OJR launches week-long look at the state of local online news start-ups

Next week OJR will present a special week-long series examining the state of online local news start-ups. We’ve looked at this “grassroots” or “hyperlocal” media in the past, but as each year passes more journalists are thinking about, and starting, these local news sites.

The absence of a replicable, sustainable business model over the past few years isn’t stopping journalists and non-journalists alike from launching websites to cover their communities. From San Diego to St. Louis to Chappaqua, N.Y., budding nonprofits are seeking footholds in their local markets. A few for-profit ventures are in the mix as well, betting that further declines at traditional media businesses will create new openings for their startups.

They come in all sizes and shapes, from mom-and-pop shops focused on a single community concern, to seven-figure operations that attempt to reflect wide civic interests. While nearly all of the sites struggle to find advertising dollars, the number of communities served by online-only news operations continues to grow.

David Westphal of the USC Annenberg School for Communication begins his six-part review on Monday, with an Q&A with Scott Lewis and Andrew Donohue of Voice of San Diego, a site OJR first looked at three years ago.

The series will be of particular interest to me, as my wife and I, along with a former OJR colleague, are in the process of starting our own local news website. We’ve made a fair amount of money over the years publishing niche-topic websites, and now we’d like to invest some of that income in a geographic news site, covering our poorly-covered local school district. We’ll apply the lessons we’ve learned from niche online media (lessons that I’ve written about in my columns here on OJR), but we are eager to read about lessons learned by other local news publishers.

I hope that you will be, too. The series will run Monday through Friday of next week, with a wrap-up and final interview on Monday, Nov. 3. As is fitting an online report, we intend for this series to become a conversation, and not remain a lecture. To kick off that conversation, I’d like to hear from OJR readers your plans, thoughts and questions about local online news start-ups. Let’s start with a poll:

Please tell us the details, in the comments. What would you like to learn about, or from, local online news start-ups? (And if you think you have some answers for fellow readers, don’t be shy!)

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. BTW, I’ll also take this opportunity to make a pitch for you to subscribe to our full-text RSS feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/ojr-full. This is a great way to keep on top of all articles in the series, especially if you are not, um, a fan of reading on the current site background. (We’ve heard you. KDMC is working on a site-wide redesign.)

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