February 9, 2018
Local news is already in sad shape, and Facebook and Google now aim to cover it rather than national news. But two editors of digital outlets are proposing a different model for invigorating local news, especially in urban areas that where the local press has been destroyed by digital technology. In this model, very good journalists would cover the news that no one else is covering — and ignore everything else that isn’t local news, including the Super Bowl, movie reviews and the stock market report.
The New York Times reports on conversations with The Information’s founder/editor-in-chief Jessica Lessin and Stratechery blogger Ben Thompson on their similar plans, which would “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.”
The news would be packaged most likely as a morning email newsletter, with “offline and online networking events for readers.” Instead of advertising, readers would support the effort with $5 or $10 per month. “It will take time, but if you build it right, you just might create the next great metropolitan news organization.”
This model addresses the weakness of digital media, which is “lousy with advertising, which promotes all the wrong incentives for online news — volume over curation, aggregation over original coverage, speed over accuracy.” The subscription model is growing in TV (Netflix), music (Spotify) and podcasts (Patreon), as well as news outlets like NYT. Entrepreneurs may be reluctant to go after local news which is “by definition small, and journalism is expensive.”
The Information charges $399 per year, but offers “quality instead of volume,” with two or three new stories a day, and has broken many big industry stories. “People thought no one would pay for news, especially tech news,” said Lessin. “The problem was the news business hadn’t been focused on a key question: How do I deliver a differentiated product that people would pay for?”
Stratechery, founded in 2013, is a daily newsletter “featuring strategic analysis of developments in the tech industry,” that now publishes one article a week for free and $100 a year for all the others. Neither Lessin nor Thompson would disclose their subscription numbers, but Lessin did say it is “significantly north of 10,000.” Such a model would also bring subscribers together, creating not just news but community.