Emerging Economics of Community News

By: Michele McLellan | StateoftheMedia.com

It is easy to oversimplify what is happening in online news. Breathless headlines – from the $315 million sale of The Huffington Post to AOL, Patch’s march to 1,000 plus local sites, to the early dismantling of TBD.com in Washington, D.C. – tend to obscure other important efforts, especially on the local front.

Commitment and a sense of community far outdistance celebrity or cash in the emerging news ecosystem. But increased learning about what doesn’t work and sophistication about what might work offers a promise that more local news sites will stay alive and grow.

To be sure, many local news startups have failed. That has led to fears that there is no business model for local news online.

I see growing evidence, however, that those fears may be proved false. In any field, most experiments do fail, and in the dynamic online news space, it’s pretty much all experimentation right now. Failed news experiments have taught us a few things about what doesn’t work: Armies of citizen contributors will not replace all journalists, for example. Journalism savvy does not translate into business savvy. Grants are not a stable or enduring funding model.

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