By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Howard Owens takes over the Batavian

Big news out of little Batavia, N.Y. As I was expecting he would, Howard Owens has announced that he’s taking over the Batavian, the online-only “paper” he launched last fall when he was still working for GateHouse Media. He’s going all-in, selling his house and getting ready to start covering the news and selling ads next week. He writes:

My wife and I are listing our house in Pittsford for sale and as soon as it sells, we will rent a place in Batavia (or maybe elsewhere in Genesee County). I expect we’ll see my wife’s byline in The Batavian before too long.

Best of luck to Howard. If he can make this work, it will be a model for a business desperately in need of some good news.

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  1. Howard Owens

    Thank you, much, Dan. I’m pretty damn excited by this opportunity. I’m very optimistic. There’s a ton of work ahead of me, especially over the immediate coming months. I’m convinced this is the right track. Now it’s just a matter of getting the job done.

  2. Adam Gaffin

    That is awesome – and an inspiration to those of us considering the same sort of move.

  3. Amused

    Is “covering the news and selling ads” a good business model? OK for Web but not for newspapers?How nice that there are “new features to add, many of which will please local advertisers.” Is this the vindication of Mark Willes and Kathryn Downing? Is it OK because we like the guy doing it?The Chamber of Commerce must be delighted.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Amused: Are you serious? At small, locally owned newspapers across the country, proprietors cover the news and sell the ads. It has ever been thus. It’s not a function of Web versus print — it’s a function of size.

  5. Tony

    Very interesting news. I will be really interested to see how this goes. Good luck Howard!

  6. Neil

    I took Amused’s point to be, does this business model make even a pretense of keeping a wall between the reporting and the advertising depts, if it’s the same person doing both. Dan says of course not but that’s nothing new. Even if this is a hazard with small publications generally though the question remains, how do you keep the journalism free of boosterism. Isn’t the pressure on objectivity a direct function of dependence on ad revenues? Web vs print may come into play since web ads are so cheap the margins are going to be so slim to begin with that the incentive to keep advertisers happy, at the risk of maintaining objectivity on the reporting side, will be greater than ever. No?Any business that has to rely solely on online ad revenue these days, yikes.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    In 1989-’90 I launched a quarterly magazine northwest of Boston. Journalistic success, I’d like to think, but a business failure. I was the editor and wrote most of the articles. And I sold (damn few) ads.Another nicety of ethicists everywhere is the strict separation of the news and editorial pages. I never worked for a big enough newspaper for that to be meaningful either. I always wrote bylined news stories and unsigned editorials.I suppose I should have warned you — don’t let the children read this! But this is simple reality at 95 percent publications everywhere. Strict separation is wonderful if you can do it, but in most cases it’s not realistic.

  8. Aaron Read

    I used to live not a mile from Pittsford, and I still live in the region. Selling the house, eh? I admire Owens’ panache but I can only think “good luck with that!”Awful lot of “for sale” signs in front of houses out here these days…

  9. Aaron Read

    BTW, just to clear…I do think what Owens is doing is pretty damn cool. Shame he’s not doing it closer to WEOS’s broadcast range; I’d toss him some free underwriting. 🙂

  10. Neil

    Yea–“wall” isn’t the right metaphor. Maybe more like a door threshold–a little bump that might give one pause but which you can step over easily. You’re less enthusiastic about running that spotlight piece on the roofing contractor who’s been ripping off old ladies, if he advertises in your paper and you only have 20 advertisers. The issue is still, the more dependent on ad revenues, the lower that already-low threshold is apt to get. And the cheaper the ads (spelled w-e-b ads), the slimmer the margins, leaving less money for reporters…it’s the same problem the big papers are having isn’t it, just writ small. I don’t see how scaling downward avoids the basic dilemma.

  11. Howard Owens

    Aaron, thanks. And, it’s not like I have any choice but to sell the house. Wish me luck. I’ve got a narrow window to get it done.As for the wall and what not … I’ve been selling ads and involved in editorial all along. This isn’t much of a change.That’s usually the role of the publisher, isn’t it?I think I’m pretty ethical guy.We are what some might call boosterish, kind of in the William Allen White tradition (though not so over the top). I think community news orgs have an obligation to help build the community, and a big part of that is promoting local business.But for advertising to be successful, your news product must be credible.A few months ago, we found out the most venerable pizza parlor in town owed $113,000 in back taxes. It had shut down “for remodeling” (which was what the Daily News reported). If we hadn’t reported the truth, it would have gone unreported. One of the brothers involved in the original location owns another pizza joint. He’s a big advertiser with the Daily, I’m guessing now he’ll never advertise with us. But that’s OK. We can’t shy from the truth.

  12. Vanessa

    Ads ought to be sold based on traffic (How much, who) of the site and the value that provides. Howard’s first priority is to report the news and get the community involved. Most advertising media has always had some some politics involved but if anyone can separate the two, that’s Howard.But Howard is rare. I agree that in most settings, this isn’t ideal for obvious reasons.

  13. RealityCheck

    Get real Howard! Why don't you tell the world why Gatehouse asked you to leave and take that Albatross (Batavian) with you? Did your ego & your arrogance finally catch up with you? Who's lining up at Walmart now? I certainly hope your wife has a good job because the Batavian will never keep a roof over your head. I can't help but notice now that you are no longer "employed" that it is the first time in a very long time that you are "too busy" to Twitter……Hmmm hence the dismissal….?Good Luck with your new venture and let us all know when reality actually kicks in.. I generously give it 6 – 8 months give or take depending on how big your savings account is

  14. Dear RealityCheck:

    I missed your comment on March 3, 2009. I stumbled across it four months ago, after your prediction of “6-8 months” had passed. But knowing this day would come, I thought I’d just wait … to post this.

    Go to hell, you anonymous little twerp. Clearly, you don’t have the courage to stand behind your idiotic statements.

    You may never see this comment, but nonetheless, I thought I’d point out, today is the one year anniversary of our taking over The Batavian, and we we’re still here – living, as we have done since June, solely on the income The Batavian generates.

    So, you know, screw you, and all your petty little ill-informed bile.

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