Monday, March 23, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust


The
Ann Arbor News announced that it will close in July. It will reinvent itself as AnnArbor.com.

The AnnArbor.com page, as of today, consists of a statement of intent to build relevant content for the community, both readers and advertisers. Poignantly, and with searing honesty, it says:
"We’re not only soliciting your input on the site, we need it. AnnArbor.com will be built from the ground up, so you can help create what it becomes."
Here's a major small-city newspaper who has played the Armageddon card and is now trying to rebuild from scorched earth. Starting with nothing, not even their name.

Consider that established sites like The Huffington Post that have succeeded in providing relevant and widely read online journalism have yet to build a sustainable profit model based on that content.

But the fact that this new incarnation of the A2 News is willing to start with a publicly blank slate, inviting their audience to participate in their re-creation, is pretty unprecedented. And commendable.

So, the field is now wide open. Mary Morgan's Ann Arbor Chronicle has a head start. As does Steve Pierce's YpsiNews.com. These independents have readership, and are operated by some of the community's most tech-savvy people, who "get it". Even if they, like most of us, may not know exactly where it's going. My impression is that Mary and Steve are publishing to fill a community need, because they are smart and they can, and maybe to create a modest revenue stream. But not necessarily to recreate the big-profit publishing model online.

The Ann Arbor News' existing online presence, Mlive.com, is widely read, but obviously not as profitable as it needs to be to sustain parent company Booth Publishing. Maybe the crux of the matter is that journalism can no longer sustain large enterprise.

Today's twitterstream surfaced a couple of great observations: there are still plenty of people who don't really know, or want to know, how to get local news online. And there are still plenty of businesses that can't imagine any other way to advertise. Take the newspaper away, and these folks lose a lifeline.

But we've reached a point where connecting Luddite constituencies is not enough to keep the newspapers profitable.

We're living in interesting times.

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