Sinclair’s purchase goes through as expected they will own stations covering 70% of the country where they will be forcing those stations to air right wing stories and fake news.
fiscal agent for match purposes?
I’ve got one PayPal monthly going. I’d like to increase it. How do I make that work? Just make separate for the difference? But then I won’t be a “Subway” member, just two Streetcars coupled together…….. [pouts]
Maybe a new level is appropriate. We’ll call it the Maintenance & Operations Facility Level, eh?
Hah! The MOF Level.
Hi Richard, great question! I’ll follow up with you over email.
It looks like my first high paying job will be in San Diego. Unfortunate that when I finally have money to spare, I’ll no longer live in the region.
Your donation template is not Canada-friendly. I tried to kick in a small share but it balks at the failure to enter a valid province (the choice of which it does not offer). Surprising, for a Seattle web operation.
After several rounds including entry of the CC data etc, I’m afraid I retire for the night
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