Phase I - A Simple Idea

Let's start a professional news website: all local, all Lakewood.

East End, West End, Birdtown, Clifton Park -- we'll be everywhere, covering all the important things!

Here's the broad outline of the plan, stolen directly from Jessica Lessin of The Information and Ben Thompson of Stratechery, along with an assist from Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times:

"There may be another way to save local news. Over the last few weeks, I chatted with Jessica Lessin of The Information and Ben Thompson of Stratechery, two of my favorite sites for understanding what’s going on in the technology business. In different ways, both talked through a new way of thinking about local news, and a novel business model for funding it, one that doesn’t depend on the beneficence of Facebook or Google (which also has a new plan for local coverage).

The plan, for any would-be entrepreneur brave enough to try it, goes like this: Hire some very good journalists; just one or two are O.K. to start. Turn them loose on a large metropolitan area — try San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or any other city going through waves of change, and whose local press has been gutted by digital disruption.

Have your reporters cover stuff that no one else is covering, and let them ignore stuff that everyone else is covering. Don’t do movie reviews, stock market analysis, Super Bowl coverage or anything else that isn’t local. Instead, emphasize coverage that’s actionable, that residents deem necessary and valuable for short- and long-term planning — especially an obsessive focus on housing and development, transportation, education and local politics.

Package it all in a form that commands daily attention — probably a morning email newsletter — and sprinkle it with a sense of community, like offline and online networking events for readers.

How will you fund all of this? This is the most important part: Shun advertising. Instead, ask readers to pay for it with real money — $5 or $10 a month, or perhaps even more. It will take time, but if you build it right, you just might create the next great metropolitan news organization.

This plan may sound simplistic, almost like a joke. Wait, Sherlock, your big idea is to create a really good product and charge people money for it? Haven’t people tried this before?

Less than you might think. The short history of digital media is lousy with advertising, which promotes all the wrong incentives for online news — volume over curation, aggregation over original coverage, speed over accuracy.

More recently, there has been a surge in online subscriptions. Netflix is doing it for TV, Spotify for music, and Patreon for podcasters and YouTubers. And many news outlets — big companies like The New York Times and start-ups like The Athletic, which covers sports — are making subscriptions the center of their journalism.

Yet few entrepreneurs have jumped on the subscription bandwagon for local news. The reluctance makes sense; local markets are by definition small, and journalism is expensive.

But after studying Ms. Lessin’s and Mr. Thompson’s methods, I suspect there’s a market for subscription-based local coverage. Someone just has to build it."

Quick back of the envelope calculations...

Salary and benefits for three professional journalists: $240,000.

2,000 subscribers at $10 per month is $240,000.

We can do this! If you're ready to go on the adventure, just contact me via the form below and we'll be in touch.