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From the editor

USA Today: Local indie new sites 'making their presence felt'

It's not exactly the cover of Rolling Stone — a somewhat controversial venue these days, anyway — but the latest USA Today piece by media columnist Rem Rider focuses on the business of local news, including TucsonSentinel.com.

Somewhat goaded by comments by me and my fellow local indie publishers around the country after a column last week on the continuing downward spiral of AOL's Patch network, Rider interviewed a couple of your friendly neighborhood news publishers.

Rider's thesis: "... scores of small, independent local news operations are alive — and busy. Very, very busy."

They come in a wide variety of flavors. Some are small businesses, some are non-profits. Some cover towns, some individual neighborhoods, some entire cities. Some focus on granular community news, others on investigative projects.

They even have their own organization, Local Independent Online News Publishers, or LION Publishers, with more than 100 members.

It's a world where small is beautiful and local ownership is critical.

Dylan Smith, LION's board chairman, ticks off the reasons why big plays like Patch have encountered frustration. For one thing, he says, economies of scale just don't work in the world of local or hyperlocal news online.

"You can't Amazon local news," he says.

Rider interviewed local news pioneer Howard Owens of The Batavian in Western New York.

Owens, who serves as the treasurer of LION Publishers, "works 12 to 15 hours a day" (a familiar scenario for local news entrepreneurs).

There are times, he admits, that he'd rather be watching Breaking Bad. But the hyperlocal hustle has its rewards.

"Quite often I get the rock-star treatment in town," he says. People will shout at him such things as "Howard, keep up the good work. The Batavian rocks!"

So what's the mission? "To do our best every day to answer the question, 'What's going on in my community right now?' "

Turning back to the desert:

"I can't remember the last time I had a day off," (Smith) says. "Now and then, you get a little burned out, but then a great story falls into your lap. That's what I thrive on."

While chasing a great story can make one's adrenaline pump, there's more than that involved in building the future of local news. It's because of the tremendous work of so many talented contributors — some volunteers, some freelancers — that TucsonSentinel.com's well into our fourth year helping Tucson be a more informed community.

It's also because of our many supporters — individual readers who have pledged monthly subscriptions and local small business owners who understand the importance of reaching those same engaged local readers alike — that we're making a difference in the media landscape. I'd also be remiss not to acknowledge the generous support of the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation for the Sentinel's work, as well as the assistance of our colleagues in the Investigative News Network and the daily help of my fellow publishers in LION.

TucsonSentinel.com's just one of many LION Publishers sites — that handy acronym stands for Local Independent Online News, and it's a meaningful one. Our members strongly believe that local news should reported by local journalists, working for locally run news organizations.We believe serving local readers is best done by publishers who are responsive to their communities, not responsible to a corporate chain of command. We know that the future of news publishing lies online, in the speed and comprehensive connections possible with the greatest communications platform ever created. And we hold close the old-school professional values of accuracy, fairness, transparency and accountability that have long served news reporters well.

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The local news industry is strong, healthy and growing — the real local segment of the industry. The hundred-plus members of LION Publishers and our many colleagues running local news websites are demonstrating that every day.

Local doesn't scale. We've seen it again and again; giant chains trying to templatize the production of news. That's not a tactic that worked in print for (former Citizen publisher) Gannett and others, and it certainly won't work online.

Networked plays such as Patch fail precisely because they are not local. They seek to profit from communities, rather than being invested in them. Centralized planning leads to success in journalism just as effectively as it worked for Soviet agriculture.

The national networked plays haven't, but many locally run news outlets are finding success – because their readers and sponsors value their community connections. Local news sites can connect local small business owners with the engaged local readers who are their customer base — and do so effectively and affordably.

Local news is successful when it truly is local — historically, when newspapers and radio stations were owned by families or local partnerships, they served their communities more effectively. Chains broke that model, focusing more on quarterly reports, stock prices and executive salaries than long-term investments. Local news organizations must be of their communities, not just in them to ship profits out of town. Local news must respect readers: know what they want to know, know what they need to know, and provide it quickly, accurately and comprehensively. Cookie-cutter editorial priorities mandated on a national level are the complete opposite of that.

Please help us as we work to return local news to its authentic roots. Give an individual donation or sign up for a monthly subscription. Become a small business sponsor. Join the conversation in our comments. Spread the word that changes are sweeping through local news, and that Tucson has a news website that's at the forefront.

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1 comment on this story

Aug 23, 2013, 6:49 am
-0 +1

Bravo,I can see the familyowned and local partnership aspect as being a true positive,, Isn’t this basically what has happened to most of America? The franchising of businesses has a few positive qualities, but many good things are lost in conglomerates. Quality, service, and individualism come to mind.

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