The local news business may have laid off 500 in just three months, but maybe some of those out-of-work reporters will help define the new business model that’s so badly needed after all. It’s happened before (our own publisher Rafat started paidContent.org in the first dot.com bust as Silicon Alley Reporter drew to a close); now we’re seeing more local reporters becoming entrepreneurial after taking redundancy…
— Epping Forest Guardian (Newsquest) editor David Jackman took redundancy in October after 21 years and, though he works in NHS PR by day, has launched Everything Epping Forest, a news site with events and associations listings, a business directory and £50-a-year local business banner ads – cornerstones of the community news business that Jackman says are no longer merited by his former employer. HTFP.
— Whitehaven News (CN Group) news editor Dave Siddall took redundancy in a round of 30 layoffs in December but viewed the news as an opportunity rather than a setback, launching a news site at WhiteHaven.org.uk and a tourist information hub at LakeStay.co.uk
— Five from the East Valley Tribune in Arizona have launched their own news sites after 40 percent of staff were made redundant. Four of them started The Arizona Guardian, while another founded Heat City, says Phoenix New Times.
Whether any of them can make their projects in to sustainable businesses, fit to challenge their former employers, will remain an open question this year. But it needn’t be about competition – stripped of staff resources and with further cost savings in mind, the proprietors that saw their staff walk out the door should note their ex staffers’ new enterprises and could yet be best served by bringing them back in to the fold through content syndication relationships. It’s a third-way model for local news; as Andy Dickinson says: “The individuals keep a level of autonomy, but everyone benefits as the media brand and the individual brand work together.”
Rick Waghorn, who founded MyFootballWriter in 2007 after being made redundant from the Norwich Evening News sports desk, told me: “Yes, I think enterprising journalists can do it, but we need to be organised in to new ‘collectives’ that can source and support both local advertising and national advertising. If we’re all returning to a cottage industry, then we need a Halifax Piece Hall where we all gather to distribute our hand-loom wares. Hard work, mind, particularly in this current climate.”