North Carolina Journalist Readies Online Newspaper

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By: Jay DeFoore

With online publishing tools becoming ever cheaper and easier to deploy and grassroots journalism on the rise, a growing number of mainstream newspaper journalists are flocking to the Web to compete with their former employers.

In December we wrote about former Chicago Tribune reporter Geoff Dougherty and his ChiTownDailyNews project. Elsewhere, Debra Galant and Liz George are getting a lot of positive attention for their Baristanet.com blog. Now former Reidsville (N.C.) Review editor Jeff Sykes is planning an online community newspaper, the Reidsville Free Press, which is set to launch in February.

Amy Kingsley, a staff writer for Yes! Weekly, an alternative paper in Greensboro, N.C., does a good job outlining Sykes’ plans in the paper’s current issue.

Kingsley writes that Sykes will be competing not just with his former employer, but also with the Greensboro News & Record and The Neely Chronicle, an opinion paper in Rockingham County.

“The concept involves blending newspaper-style journalism with features like online diaries kept by locals,” Kingsley writes. “All of it will be presented in a format where readers can interact by posting comments to the site.”

Kingsley gets to the nub of the challenge for online community journalism: ” Internet publishers that eschew the printing press can save significant costs associated with production and distribution but face challenges publicizing and legitimizing their product.”

Sykes resigned from Media General’s Review last July after two of his reporters admitted to writing a “man on the street” column with fake names, photographs, and quotes. The incident played out in the local News & Record, not to mention Romenesko’s media blog and E&P.

Sykes told E&P at the time that his decision to verbally warn the journalist rather than outright fire them — a decision that ultimately led to his demise once word spread — grew out of a desire to give two young journalists a second chance.

Describing his idea for the Free Press to Kingsley, Sykes said, “I want to give people the opportunity to see their community in a way that isn?t tainted by ineptitude, one man?s opinion, or a much larger institution?s condescending attitude.

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