A wonderful thing about the Block by Block Summit 2011 was seeing that many of the nation’s most successful independent, online, community publishers are veteran journalists in their 40s, 50s and 60s—my cohort, broadly. Go, team! More important, these are the journalists whose jobs have been most vulnerable in the legacy-media crisis of the past 10 years.
These journalists watched their newspapers close, or took buyouts during staffing cutbacks, or got laid off, and found themselves adrift. They had honed their reporting and writing skills over decades, built broad, deep source lists, developed mature judgment and possessed a still-burning desire to tell stories and reveal truths. But the institutions that had employed them since the 1970s and ’80s were shrinking. The business models that had supported those institutions no longer worked, and because of the disruption wrought by the Internet, they seemed unlikely to return to robustness.
These veterans wanted and needed to keep working. And they were deeply perturbed that changes in legacy media—news organizations that existed before the birth of the Internet—left many communities without the kind of news coverage that informed citizens need in a democracy.
And so the hyperlocal movement was born.
Now, a few years into their online ventures, after endless months of 24/7 dedication to building their sites journalistically and financially, they are making enough money to cover their personal expenses (mortgage or rent, health insurance, food, car, etc.) and even to pay themselves a small salary. They have embraced the fact that they are running businesses; that’s why they went to Block by Block, to figure out the next steps toward greater profitability. And they’re eager to share their knowledge, as Howard Owens of The Batavian, which covers the countryside between Rochester, N.Y., and Buffalo, wrote in a post on his personal blog titled “How to launch your own local news site in 10 (not so easy) steps.”
Ben Ilfeld of Sacramento Press introduces himself at the opening of the Block by Block 2011 Summit in Chicago. (Photo by Howard Owens)