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

Tag: LION Publishers Page 1 of 2

Apple News Plus: Promising, or just another example of promises, promises?

Photo (cc) 2019 by Lisa Main Johnson

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when news organizations were all-in on social media as a way to distribute their journalism. But that was then. In recent years, Facebook has fiddled with its algorithm repeatedly in order to play down the amount of news that will show up in users’ feeds. Actual partnerships with the likes of The Washington Post are a thing of the past. Google is unreliable. And let’s not get started with what has happened to Twitter/X, the other main source of click-throughs to news stories.

To compensate, media outlets doubled down on newsletters, which don’t drive as much traffic as social but which do have the advantage of being under their control. Of course, all this is playing out at a time when many if not most newspapers and magazines have put their journalism behind paywalls, which further degrades the value of relying on social. A click from Twitter doesn’t mean much if the clicker can’t read the story they’re interested in or — more to the point — see the ads.

Now we’re experiencing a bit of excitement over a newish platform: Apple News Plus. The free version comes preinstalled on everyone’s iPhones and Macs. For $12.99 a month, you get a whole lot more (though not The New York Times, which is skeptical).

Apple News Plus got a big boost earlier this week when Semafor media reporter Max Tani wrote a mostly favorable story. He begins with quite an anecdote about The Daily Beast, which had been on the ropes as its reliance on Facebook and Google was resulting in a dwindling number of clicks. Thanks to its partnership with Apple News Plus, though, the Beast is on track to earn between $3 million and $4 million this year, more than its own in-house subscription program.

Better yet, you don’t have to click through. Stories load instantly and in many cases are more attractive than the publications’ own websites. Tani writes:

The Beast is hardly alone in its increased reliance on the iOS [and Mac] news aggregator. The free version of Apple News has been a source of audience attention for news publishers since it launched in 2015. But while many publishers have come to the conclusion that traffic has less business value than they once thought, they’re still desperate for revenue. Executives at companies including Condé Nast, Penske Media, Vox, Hearst, and Time all told Semafor that Apple News+ has come to represent a substantial stream of direct revenue.

Which raises a question: Haven’t we been down this road before? Indeed, Facebook and Google both experimented with partnering with news organizations and republishing their content on its own platforms, but those arrangements ultimately came to a bad end. Needless to say, Apple News Plus also privileges national publications over local media outlets. Tani mentions partnerships with large regional newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll get down to the level of hyperlocals that cover small communities and neighborhoods.

Chris Krewson, the executive director of LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers put it this way on Twitter: “Every time I watch this movie the ending is the same.”

Let me point out another problem. A few large newspapers, both national (principally the Times and The Wall Street Journal) and regional (including The Boston Globe and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis), have achieved profitability on the strength of digital subscriptions. Key to that is that they get all the revenue. The Globe’s non-discounted digital subscription rate of $30 a month is more than double what you’d pay Apple, and that money is being split among all of the media partners that are taking part, as well as with Apple itself.

Journalism is expensive, and news organizations with large reporting staffs need as much subscription revenue as they can get. What Apple is offering, essentially, is iTunes for news, an idea that the late David Carr was promoting 15 years ago. There are good reasons it’s never caught on — until now, maybe.

Long-term, no tech company is going to be a reliable partner for news organizations. Apple is attractive in ways that Facebook and Twitter never were: it’s not a social network, and charging subscriptions for users provides a more solid underpinning than anything the platforms offered. And of course journalism should take advantage of what Apple is offering. At this late date, I think every news executive knows the rug could be pulled out from under them at any moment. But they ought to take the money while it’s there.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Six projects featured in our book and podcast are honored by LION Publishers

Photo (cc) 2015 by Bas Leenders

LION Publishers has named 36 winners of its 2023 Local Journalism Awards — and four of them have either been featured in “What Works in Community News,” the forthcoming book by Ellen Clegg and me, have been guests on the “What Works” podcast, or both. Two other projects we’ve highlighted were finalists. For that matter, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers’ executive director, Chris Krewson, has been a guest on our podcast as well. Below I have omitted circulation categories, but you can find them if you click through to the full list.

• Santa Cruz Local, in California, was honored as LION Business of the Year, the organization’s “marquee award.” The Local was also the co-winner of the Operational Resilience Award and a finalist for a Community Engagement Award. We interviewed CEO and co-founder Kara Meyberg Guzman for both our book and our podcast.

• The Food Section’s editor and founder, Hanna Raskin, was the winner of the Community Member of the Year Award for her work in helping other members and for sharing her knowledge. The Food Section, which is devoted to Southern food and cooking, was also a finalist for a Business of the Year Award and an Outstanding Coverage Award. Raskin has been a guest on our podcast.

• VTDigger, a large nonprofit that covers both statewide and local news in Vermont, was a co-winner of the Public Service Award for its reporting on legislators’ ethics disclosures. Founding editor Anne Galloway has been a guest on our podcast.

• Burlington Buzz, a hyperlocal site that covers Burlington, Massachusetts, won a Community Engagement Award. Founder Nicci Kadilak has been a guest on our podcast.

In addition, The Colorado Sun and The Mendocino Voice, both of which are covered extensively in “What Works in Community News,” earned finalist nominations, the Sun for Collaboration of the Year and the Voice for an Accountability Award. We plan to have folks from both projects on our podcast sometime next year after the book is published.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists!

Leave a comment | Read comments

Something for the kitchen table: Why print makes sense for some local news startups

Local news board members Greg Bestick of the Harpswell Anchor, Fred Perry of Brookline.News and Virginia McIntyre of The Concord Bridge. Photo (cc) 2023 by Dan Kennedy.

Residents looking to start news organizations in their communities usually look to digital first. Even at the local level, advertising revenues are not what they used to be, and the cost of offering a print newspaper — both in terms of money and complexity — often isn’t worth it.

Yet the traditional notion of publishing a weekly newspaper remains attractive on several levels. Readers like it. Advertisers prefer it. And in many states, public notices placed by governmental agencies, a lucrative source of revenue, are restricted to print papers.

So I was interested to learn that print is part of the discussion at three nonprofit local news startups that were featured at a panel discussion, “The Re-Emergence of the Community Newspaper,” held during the recent conference of the NorthEast Association of Communications Executives, held in Meredith, New Hampshire.

The Harpswell Anchor in Maine and The Concord Bridge in Massachusetts have offered print right from the beginning. Brookline.News in Massachusetts is digital-only but may offer a print edition in the future. (Disclosure: Ellen Clegg, my research, podcast and writing partner, is also a founder and co-chair of Brookline.News.)

Greg Bestick, president of the nonprofit board that publishes the Anchor, said print was not something he and his fellow founders especially wanted to offer. What changed their mind, he explained, was that a survey of the community revealed that 95% wanted something they could hold in their hands.

“We weren’t thrilled about that,” Bestick said, “but we did say we’d be much more robust online than the previous owner.”

Unlike The Concord Bridge and Brookline.News, which were both launched in response to massive budget cuts by the newspaper chain Gannett, The Harpswell Anchor had been a locally owned for-profit newspaper until several years ago. The paper ceased publication during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bestick said. The new iteration of the Anchor has had an operating surplus from the start, he added, and won 11 awards from the Maine Press Association during its first year.

Virginia McIntyre, a member of The Concord Bridge’s board, said the founders of that site were enthusiastic about print right from the start. “We wanted something people could have on the kitchen table,” she said, adding: “It’s nice to have something that the family can see as a whole. Our advertisers also like having an ad that hits every household.” The print edition of the Bridge, she explained, is mailed for free to each of Concord’s 8,700 households.

Discussions about starting a community news outlet began after Gannett decided in early 2022 to eliminate nearly all local journalism from its Massachusetts weeklies. The Concord Journal is still published, but it’s filled with regional stories from throughout Gannett’s network. Because of that, McIntyre said, many residents had no idea about important developments such as the hiring of a town manager and a $110 million middle school project. Although the Bridge includes feature stories and coverage of school sports, she said that the goal is to inform the public about day-to-day goings-on.

“It’s not entertainment,” she said. “I always thought Concord was a boring place, and now I know it is.”

In contrast to Concord, Gannett shut down the Brookline Tab altogether, leaving a community of nearly 60,000 people just minutes from Boston without any local source of news. “The Tab was not good. But it was something,” said Fred Perry, a member of the Brookline.News board.

Brookline.News’ website didn’t go live until last week; a newsletter began covering the town just before the annual town meeting in April. Perry said he’s hoping that the project can start offering a print edition sometime this fall, praising “the wonderful examples on both sides of me,” a reference to Bestick and McIntyre. Several other board members, he added, are skeptical of print because of the cost, but he said he’s optimistic that print “can generate a significant surplus.”

The panel discussion was moderated by John Harrison, an executive with Wallit, a company that helps publishers manage digital subscriptions.

In many cases, digital-only makes sense. LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, an organization for digital news entrepreneurs, has more than 300 members. Many of the projects that Ellen and I are profiling in our forthcoming book, “What Works in Community News,” are digital-only, and they have no plans to add a print edition.

Yet print has persisted long past its anticipated expiration date. Perhaps the best way to think about it is that print is still worth doing — but only if it makes sense in terms of revenue, reader preferences and advertiser reach.

Correction: Updated with the proper spelling of Greg Bestick’s name.

Omnibus spending bill reportedly omits assistance for local news

The U.S. Capitol. Photo (cc) 2013 by Mark Fischer.

The $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that’s making its way through Congress reportedly contains nothing to ease the local news crisis. An emailed news bulletin from the trade publication Editor & Publisher, citing unnamed sources, reported this morning that both the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) and the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA) have been excluded from the bill.

For those of you who don’t follow these issues obsessively, let me unpack this a bit.

The JCPA would allow an antitrust exemption for news organizations so that they could bargain collectively with Google and Facebook for a share of their advertising revenues. You often hear news executives complain that the giant platforms are republishing their content without paying for it. That is a serious distortion. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Google and Facebook, which control about half the digital advertising market, benefit significantly from linking to and sharing news.

The LJSA would create three tax credits that would benefit local news organizations. The first would allow consumers to write off the cost of subscriptions. The second would provide a tax benefit to businesses for buying ads. The third would grant tax write-offs to publishers for hiring and retaining journalists. That last provision was included in President Biden’s Bill Back Better bill, which Senate Republicans, joined by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, killed last year.

The demise of the JCPA is not entirely bad news. I thought it might be worth giving it a try to see what the two sides might come up with. Still, there was a lot of merit to the argument made by critics like Chris Krewson, executive director of LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, that most of the revenues would be diverted to large legacy newspaper publishers — including those owned by corporate chain owners and hedge funds — rather than to community-based start-ups.

The LJSA, on the other hand, was more intriguing, even though it would also benefit legacy newspapers. For one thing, the tax credits could provide a real lifeline to small local news projects. For another, the third provision, for publishers, would reward the large chain owners only for good behavior — Gannett and Alden Global Capital could not tap into that credit if they keep laying off journalists.

I’m guessing that this is the end of the road for both proposals given that the Republicans will take over the House in the next few weeks. That’s not entirely a bad thing. As Ellen Clegg and I have found in our research at “What Works,” local news organizations across the country, from for-profit legacy newspapers to nonprofit digital start-ups, are finding innovative ways to continue serving their communities.

The economic challenges facing news organizations is real, but in many cases they can be managed with innovative thinking and committed local ownership.

Finally, here are a couple of “What Works” podcasts that will bring you up to speed.

Catching up on some stories about local news that you might have missed

I don’t do this very often, but there are a number of important stories in local journalism that are flying by, and I want to put down a marker. No need to go into detail — just click on the links to find out more.

  • California sets aside $25 million in government money to support local journalism.
    • The move follows the creation of the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which this year will distribute $3 million for specific projects such as a plan to expand news coverage across Jersey City; an online radio program in Creole for the Haitian community; and an oral history on efforts to clean up drinking water in Newark.
    • Unlike New Jersey, the California initiative will be used to pay reporting fellows from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to cover under-represented communities.
  • The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would set aside antitrust law to allow news organizations to bargain collectively with Google and Facebook for compensation, was dealt a huge setback.
    • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, succeeded in adding an amendment that would make it more difficult for news organizations to moderate comments. The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., responded by withdrawing the legislation but said she’ll be back.
    • LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers and a number of organizations came out in opposition to the proposal, calling it “ill-advised” and “enormously problematic.” A similar law in Australia has been criticized for lining the pockets of large publishers — mainly Rupert Murdoch — while doing little for smaller players.
  • Google News Showcase, touted as a source of revenue for news outlets whose content would be featured, has been stalled because the giant platform has been unable to reach agreements with several key publishers.
    • Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, was offered $6 million a year to feature journalism from its flagship USA Today  as well as its local papers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Gannett’s reported counter-demand: $300 million.
  • Speaking of Gannett, a nauseating development has surfaced in a sexual-abuse lawsuit against the company’s Democrat & Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, New York.
    • According to the independent Rochester Beacon, the company is arguing that seven former newspaper carriers who say they were molested by a supervisor should have filed for workers’ compensation at the time the alleged abuse took place.
    • The carriers were 11 and 12 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.

Kara Meyberg Guzman talks about her Santa Cruz start-up and life after Alden

Kara Meyberg Guzman

Our latest “What Works” podcast features Kara Meyberg Guzman, CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local in California. Before the Local, she was managing editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. In 2018 she left her job at the Sentinel, which is owned by Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group, citing differences with the company’s management.

Kara then connected with another former Sentinel reporter, Stephen Baxter, and the two of them hatched a plan for the Local. They focus on public policy issues that affect the whole county, like housing, development and public health. The Local is a private company, owned by the co-founders. The revenue model is a mix of memberships, business sponsorships, grants and advertising. But the mission is simple. As the website puts it: “We strive to understand Santa Cruz in all of its complexity.”

Santa Cruz may turn out to be the most talked-about community on our podcast. Not long ago we interviewed Ken Doctor, the longtime media analyst who launched a high-profile, well-funded project called Lookout Santa Cruz. It is encouraging to see that in a region whose legacy newspaper has been hollowed out by vulture capitalism, two digital start-ups are working to fill the gap.

I’ve got a Quick Take on a new report by LION Publishers that contains some really positive findings about funding and sustainability for local news startups. Anyone who’s thinking about starting a community news project ought to take a look at it. Ellen Clegg highlights the work of Katherine Massey, a columnist who was killed in the racist massacre at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo.

I also tip the hat to Anne Galloway, the founder and executive editor of VTDigger, who has announced that she’s giving up the editor’s position and is returning to the reporting ranks. She’ll be an editor-at-large focusing on investigative reporting. Galloway started Digger 13 years ago as a one-woman operation after she was laid off by the Rutland Herald. Today, Digger has 32 full-time employees and is regarded as one of the leading digital sources of regional news in the country.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Chris Krewson of LION Publishers on the future of digital local journalism

Chris Krewson

Chris Krewson is the executive director of Local Independent Online News Publishers, better known as LION Publishers. The national nonprofit aims at supporting local journalism entrepreneurs and has some 400 members. He speakers with Ellen Clegg and me on the latest “What Works” podcast.

LION tapped Chris as its leader in 2019, and he brings significant digital experience to the job. In fact, he’s had many prior lives. He was the top editor at Billy Penn, a mobile-first local start-up in Philadelphia launched by the legendary Jim Brady that’s now part of public radio station WHYY. He’s also the former top digital editor for Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I’ve got a Quick Take on a Poynter Online essay by Kathleen McElroy, director of the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, who urges local journalists to consider staying in the game by publishing a local newspaper. Ellen discusses the new Harvey World Herald online site, which fills a need in a news desert just outside of Chicago.

And Chris clears up a crewcut pop-culture mystery for Ellen.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

National media are thriving while locals are dying — yet there’s hope at the grassroots

Photo (cc) 2011 by Wayne Hsieh

Axios has a story on “journalism’s two Americas” — the thriving national media and struggling local news outlets, mainly newspapers. “The disparate fortunes skew what gets covered,” write Sara Fischer and Nicholas Johnston, “elevating big national political stories at the expense of local, community-focused news.”

The data they present isn’t new, but it’s striking nevertheless. Local reporters earn an average annual salary of $49,000, compared to more than $65,000 for national reporters. Of course, many of those national jobs are in the ultra-high-cost New York era, which means the disparity may not be quite as great as those two numbers suggest. Still, the national media are growing and hiring, while local newspapers — most of them owned by corporate chains and hedge funds — continue to eliminate jobs.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

Fischer and Johnston note that CNN is hiring 450 people for its new CNN+ streaming service. And Fischer reported just a little while ago that NBC is “adding hundreds of jobs to its digital organization,” mainly for news-oriented positions.

Not all news on the community journalism front is bad, though. The apocalyptic stories about what’s taking place at the grassroots invariably focus on chains owned by the likes of Gannett and Alden Global Capital. By contrast, entrepreneurs are launching for-profit and nonprofit digital startups at a dizzying rate. Chris Krewson, the executive director of LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers writes:

Research shows new newsrooms are launching fast, 50 a year for the last five years. They’re for-profit, non-profit, public-benefit corporations, and LLCs; they’re a husband-and-wife team covering a small town; they’re a staff of dozens holding politicians to account at the statewide level….

They’re not replacing the newspaper. They don’t need to. This nascent industry has the potential to grow beyond the limitations of newspapers, to truly reflect and serve communities large and small, rural, urban, Black, Brown, Indigenous, queer… and on and on. We just have to stop thinking about saving the unsaveable and build businesses that serve the needs of communities first. In fact, what these publications are starting to offer is just as good, if not better, than the legacies they’re increasingly supplanting.

I’ve been tracking such projects since the late ’00s. From New Haven to San Diego, from Burlington, Vermont, to Batavia, New York, community journalists step up when there’s a market failure on the part of the local legacy newspaper. Ellen Clegg and I are following similar projects across the country.

There’s no question that these are tough times for local news. But there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as well.

Tiny News Collective to provide funding to six local news start-ups

Six local news projects will launch or expand after winning a competition held by the Tiny News Collective — a joint venture of LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers and News Catalyst, based at Temple University. News Catalyst receives funding from the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute. According to the announcement:

Thanks to a partnership with the Google News Initiative, each organization in the first cohort will receive a $15,000 stipend to help create the capacity for the founders to get started. In addition, the GNI has funded their first year of membership dues in the Collective and LION Publishers.

The projects range from an organization covering education news in part of Orange County, California, to an outlet with the wonderful name Black by God, which seeks “to share perspectives that cultivate, curate, and elevate Black voices from West Virginia.”

Forty organizations applied. Among the judges were Kate Maxwell, co-founder and publisher of The Mendocino Voice, a news co-op that is one of the local news projects I’m following for a book I’m co-authoring with Ellen Clegg.

The Tiny News Collective strikes me as a more interesting approach to dealing with the local news crisis than initiatives unveiled recently by Substack and Facebook. Those require you to set up shop on their platforms. By contrast, the Tiny News Collective is aimed at helping community journalism entrepreneurs to achieve sustainability on their own rather than become cogs in someone else’s machine.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

Project Oasis documents the growth (and challenges) of digital local news

Photo (cc) 2015 by oarranzli

Digital local news is expanding rapidly, but the challenges of running community journalism projects sustainably are daunting.

Those are the conclusions of a recently released report by Project Oasis aimed at documenting the rise of alternatives as legacy community newspapers continue to shrink and shut down. The project, based at the University of North Carolina, is sponsored by Google News, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers and Douglas K. Smith.

Project Oasis comprises several parts — a database of digitally focused news projects in the United States and Canada; a “playbook” full of ideas for those who are interested in starting projects in their own communities; and a research report written by Chloe Kizer and edited by Michele McLellan that offers a survey of what’s been learned.

Become a member of Media Nation today

What’s most striking is how much growth there’s been, which is no doubt related to economics (journalists who’ve been downsized out of their jobs are looking to maintain their careers) and opportunity (communities that are either unserved or underserved by legacy media). Project Oasis identified 704 digital-native local news projects in the U.S. and Canada as of a year ago. Of those, 266 were launched in the past five years. In addition, a 2010 study found that there were 126 such projects, “indicating that the past decade has seen the number of local sites multiply six times over.”

The report also draws some conclusions based on 255 organizations that provided information about their operations. Among other things, those outlets tend to be small, with more than half reporting revenues of less than $100,000 a year. Many of the founders are journalists with little or no business background and no resources to hire someone to concentrate on revenue. As the report puts it:

Most founders launch their newsrooms because they are passionate about journalism and their communities. But few start with business expertise. Like their traditional counterparts, the new locals rely heavily on advertising revenue, although some have begun developing reader revenue.

The financial picture does improve as publications mature, according to the data. But this field on the whole is very young.

The report also contains the rather disturbing news that the founders of many sites who who consider them “profitable” aren’t actually paying themselves a salary. Overall, the survey found that most of the sites were for-profits dependent on advertising revenue, whereas a minority were nonprofits subsisting on grants and donations. The report found that those with more than one revenue stream were more successful.

The database of local news projects probably should be taken for what any such survey would be: out of date as soon as it’s published, but interesting as a snapshot in time.

The Massachusetts listings, for example, include some well-known successful projects such as Universal Hub and The Bedford Citizen. But they also include the Banyan Project, which spent years trying to launch a news co-op in Haverhill before giving up, while leaving out WHAV Radio, a nonprofit community radio station in Haverhill with a significant digital presence.

Overall, Project Oasis is a valuable addition to what we know about online local news start-ups. And if you’re thinking of launching a project yourself, you’ll definitely want to spend some time with the playbook.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén