Small town community news revenue: print trumps the web

In this week’s Business Week, Jon Fine’s Media Centric column is titled Down And Out In The ‘Burbs: Turns out it’s tough to make local work on the Web.

There are media geeks who have been waiting ten years for the Web to take over community news. Pick a town, preferably one in a well-heeled suburb, that’s underserved by the big metro newspaper. (What suburban town isn’t underserved by the big metro newspaper?) Set up a site incorporating the superstructure of this online age: blogs, places to post video, interactivity everywhere. Stoke audience participation, use some variant of the phrase “citizens’ media” at every opportunity, keep staffs small, sell ads to tightly clustered readers.

Trouble is, it’s not working financially, neither for well-funded community media startups like Backfence nor independents like How about Probably the same but I don’t know for sure.

And how are the small town newspapers doing? Better than ever, evidently and much better than their metro counterparts. In Fine’s March 8 blog post, he writes:

The Washington Post’s Frank Ahrens’ writes today about how the tiny local newspaper remains a good business. (My BusinessWeek colleague Tom Lowry previously did an excellent piece on the same topic.)

nnewsbanner.pngThe Northfield News and its parent company, Huckle Publishing Inc., (will they ever have a website?) are likely doing very well financially.

norgbanner.pngWhat could the Board of Directors of Northfield Citizens Online do differently when it comes to generating revenue?


  1. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for your concern about We’re doing well, largely because we are a volunteer organization with minimal costs. (I am on a small contract to coordinate and handle submissions and the goal is to keep it that way.) The downside of that is that we’re only as good as the people who contribute stories, photos and ideas. You do an amazing job with issues, Griff, but you devote a lot of time to it. The News does a great job, but it’s not done by volunteers. Getting quality content on a community site is always a challenge.
    We’re currently having discussions about what we do, how to get more people involved in meaningful writing, and how to partner more with other organizations — including the News and Locally Grown. We have some exciting ideas floating around, but we’d love more. So fire away.

    March 23, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, can you provide some NCO numbers?

    How many people signed up from the membership drive that started last summer and how much money was raised?

    How much money was raised from the sponsorships/banner ads?

    March 24, 2007
  3. Holly Cairns said:

    Hey Griff,

    What about doing sponsored ads on Locallygrownnorthfield? Yes? OR let’s do a story about my business. I’m looking for customers again. 🙂

    AND, what about those NCO numbers? Plus, I think they should have let me post my stories. I am still mad about that.

    Anyway, in all seriousness, NCO is not a blog, is it? Or what is it? A glorified– St. Olaf events, mostly?

    March 24, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Holly, our traffic to Locally Grown is at a point where we could consider ads of some kind. It’s an issue that we were going to discuss at our mini-retreat last week which we had to cancel due to a scheduling mix-up by one of our co-hosts who shall remain nameless. However, his initials are RC. 😉

    My current inclination is to NOT make Locally Grown into a business but keep it a volunteer civic thing for the 3 of us. But I’ve not really thought it through.

    March 25, 2007
  5. I’d be seriously turned off if Locally Grown did ads. It was always more awkward after added them.

    Holly — what stories didn’t let you post?

    March 26, 2007
  6. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi, I tried to post something about the library but no one liked my post. After that, no one liked my plenary address response. Also, my story on Mike. And, another story I can’t remember.

    All rejected by the powers that be for reasons many. Blog? No. or what is a blog? Must be the misspelling problem or the opinions.

    I still think that is glorified and am disappointed with the formality of it. Good people on the board, but no feeling.

    March 26, 2007
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    I don’t know if they allow opinion posts to the homepage blog, Holly. I think Anne Bretts has posted opinion pieces as managing editor but I don’t recall seeing others.

    March 26, 2007
  8. That seems a little harsh. doesn’t have as much original content as it used to, but it’s still a good community center online.

    March 26, 2007

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