Lukas Eddy

Thoughts on Funding Local News

As we develop startup ideas in class on how to innovate and redesign campus news media, our job is to look at target markets and target audiences for the solutions we come up with. Part of the way we can become disruptors in news media and news media distribution is, as the name suggests, changing the way we do news.

Farhad Manjoo, in his New York Times article on how to fund local news, suggests a local news source that focuses on pertinent issues in the community: housing, development, education, local politics, transportation, etc. This could all be in a morning email newsletter, he says.

Now, I don’t follow the news even remotely as much as I should — especially being a journalism student. You could call me a “news poser” because I only follow the news when a significant event is unfolding and everybody else is tuning in as well.

I subscribe to one (free) online magazine and receive one other in the mail, and these are very niche magazines. So when I realized that I would actually be willing to pay for a regular email newsletter with pertinent local news happenings, I surprised myself. I probably don’t have the budget for it as a college student, but once I move somewhere and pay more taxes and spend more of my life in an area, it would be nice to get a special email newsletter to read with morning coffee.

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Ideally, this newsletter wouldn’t devolve into clickbait subject titles and content littered with unsightly ads (what would I be paying for, then?) and negative news about everything that’s wrong in our community. Feel-good news is nice to have around as well, so people don’t go around assuming everybody else is out to get them.

Five or ten bucks a month isn’t a whole lot. How much does Spotify cost now anyways? From the other side of the paid newsletter picture, having 10,000 subscribers paying $10 a month is a nice chunk of change for what could be a relatively small (and very hardworking) team of people.

Ricardo Bilton, in his NiemanLab interview with Trevor Kauffman, CEO of Piano, uncovers that digital advertising revenue has seen additional struggles besides just a lower revenue. These challenges, including ad-blockers and social media algorithm changes, are what have made the Piano digital media business system more and more successful, pointing the way towards widespread paywalls for content.

We haven’t addressed them yet, but I can imagine some ethical issues will arise as consumer-paid news content becomes more prevalent. What are people on tighter budgets supposed to do? Resort to lower-quality or less-informative news? There will have to be some boundaries here and there to control what needs to be paid for by the reader and what any reader can have access to.

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But still, the idea to charge readers for local news could be pretty good. Really big local stories could be covered by a state news source or even a national news source, so non-paying customers would still be exposed to that. And as a private email newsletter news source gains financial traction, it may be wise to publish some weekly content for free online (if you wanna read more, pony up the bucks).

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