Hundreds of websites are popping up to replace the community news coverage lost as daily newspapers cut staff and publish less frequently.
Many of them are started by the very reporters who have just been laid off or community organizers who want to hold public institutions accountable.
What these new media entrepreneurs have is a passion for news and community service. But most will not survive because they have no clue about how to run a business or how to find the financial resources to make the operation sustainable.
They might have a chance, however, if they spent some time with Robert Niles' book How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online.
For starters, Niles says, you need to think of yourself not as a publisher but as a community organizer. Here is his formula for building community:
- Get to know your target market, be it geographic or thematic (education, arts). Find out what its needs are.
- Build a team to help build community. The team can include family, friends, readers, contributors
- Make an action plan built around solving problems for your community, around filling a need.
- Talk about your plan. Share it. Don't worry about someone stealing it. Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything.
- Put your plan into action by researching, writing, aggregating and publishing.
- See how you did by analyzing the metrics that matter.
- Then go back and do it again, until you get it right. Once you do, keep doing it, and add another project to the mix.
Niles has the credentials to give advice. He is a successful media entrepreneur himself. He and his wife, Laurie Niles, have run two profitable websites for years, Theme Park Insider and Violinist, and the book draws heavily on their experiences, including all their mistakes.
He also has years of experience working with digital media entrepreneurs through courses he has given at boot camps run by the Knight Digital Media Center at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
"Starting a business — whether it's a news website, an auto repair shop or an organic grocery store — is all about finding an unmet need in a community and providing a good or service that fulfills it," Niles says. "Want to start a business? Then start by looking for the need in a community."
The key is changing your mindset. "The sooner you change your focus as a publisher to customer service, the sooner you'll be earning the income that can transform your publication into a sustainable business."
James Breiner is co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. He is a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English and is a consultant in online journalism and leadership.
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