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Building local indie media: More talk than do?

Zena Hartung’s comment is only the latest in a wide-ranging discussion about local media on Envirotalk, Emmett O’Connell’s Facebook page and here. The inevitable question is: Will this talk lead to anything?

In a sense there will always be somebody trying to do something new in the local independent media scene. For example:

  1. Sustainable South Sound recently announced in its quarterly newsmagazine, Living Local, that the organization will be expanding its website to include a calendar and a members-only section.
  2. I was recently approached by an environmental group that sought technical tips on how to create a newsmagazine similar in format to Green Pages but with a narrower content focus.
  3. Ken Balsley’s blog recently posted a portion of a story written by fellow blogger Janine Gates. Does this suggest that local bloggers, who in the past have tended to be fiercely independent, are starting to look for ways to work together for mutual benefit?

The first two of these initiatives illustrate the tendency of local indie media types to do their own thing rather than collaborate. The result is that none of us have thus far pulled together the resources needed to create a media outlet comparable to successful ones in other communities. The third above-listed initiative can’t go very far unless bloggers agree to share their content with a central media outlet.

So what about that? Why not try to bring together all of these folks under the umbrella of a media outlet that finally has the scale of economies to do things right? It’s a great idea in theory but falls apart once you analyze the institutional agendas and personality differences of individual players.

If locals can’t do it by themselves, then how about some type of regional collaboration? As a case in point, when Crosscut was going through a period of soul searching a few years ago I suggested that it consider a new business model whereby it became the hub of a regional network of local websites. This would have been a more decentralized, not-for-profit oriented and volunteer-based version of Patch Media. My idea was to centralize those functions that are most costly (such as operations) while maintaining the editorial independence of individual media outlets.

Not surprisingly, Crosscut stuck with its focus on a solo, Seattle-centric website. I haven’t heard of anyone else who has considered launching a regional network. Perhaps that would be even more fraught with peril than trying to herd local media folks into one room.

All of which brings us back to the comments by Hartung and Tom Hyde. You can’t even begin to counterbalance The Olympian’s decline without at least a skeletal paid staff. Even one professional reporter could make a meaningful difference. That pretty much requires a nonprofit organization whose leadership possesses the skills and and vision to make it happen.

When I mentioned the idea of hiring a full-time reporter (not me, by the way) at a recent SPEECH board meeting, another board member balked at the potential price tag. Yes, that’s a much bigger lift than fundraising for an all-volunteer media outlet. However, county-wide local political campaigns routinely raise similar amounts of money. Our community doesn’t lack the skills — what’s most missing is the will.

— S. Salmi

  • Friedman, Rachel; 2017. “President’s Message.” Living Local. Published Spring.
  • Gates, Janine; 2017. “Chambers Prairie Grange Hall to go.” Ken’s Corner & The Real News. Posted April 20; accessed April 23.
  • Wikipedia; 2017. “Patch Media.” Last updated April 14; accessed April 23.

1 Comment on Building local indie media: More talk than do?

  1. As a local news consumer, I can tell you what I want. I want one site that brings together the best writers and the most timely and in-depth coverage of local news. I want that news curated in some way that weeds out the strident, the misinformed, and the grammatically offensive. I want to be able to trust it.

    And I’m willing to pay for it. The Olympian charges $12.99/mo., for mighty slim pickin’s. I’d gladly pay that amount for a real substitute — or for The Olympian itself, locally-owned and independent, whether for-profit, non-profit or publicly owned. I’d be just as happy (probably happier) if it were digital rather than dead-tree. I’d even be willing to pitch in some volunteer labor to get it off the ground.

    At the very least, it should be possible to create a web aggregator site that brings together the best local journalism, in exchange for an advertising revenue-sharing arrangement. It would be a pittance, but at least evidence of good faith.

    While that might pull together the skeleton of an editorial team, it probably won’t provide the revenue for (truly) paid staff. That’s a different nut to crack, and one outside journalists’ skill sets. I doubt I have much to bring to the table there. However, when looking at public ownership options, I think we might also want to look at the PUD. If public information is of utility to the community, then perhaps the PUD would be an option.

    I look forward to further discussions on this vital topic.

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