Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chain starts Web-only news outlet in city where the newspaper has virtually no Web presence

Here's a shot across the bow of rural newspapers that aren't effectively on the Web: GateHouse Media has started a Web-only news outlet in Batavia, N.Y., where The Daily News site offers only subscription information and sales of archived news stories. The Batavian started quietly in April. "The strategy is to launch an innovative news and community site that will eat the lunch of an incumbent newspaper that has ignored the Web," writes Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, which is advised by GateHouse online director Howard Owens.

"The Batavian practices what Howard preaches," Karp writes. "The site is anchored by a blog and has a full suite of community features (powered by Drupal), including blogs for registered users. The homepage features blog posts from community members. Many posts have generated lively discussions in comments." (Read more)

On The Batavian, Owens wrote in May about the depth and richness of journalism and interaction that are available online, using as an example concerns about decline of the city of 16,000. "A clearer picture emerges of the goals and aspiration of the City Council to clean up the city before things get too far gone," Owens wrote. "Traditional, print journalism could never achieve this depth of coverage of a single issue. By offering a method and manner to discuss choices, consequences and conditions in Batavia, The Batavian hopes to help make Batavia a stronger community." For The Batavian's birth announcement, click here and go to the bottom.

Owens writes on his own site, "We wanted to go to a town where we didn’t have a newspaper so that we could have the freedom to experiment without concerns about disrupting one of our own publications. We picked Batavia because it’s a neat, vibrant town; it’s close to our home office; and the daily newspaper there was doing nothing on the Web. ... The site is still very young, still under development (we’re working on a new design and adding additional features as we speak), but the local reception has been pleasantly strong so far."

The Daily News, which has a circulation of 12,500, serves three counties between Buffalo and Rochester. Its home Genesee County has a population of 60,000; the other two, shown in map from Daily News Web site, each have about 44,000 people.

Daily News Publisher Tom Turnbull told us in an e-mail that the newspaper's Web site, "a source of frustration for our entire staff," will be expanded "very soon" and "has been delayed for a variety of reasons." He wrote, "The Daily News has committed to bringing a first-class local news web site to our market for some time now, long before The Batavian made its debut. ... I am confident that the combination of our unique local content, the local knowledge and experience of our professional staff and our well-branded image will very quickly make the Daily News Web site the number one local news web site in our market."

Turnbull questioned whether The Batavian is a viable business enterprise, and said, "Incredibly, despite all the talk about The Batavian on the Web recently, you are the first and only member of the web community that has even attempted to contact us. And web bloggers wonder why they get no respect from the journalism community." He concluded, "I’m sure my comments will open up a firestorm of indignant responses from the Web blogging community. I don’t plan on answering any of them. I’m too busy running a news business." Turnbull's full e-mail appears as a comment below.

2 comments:

Al Cross said...

Dear Mr. Cross,

Our newsroom passed along your request for a comment on The Batavian to me. Incredibly, despite all the talk about The Batavian on the web recently, you are the first and only member of the web community that has even attempted to contact us. And web bloggers wonder why they get no respect from the journalism community.

The Daily News has committed to bringing a first-class local news web site to our market for some time now, long before The Batavian made its debut. Our launch has been delayed for a variety of reasons. It has been a source of frustration for our entire staff. But we will launch our site very soon and, when we do, I am confident that the combination of our unique local content, the local knowledge and experience of our professional staff and our well-branded image will very quickly make The Daily News web site the number one local news web site in our market.

I have read some of the “buzz” surrounding The Batavian on various blogs during recent days and I am amazed that no one has asked the most basic of questions – does this supposedly revolutionary concept make any sense from a financial standpoint? Now I realize that there are some deep thinkers out there that don’t like to think about little details like money, but profitability means sustainability. If a site like The Batavian doesn’t turn a profit, how long can it last?

The fact is The Batavian would not have lasted this long if it wasn’t being totally subsidized by Gatehouse Media, an association they like to downplay with their readers as they try to portray themselves as some sort of grassroots community journalism start-up. And where does Gatehouse make the money it is using to subsidize The Batavian? From that industry that has been long proclaimed dead by most web bloggers – newspapers. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Has anybody on these blogs tried doing the math? Yes, they have eliminated a lot of overhead by foregoing the newsprint and ink of a print edition, but remember that overhead still brings in a great deal of revenue for newspapers. The Batavian will have to depend exclusively on web site advertising for their revenue. Has anyone thought about how much advertising they will have to sell just to break even? And how much do you think they will be able to sell those ads for when they have by their own admission only 5,000 unique visitors per month?

Gatehouse is a publicly-traded company that has to answer to its stockholders. How long to you think they will continue to fund this grand experiment as it continues to lose money? Have you taken a look at what has happened to Gatehouse’s stock in the last year?

I’m sure my comments will open up a firestorm of indignant responses from the web blogging community. I don’t plan on answering any of them. I’m too busy running a news business.

Sincerely,

Tom Turnbull
Publisher
Batavia Newspapers Corp.

Howard said...

Funny, I never read this before.

I was searching for something else when I found this.

While GateHouse no longer owns The Batavian, we're still here.

And we're profitable, growing, and more popular online in Genesee County than The Batavia Daily News.

Kind of ironic, isn't it?