For local independent news publishers, building business means pouring their hearts into their communities

For local independent news publishers, building business means pouring their hearts into their communities

Posted on November 21, 2012 by Janet Coats

In the midst of the already overwhelming crush of Christmas advertising, you may have notice the ads urging you to participate in Small Business Saturday.

The campaign, promoted by American Express, is focused on encouraging shoppers to support small businesses in their communities. The “shop local’’ movement has gained traction during the last several years, as a means of supporting the local economy and entrepreneurship.

I’ve been particularly drawn to the ad campaign American Express is running this year, because the language in it so reminds me of the local independent news publishers we’ve been working with in the New Media Journalism Initiative:

“Some people put everything into their work,’’ the ad says. “Their name on the door and their heart into their community.’’

Nothing could better summarize the approach of the local independent news publishers we’ve come to know in the last few years, first through the Block by Block Community News Summit and then through our business mentoring work in the Super Camp program and the Community Journalism Executive Training class.

These publishers absolutely have their names on the door – no corporate logos here, nobody else to take responsibility for either the journalism or the business. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Many of them spent years in traditional newsrooms, and part of their motivation in running their own news sites is the opportunity to put their own ideas about community news into practice.

Almost without exception, they’ve also put their hearts into their communities. That’s because they understand that the connection between journalist and community must be a strong one, built on mutual trust and open dialogue. Credibility is the coin of the realm for any journalist; it is never more true than when you are covering the community where you live, where your children go to school.

The passion the independent publishers have not just for journalism but for community is what makes so many of them an indispensible part of their local news environment. They don’t parachute in, write a story, and leave. They live with the consequences of their work every day, and they care about helping to make the communities where they practice their craft better places.

But they are also small businesses, and like many small businesses, they need help to have the best chance of success. That has been our motivation, and our passion, in first creating the Super Camp model and then spreading that work in the CJET program built in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Investigative News Network.

In both instances, we wanted to build programs that recognized that business skills aren’t native to most of the publishers; they come at their work as journalists first, and most of them have little or no business experience.

We didn’t want to make that bad or wrong; we wanted to acknowledge that reality, and work with these very smart and motivated people to help fill in the gaps in their own skill sets, to give them a better shot at success.

We used business planning tools and brought in mentors who have the knowledge and the experience in running successful media businesses to help guide the publishers through programs aimed at helping them develop business plans tailor-made for their own situations.

We’re a little more than a month out from the most recent of these training sessions, the CJET event that brought together more than 30 community and investigative publishers. We continue to hear from the participants about how they are doing in implementing some of their business plans. It’s not a quick turn, but what we’re hearing tells us that many of the publishers are committed to being not just successful journalists but to running financially viable organizations.

These independent news sites help support their community, both as a source of local news and information and by creating a marketplace for local businesses and organizations seeking to reach customers themselves.

News and information remain an important hub in building community of all types – civic, philanthropic and commercial. It’s important not just to buy local, but to read local. We see providing the tools to help independent news sites become independent businesses as an important piece in keeping that local cycle going.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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