Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking toward one future for local civic journalism

If you’re a reader of this blog, chances are you’ve already heard about the new online news organization being formed in Hawaii by Peer News. The brainchild of Pierre Omidyar and Randy Ching, this next-generation news service will bring a lot of web cred to an issue of considerable current interest: the future of local accountability journalism.

I’ve spent some time with them as an advisor, and plan to do whatever I can to help ensure success. I think this can be an important step in the evolution of news in the digital age and a chance to strengthen the role professional journalism needs to play.

I’m interested for a lot of reasons, but I’d sum it up this way: the new venture intends to demonstrate that a digitally native, technologically fluent web organization can profitably serve targeted readers who want sophisticated journalism focused on local civic affairs.

There are lot of key words in that sentence that all speak loudly to me. If I was tagging it I might choose “digital” “targeted” “accountability” and “civic.” I guarantee I would select “profitable,” and add another: “sustainable.”

I think tomorrow’s best local public service journalism (like today’s) is most likely to come from organizations built on success in the marketplace. I applaud any effort to create the journalism democracy needs — profit, non-profit, hybrid or otherwise — but my heart and my guts both tell me that journalism that meets real needs can pay its own way — and should.

Peer News hasn’t revealed many details of the new venture at this stage, and it’s certainly not my place to do so. But they have started looking for an editor, and that’s a subject I know something about; I’ll be part of the team looking at candidates. You can find rudimentary information and an opportunity to express interest online at the Peer News blog.

Like most things digital, this project is on a fast track, with announced plans to launch in “early 2010.” There will be a lot more details and transparency as the project nears launch. After all, this is all about transparency and accountability, about involving readers and audiences in the process, about listening as well as speaking. Stay tuned.


  1. Can we prioritize -- a terrible word -- those key words? Surely, "profitable" must come first. From that flows "sustainable" -- without that, nothing happens -- and then "targeted," and the rest follow in whatever order you care to choose.

    If "sophisticated journalism focused on local civic affairs" is the core of the new venture, it will target and serve a narrowly defined audience, a very difficult prospect indeed. The question for Mr. Ching and Mr. Omidyar, then, is whether there is enough interest in this readership to advertise and subscribe to the new Web venture. Forget subscriptions.

    If the answer is yes, it has a shot. If the answer is no, it doesn't, no matter how good it is. That's a tragedy, but advertising is the crux of the Web-based journalism model -- or at least the model that doesn't involve support from nonprofit foundations.

    I agree that quality journalism depends on success in the marketplace. In the old days, newspapers ruled because readers had no other choice. Now, readers have lots of choices, and newspapers have got to be good to grab them.

    Readers may not pay for the privelege, but if the new site attracts them, the advertisers will.

    So good luck to them. As a friend used to tell me, "What could possibly go wrong?"

  2. Linotype - a slug line at the end of a story-
    In Journalism there is no substitute for integrity in good story. Everybody loves to read a good story.

  3. Howard,

    What a great opportunity. In Anchorage, which I know you are very familiar with, a group of people have created

    This is along the same idea as Peer, and so far, has added significant journalism to the overall dialogue in Alaska.

    Keep up the good work and I will be following Peer's project closely.

    Hugh Short