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September 15, 2014

Local Fix: Start-up Struggles, Mobile Moves and Membership

Subscribe to have the Local Fix delivered to you on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea… 

One good ideaMine Your Archives. On Thursday, Sept. 18, Debbie Galant and I will be hosting a free online discussion about leveraging digital archives to add context to today’s top stories, drive a bit of nostalgic traffic, and develop new revenue streams. I hope you can join us.

From Subscribers to Members

One of the big stories this week was the launch of the Guardian’s new membership program. Alan Rusbridger wants to create a “community of journalists, readers and friends” through online engagement and in-person events. How they bridge the diffuse, distributed digital community and local readers will be fascinating to watch.

4579243797_183432f005_zOver at INMA Pit Gottschalk profiles Fany Péchiodat who has built a newsletter and website with 1.5 million subscribers by publishing one story a day. She then refused to take any advertising that didn’t speak directly to her audience. Now she is building new services to serve her members. Earlier this year, Nieman Lab covered the launch of Slate’s new membership program and examined how the nonprofitsVoice of San Diego and MinnPost are building their membership models. Even theWall Street Journal, which has long had a strong base of subscribers, is developing a membership program. (Also be sure to read Joe Pompeo and Mathew Ingram on the trend.)

>>> KISSMetrics has a useful post on content distribution and specifically the value of building your “subscriber” list.

From Paywalls to Partnerships

This week Esquire put a paywall around one story. It was an interesting experiment, designed as a fundraiser for journalist James Foley’s memorial fund (they hope to raise $200,000). Mathew Ingram notes that Esquire has tried single story transactions in the past, but where a publication can find an alignment between stories and causes, it might help encourage more people to pay. Such a partnership could be set up in a way that both the newsroom and the nonprofit benefit through revenue and engagement. There are clear ethical questions that need to be examined with such a partnership, but as more and more newsrooms seek tosupport and engage their communities we may see more examples like this.

I think the Esquire model is also a good reminder that with flexible tools like TinyPass (which is what Esquire used) it is easy for news organizations to experiment with various transaction points and models. That kind of flexibility is highlighted in this WAN-IFRA post about “Six Things to Consider” when reviewing paywall solutions. As Raju Narisetti pointed out on Twitter “How to charge for the product is far more important than the price itself.”

>>> Another way of asking your community to help pay for your journalism is through crowdfunding. This week Beacon announced that it had helped TechDirt raise $70,000 for reporting on Net Neutrality and the Huffington Post raised $40,000 to pay a Ferguson-based citizen journalist to report over the coming year. Also check out how an environmental reporting collective is using Beacon to reinvigorate climate coverage.

From Start-up to Sustainability

Quartz has a fascinating look at the nearly 70-year-old “Fashion Calendar” publication and the 90-year-old woman who started it. Their post “How to build a startup that keeps you going for a lifetime” is a reminder that some of the lessons from media start-ups in the 1940’s are still relevant today: Solve a problem, Prove your worth, Don’t be afraid to be the boss, Keep your day (or night) job, and Embrace technology—but don’t stray too far from your core (Those are just a few).

But the path from start-up to sustainability is rarely smooth, and this week Nieman Lab checked in with the Lens in New Orleans after they announced big strategic changes and cut backs this summer. The piece is useful as an example of how one site is looking to diversify their revenue through syndication partnerships, membership, events and Google surveys. But it also highlights the need to plan early and often when it comes to revenue: “Once it’s the emergency, once the boat is taking on water, that’s not when you need to be looking for the lifeboat,” Michael Giusti, a journalism professor at Loyola University New Orleans to Nieman Lab. “You need to make sure you know how it’s going to work before the emergency.”

>>> Knight’s report on sustainability in non-profit news from last year is useful for commercial newsrooms of all sizes too. It offers a detailed look at how 18 newsrooms are trying to develop a mix of revenue models.

From Local to Mobile

For a longtime, mobile journalism has focused on leveraging new digital tools to report stories on the go, but a series of new experiments are taking entire newsrooms on the road, not just across town but across the country. The Public Herald spent 18-months on an investigation of fracking in Pennsylvania and are now taking their story across America. Through events in more than 40 cities they hope to grow their audience, revenue and engagement. Luis Gomez of the Investigative News Network discusses the project and some of the potential challenges it faces.

And as the BBC expands online and on cable here in the US, the UK public media giant is experimenting with ways to do local reporting in the United States. At DigiDay Ricardo Bilton looks at the BBC’s “pop-up bureaus” in small American cities which will aim to tell uniquely local stories that will resonate with a global audience. While TV stations have long had their satellite trucks for on the ground coverage, bad in 2012 Digital First took the mobile news van in a different direction with their community news labs.

>>> I really didn’t want to mention the Apple Watch, but this Nieman Lab post on how wearables could make the “glance” a new “subatomic unit of news” was pretty interesting. I’ve written before how bite-sized news can create new on-ramps for news organizations.

Photo by Flickr user Howard Lake, used via creative commons.