My former partner at the Industry Standard has been building something important out in the expanses of Montana (caveat – I am a very minor investor – the only such investment I’ve ever made – and sometimes offer my counsel to Jonathan). It’s called New West, and for the past four years he’s taken what he’s learned over more than 20 years as a journalist and entrepreneur and applied it to the same “problem” that has elicited so much hand wringing in the traditional print world. He wrote a great piece today about his experiences. From it:
We started this company in 2005 partly on the premise that the news business would be changing in profound ways, and that would create opportunities. We were also very interested in what we considered a very big story – the dramatic transformation of the Rocky Mountain West from an under-populated, resource-dependent region to a dynamic, fast-growing hub of the emerging “amenity” and technology economies. We thought the story was regional in scope, but at the same time we were very conscious of the fact that people relate most closely to what’s most local, so we established NewWest.Net as a regional online magazine with local sites in key markets.
The editorial model relies on a combination of professional journalism (currently two full-time and four part-time professionals, as well as a number of freelancers); what we think of as semi-professional journalism (talented writers or subject-matter experts who do something else for their day job); and citizen journalism (bloggers and others who contribute on specific topics, sometimes for small sums of money). We don’t have copy editors, but rather copyedit each others’ stuff. We’re direct and conversational in our style, which is actually easier and quicker once you get used to it, and more appealing to readers than old-style newspaper formulas.
We have a very active photo group on Flickr, and get great feature photography from that. We mostly use Google for fact-checking – not fool-proof, but it works. We use Twitter and Facebook and RSS to push our stories out into the world. We do great video-driven stories when we can, and happily link to others’ videos. In fact, we happily link to a lot of stuff, sometimes in combination with our own reporting and sometimes not. We have lively comment threads, which we manage with as light a hand as we can and which are often additive to the stories in addition to being entertaining. We have very active event calendars in our local markets – separate from our main sites but well-integrated, and with a dedicated editor. We’re experimenting with a new social media site in Missoula, and we’ll see where that goes.
Our coverage is far from comprehensive, and we rarely write about sports or TV or movies (except when the big documentary film festival is in town). Big investigative projects are few and far between. We’re not a “paper of record,” and we’re not (or at least not yet) a replacement for local newspapers. Still, if you ask people around here where they go for smart coverage of growth and development, land-use issues, local food, regional politics, and community culture, a lot of people would say NewWest.Net. On some big stories, such as the boom and bust of the regional real estate market and the bankruptcy of the Yellowstone Club and other high-end resorts, we have been way ahead of the pack.
I mention this because I’ve written quite about about the “death of journalism” (see here, here, for example) and have always had in mind pointing to the work Jonathan and his team has done. Now he’s written the piece for me!