The Economic Lives of 3 Digital Newsrooms
In this month’s Columbia Journalism Review, CW Anderson wrote a field guide detailing the economic lives of three digital-first newsrooms — three promising and well-funded organizations that have either (in two cases) failed or, in the last, succeeded impressively.
The Bay Citizen, the Chicago News Cooperative, and the Texas Tribune were founded within ten months of each other (beginning in August, 2009). Each signed big-deal contracts with the Times and each had a lot of people funding and rooting for them.
In the time since, the CNC collapsed, the Bay Citizen folded into the Center of Investigative Reporting (despite it having received by far the most funding), and the Texas Tribune became, for reasons detailed below, a thriving operation.
So why did Chicago and California fail where Texas succeeded?
CW Anderson offers several reasons. One is a difference in focus. TT only covers public-interest stories — no sports, no entertainment. CNC proudly covered everything, and the BC tried to pick up the slack that failed newspapers left when they disappeared.
Another is competition. The problem with Chicago and California’s approach is that they covered the same thing as their print rivals, so they had many more competitors. In that numbers game, TT won — no one else was covering public-interest. The San Francisco Bay Area, by contrast, already had The San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, and East Bay Express before BC came along.
And then there’s attitude — TT is a digital-first newsroom in the sense that it actually writes, reports and creates content for online consumption. It posts searchable apps and databases, and gives people interactives like this one. There are videos, podcasts, and all sorts of non-paper related material. CNC and BC did not do this — they pretended they were writing for print.
Anderson includes funding and overwhelming partnerships as other reasons why the other two failed — CNC folded after losing a grant, and BC cited its obligations to the Times as too time consuming.
FJP: For an illustration of what can happen when you don’t adopt a truly digital-first mindset, see when the Bay Citizen forgot to renew its domain name.
CW Anderson is featured in a number of FJP videos, where he talks about entrepreneurial journalism and journalism education, as well as alternative funding and, by god, why journalists should link already.