Ever since completing some reporting this fall on the status of community news Web sites, I’ve wanted a better sense of whether these new startups have a realistic chance of surviving and ultimately thriving. Last week I got my chance to ask an expert – my OJR colleague Robert Niles.
The answer, said Niles, is yes – though I should note his response came after a long pause. Not surprisingly, he had some caveats. The main one is that startup operators need a back-up way to pay the rent and buy groceries for as long as a year after launch. It can take that long for most sites to build an audience and advertising base, Niles said, and the duration seems to be growing, as Internet users’ options grow. Even then, Niles said, operators need to know that costs have to be kept “as close to zero as possible,” and profits are going to be modest. “But yes,” he said, “it’s possible to make money.”
The anecdotal evidence I’m seeing convinces me that a lot of people are trying, and more are going to follow. I can only imagine how difficult a challenge this is. The people who succeed are going to need a very wide skill set, a passion for success and a tolerance for very long hours. Not only that, but people starting now are launching against Depression-like conditions that will make matters much, much worse.
Last week, at the University of Missouri conference on the Information Valet Project, I ran into Bob Gough, who runs the eight-month old QuincyNews, a Web site in Quincy, Ill. Although he’s going up against established hometown media, Gough said he’s already turning a profit on the strength of 30 local businesses advertising on his site. And, said Gough, he’s thinking about expanding.
Beyond that, these days I’m seeing increasing references to some of the people I interviewed for my reporting on community news sites. Last week, for example, Romensko linked to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, a husband-wife team who are trying to make a go in Michigan.
Another thing I’ve been eager to know is how many of these sites are up and running. They, of course, come in all kinds of sizes and blends, so counting them is an inexact science. But I’d like to try to get a better fix, so I’m going to continue expanding the list I began a couple of months ago. You can see it at the end of my first OJR piece on independent news sites.
Send me an e-mail ([email protected]) if you operate one of these sites or know of someone who does. As in the earlier list, here’s the information I’m looking for (using the Ann Arbor Chronicle as an example):
Ann Arbor Chronicle (Michigan)
Launched: September 2008.
Target audience: Ann Arbor area.
Content: All local content. Daily postings of local news, features, public meeting coverage, opinion pieces, cartoons.
Staff: Two full-time, plus more than a dozen “correspondents” contributing to a feature modeled after Twitter.
Key leaders: Mary Morgan, David Askins.
Status: For-profit. Local advertising revenue model.
Metrics: 4,000 unique visitors for the first month in operation.