There really are new business models for journalism

Seems every where I turn online I find questions about alternative or new business models for news. At the same time, everywhere I turn offline I seem to run into a new independent journalism startup.

Maybe there’s something in the water in the greater Seattle area that is driving it, but even if it is only a regional trend, it’s encouraging to see them sprouting up.

A handful had representatives at a workshop Saturday sponsored by the local AAJA chapter and hosted by the UW. However nascent each effort may seem today, they collectively offer a glimpse toward  a sustainable future for journalism, each with a different twist on potential business models.

Newsvine: Started by ESPN.com and ABC.com veterans in 2005 and purchased by MSNBC last year, the site is now paying a revenue share for advertising that a registered member/correspondent generates with a personalized page. Tyler Adams, a community manager for the site, said the best writers “are making real money.”

Grist: An environmental-focused news and analysis publication, Grist is a successful example of a non-profit business model, using grants to pay the costs of operation. Editor Russ Walker said it’s no panacea, though, saying “it’s more intense than a for-profit business model.” Grist, which has 24 employees, has a separate department for grant-writing and management, much like a traditional publication’s ad sales team.

West Seattle Blog: Tracy Record founded this hyperlocal news site in 2005 and now she and her husband are living off the revenues the advertising generates. They are looking for a part-time editor to take the reigns on the weekends, too, so they can spend a couple of normal days with their 13-year-old son.

Xconomy: Luke Timmerman, a former Seattle Times reporter, talked about the underwriter/sponsor business model used by his technology and life sciences news site, which launched with venture capital funding, too. The site started in Boston and has expanded to Seattle and San Diego.

TechFlash (bonus): TechFlash didn’t have a representative at the workshop but I had lunch with co-founder and executive editor John Cook this week, so his new operation is fresh in my mind, too. Cook and Todd Bishop left the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year to launch this technology and entrepreneurship news site, in conjunction with the Puget Sound Business Journal. They considered doing it by themselves with startup funding for a while, but in the end decided to go with an established publisher who already had ad sales experience. A recent public event drew more than 250 people and some 30 or 40 had to be turned away at the door because the room wouldn’t hold any more. 

In all, a positive trendline for the growing collection of independent journalism startups. I know these smaller, more niche-oriented sites don’t offer much to all the struggling media companies, from The New York Times to McClatchy. But even if the future doesn’t include news companies of that scale, I’m confident it will still include many vibrant forms of journalism.

I’m interested in learning about other independent journalism startups outside the Seattle area so if you know one (especially one that has been overlooked by new media bloggers and pundits), give ’em a shout out in the comments or drop me a line.

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