Recession? Local news sites are hanging tough

By David Westphall Posted: 2009-02-26 in OJR.COM:
davidwestphalMary Morgan couldn’t have picked a more difficult time (the middle of a recession) and place (Michigan and double-digit unemployment) to start a new community Web site. So why is she smiling?

It’s because Ann Arbor Chronicle is coming up on its six-month anniversary, it’s meeting financial targets, and Morgan and husband/business partner Dave Askins are able to pay household bills out of revenue from the site. “When I was a business reporter, I used to laugh at firms that marked each anniversary,” said Morgan, who acts as publisher. “Now I know how they feel.”

With a deep and potentially long recession set in, I wanted to circle back with Morgan and some of the other for-profit news site owners I talked with last fall, and see how their mostly new operations were faring. The question has taken on more urgency in recent weeks. As economic conditions have worsened and newspapers have shown accelerating signs of stress, the health of these online-only news sources seems suddenly more critical.

The anecdotal answer from my small sample group is this: So far they’re hanging tough. Business hasn’t fallen much, if at all, and most are instituting expansion plans. If they’re a barometer, community news sites have some resiliency to them.

“We have seen some impact from the economy in terms of advertisers cutting spending or even going out of business,” said Jonathan Weber, who’s been running New West since 2005. “On the other hand, this kind of dislocation forces people to revisit how they are spending money, and rethink their marketing strategies overall, and that is actually very good for us.”

The group also answers affirmatively another fundamental question for what seems to be a growing number of people thinking about starting up a community news sites: Can you do this and make a living?

My News Director says We Should be Looking for News, What Does It Really Mean?

In his “News Notes” column, Doug Drew explains that it’s all about recognizing a story, and in these tough budget times, it’s best to make oneself as valuable as possible…suggesting stories all the time is one good way to do just that. Here’s Doug’s posting:

Enterprising stories: Going beyond the news of the day

One of the biggest complaints from viewers in research is that all the news is the same. Same stories day in and day out, and each station seems to have pretty much the same content. There are some stories that are “must-cover,” but each newscast, every day, has to have some unique content. If you don’t go “beyond the news of the day,” then viewers will grow weary of tuning in. You must set the expectation that every single newscast will have something viewers haven’t seen before.

Finding unique content

But where do you find those stories? They rarely present themselves in news releases, on the wires, or in any of the traditional ways newsrooms find content. Most enterprise stories have to be “discovered,” and that means every single news employee should be on the lookout for interesting things whether they are at work, at home, on their way into work, at church, at their kid’s baseball game, at the movies, in a restaurant or at the gym.

“Seeing” news

I was reading the LA Times on Saturday and came across an interesting article by Sandy Banks. She was on her way home from work when she spotted a bed and couch ringed by some bookcases under a freeway off ramp. She made a note of it, and later went back to find out who lived there, and turned her visit into a compelling story.

That’s the kind of story that will never show up at the assignment desk. It’s only found by someone with a good eye for news and more importantly, someone who is willing to be “on duty” even though “off-duty.” We all know the phrase that news is “not an eight hour job,” but how many people actually take that to heart when not at work? Think how many enterprise stories a newsroom could produce if every single person suggested just one story at the morning meeting based on something they had seen while out in the community?

In that very same LA Times there was also a story by Veronique De Turenne Simply by going on line and looking at the local Craiglist ads, she was able to produce a compelling story about how the economy has forced so many people to sell items to make ends meet. She found some really interesting items that one wouldn’t normally see advertised if it weren’t for the economic crisis. Again, it’s not the type of story that would ever show up in a press release.

The other day on facebook, a friend of mine, Larry Klein of CBS News, posted a new status, noting how he has seen an increase in the number of people who seem to be taking their lunch to work. As he commutes into New York City each day he is seeing more and more people toting their lunches and noticing more people in the lunch room. Another good angle to the economic crisis, a story that one has to “see” as compared to waiting for it to show up in a press release.

Be as valuable as possible

The best newsrooms are the ones that create their own content daily in addition to the given must-cover stories. It you are someone in the newsroom who is constantly pitching story ideas in the morning meetings, great! Keep it up! For those of you who don’t normally look for stories outside your regular work hours, keep in mind that with budget cuts and layoffs mounting each day, it’s best to make yourself as valuable as possible, and finding and suggesting stories is one good way to do that.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist who does reporter and producer seminars for 602 Communications.

This article originally published at TVSPY.COM.

Continue reading “My News Director says We Should be Looking for News, What Does It Really Mean?”

Top 10 TV Websites – January 2009

The Hitwise data featured is based on US market share of visits as defined by the IAB, which is the percentage of online traffic to the domain or category, from the Hitwise sample of 10 million US internet users. Hitwise measures more than 1 million unique websites on a daily basis, including sub-domains of larger websites. Hitwise categorizes websites into industries on the basis of subject matter and content, as well as market orientation and competitive context. The market share of visits percentage does not include traffic for all sub-domains of certain websites that could be reported on separately.
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How the Crash Will Reshape America – And the Way We Think.

Richard Florida has an interesting article in the March issue of the Atlantic titled “How the Crash Will Reshape America.” He talks about how big, international economic crises typically usher in a new economic paradigm, and then speculates on what this economic crises may foretell:

Economic crises tend to reinforce and accelerate the underlying, long-term trends within an economy. Our economy is in the midst of a fundamental long-term transformation—similar to that of the late 19th century, when people streamed off farms and into new and rising industrial cities. In this case, the economy is shifting away from manufacturing and toward idea-driven creative industries—and that, too, favors America’s talent-rich, fast-metabolizing places.

. . . the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs.

You’ve probably seen this video before, but, with updated stats, here is the argument for those of us who are visual learners.

How will you turn your organization into a “densely talented and creative” force producing a high velocity of ideas? Comments?

Practical Wisdom: “You Don’t Need to be Brilliant to be Wise”

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.
Watch his talk at the recent TED symposium here.

Looking for Work? the FBI is hiring 2,100 professionals

Attention job seekers: the FBI is looking for a few good men and women to fill a variety of mission-critical roles.

Link to FBI Jobs

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Collection of images of FBI employees
Well actually, we’re looking for a few thousand—just over 2,100 professional staff employees and 850 special agents, to be precise—in one of the largest hiring blitzes in our 100-year history.


The reason behind our mega hiring initiative? According to Assistant Director John Raucci of our Human Resources Division, it’s to bring more people on board with skills in critical areas, especially language fluency and computer science. “But,” explains Raucci, “we’re also looking for professionals in a wide variety of fields who have a deep desire to help protect our nation from terrorists, spies, and others who wish us harm.”

To learn more about the array of job opportunities available and next steps in the process, check out our “Inside the FBI” podcast, also available on iTunes, and the latest edition of our FBI, This Week radio program.

Beyond ‘Stormwatch’: Better Ways to Cover the Weather

P.J Bednarski, in B&C recently pointed out all the dumb ways we covered weather on local television. His examples came from watching coverage during a recent storm.

Tree down on Beresford Way; only one of the storm casualties
Tree down on Beresford Way; only one of the storm casualties

Benasrski said:

Here are the ones I saw on Stormwatch—again—that I think should be retired:

  • Talking to one disgruntled and one still-cheerful passenger at the snowed-in airport
  • Going to a hardware store to document the lack of snow shovels
  • Leaning into a car going nowhere and asking how bad the road conditions are
  • Interviewing Christmas shoppers while the equivalent of a jet turbine blows snow in their faces.
  • Skipping the middleman and being the station’s snow guinea pig, but this time, you have the yardstick
  • Talking to the sanitation chief about the city’s supply of rock salt and available drivers.
  • And don’t forget this chestnut: Watching kids sled or build a snowman
  • Truthfully, if stations want to save some money this year, I suggest this: Use file footage. One car from 2008 skidding into a guardrail is not much different than the car that did the same dance in 2004. You’re not actually documenting an accident. You’re illustrating a condition.
  • Kids have shoveled out neighborhood cars for years. You spent a fortune on archival capacity for your newsroom. And you did this story in 2006 Use it again. Just edit out the reporter you have since laid off.

So what is the craziest thing you saw?  Anyone have any great ideas to improve?