The local newspaper here in Jefferson City has been locally owned for a long time. It was recently sold to a group with headquarters in Arkansas. As George and I discussed this over coffee a couple of weeks ago, he wondered why someone would buy a newspaper when it seems like –nationally– their profits are in free fall (I love that expression).
During our chat, George said he thought the local paper only had four full-time reporters. I have no idea if that’s accurate but, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume it is. It started me thinking. What if the local paper just shut down? What sort of online alternative would be possible? Could you create one using volunteers?
You might start by evaluating what’s currently in the paper: Local news, state news, world and national news, features, business and finance, entertainment, opinion, sports, community, obits, weather and classifieds.
I certainly won’t be the first to point out that much of the information in the local newspaper is available from other sources (weather, state news, national news, etc). The one area a local paper can and should do better than anyone else is local. Local news, sports, business, entertainment… local, local, local.
What if you had one, maybe two “professional journalists,” coordinating a group of volunteers. Could you do a credible job of covering local news and events? For example, could a dozen highly motivated volunteers –armed with digital cameras and recorders– cover the local news as well as four paid staffers?
Hey, no question it would be different but I see no reason it couldn’t work. We’re already seeing a growing number of examples around the country. And, yes, a number of these efforts have failed.
Even the smallest newspapers have massive overhead. Paper, ink, printing presses, etc. That means you need LOTS of advertisements. What I’m envisioning has virtually no overhead. A few hundred dollars a year for web hosting. You could cover a lot of local news for the tiniest fraction of what a “real newspaper” costs.
I suspect that some small town papers are morphing in this direction already and one day the print edition will just disappear and the transition will be complete.