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Will a failing Baltimore Sun make a need for community based journalism Part III

Who gives Baltimoreans new information?
Who gives Baltimoreans new information?
Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism

The last post left us with two important questions to answer. How can failing newspapers, such as our Baltimore Sun, create economic opportunities for the communities surrounding the harbor? Second, if big newspapers can't master this new evolving business model, how can we?

Paul Gillin (mentioned in the last post) touches on the work of Chris Anderson. FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, is the continuation of Chris Anderson’s compelling case that in many instances businesses can make profits by giving things away for free than by charging a price. In this on-line age, Anderson believes that the price of products and services which consist primarily of ideas and information is spiraling to zero. This is not a passing trend but the evolution of an on-line market place. Anderson asserts that the mastery of this marketplace will be held by those who learn to bundle marketable packages around free content. The economic principles set forth by Anderson offers a perfect model for the journalistic media business model. When most information on-line is free, how can free markets flourish from the dissemination of information. Any new model will have to find the right package of services to bundle with on-line content.

The application of this theory to the world of journalism can be seen in Zach Seward’s interview with Alan Murray, executive editor of The Wall Street Journal Online, who believes there are tons of people who are willing to pay large amounts of money to buy information. His five pieces of advice are:

1. The best model is a mix of paid and free content.
2. You can’t charge for exclusives that will just be repeated elsewhere.
3. Don’t charge for the most popular content on your site.
4. Content behind a pay wall should appeal to niches.
5. The narrower the niche, perhaps the better.

The bundle, according to Anderson, is the hyper local content. This is where the possibility lies to create content that people will pay for. These stories could be used to build traffic and thereby converted into advertising revenue.

Let's say a journalist sets up shop in Federal Hill dedicated to all news that reaches from the Hanover St. Bridge to the Inner Harbor. Their primary goal is to tell you what legislation in City Hall affects you - property taxes, zoning, charter school start-ups, development, grass-roots mobilization, job creation and any other issue which specifically has meaning to you and your neighborhood. Would you not pay for this service? The Baltimore Sun no longer has the budget or the manpower to specifically reach you and your neighborhood. Somebody has to fill the void. As far as businesses in Federal Hill, where would you rather have your advertising dollars spent? Would you rather spend money on ads where you cannot accurately judge who sees it or spend those same dollars for a captive audience in your immediate vicinity? A journalistic ecosystem has just been created which can support itself on all angles and it may be prudent for community associations and other neighborhood or entrepreneurial groups to begin to look into the possibility of a community journalist.

The next part of the series will look at how the ordinary inhabitants of our neighborhoods will help our community journalist make and report our news.



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