K. Paul Mallasch on local journalism

After my recent posts on hyper-local journalism as well as NowPublic and the failure of Backfence, I got some comments from K. Paul Mallasch, a former Gannett journalist who runs a small, local “citizen journalism” or “networked journalism” site called MuncieFreePress.com in Muncie, Indiana. We exchanged emails about the failure of Backfence and about the right way to do local media, and I thought it was worthwhile excerpting some of his comments here (which he graciously agreed to let me do).

When it comes to local journalism and media sites, he says, there are two camps. One is:

“Those (like BackFence, NowPublic, etc.) who are trying to use the ‘big media’ (big business) approach to this problem – throw a lot of money at the problem, buy other properties, expand at a terrific rate, etc.”

K. Paul says that his site and some others that have had some success, such as Baristanet, are a very different kind of model — a more grassroots, ground-up model that lets the community determine what a site will be about:

“Me, H20town, Baristanet, iBattleboro, and others fall into the other camp, I think. We don’t really have a business plan per se. I joked a while back that I follow the Craig Newmark school of business customer service, customer service, customer service.”

Mallasch also says that he thinks print — perhaps counter-intuitively — is one additional tactic that hyper-local sites can use to nab audiences:

“One of my short term goals to increase cash flow is to start-up a print component (free, weekly tabloid reverse-reverse published from website content.) There’s another 5 to 10 years worth of (big) revenue in print … at least.”

“One of the things that stands out about BackFence is that they vehemently insisted they were an ‘online only’ product [but] print will bring much needed revenue as well as serve as a marketing vehicle for MuncieFreePress.com.”

K. Paul also says that he wants to raise money from the site, but primarily to compensate his contributors:

“As a case in point, over the weekend, I received a batch of photos from a volunteer firefighter in one of the communities I cover… Anyway, he’s volunteered to ‘take assignments’ and is supplying me with a lot of great content.

And he’s just one. I want to pay him (and the others) for their efforts. (If NowPublic were smart, this would be number one on their plate – it would take them way ahead of others out here…)”

Mallasch also says that while “a corporate approach will probably be one of the first to ‘succeed’ on paper (and get mentioned in big media), people like me and the hundreds of others who are taking the grassroots approach will still be around, I think.”

Thanks for your thoughts, K. Paul — much food for thought in there.

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