Monday, January 18, 2010

Citizen Journalism Shutting Down

South Fremont News and Views, which I wrote about on this blog about eight months ago when they got their start, is shutting down. Those who organized the site and tried to keep it going ran into the same small-town journalism realities that the dead tree newspapers they competed against face: Few resources trying to cover diverse news interests with dwindling (and in South Fremont News and Views' case, nonexistent) advertising revenue.

Web-based news efforts, in their current shape, thrive on eyeballs, and while online intensely local journalism may work in its present form in suburban and urban areas, the success in a rural area such as Fremont County -- which has a population of about 12,000, fiercely dvidied along regional lines, making any news effort tagged with a "South Fremont" monicker serve an even less diverse audience -- dicey at best. In situations such as this, one has to be an ad manager first, a news gatherer second. Those running SFNV wanted to put news first, and literally paid the price. It's a pity to see this effort fold, as I believe it served its portion of the county well.

Fremont County has always been an odd duck in the news department, and, according to our local CBS affiliate, will remain so, as a self-described "unemployed journalist" is starting a new printed paper in Ashton to be called the Ashton Current. He may not know the name he chose is a riff on a previous Fremont County newspaper, the Fremont Current, which was organized by the regional daily which I used to work for in Idaho Falls after that paper purchased two smaller weeklies, the Fall River Review in Ashton and the South Fremont Stand in St. Anthony. (An internet search shows a reporter by that same name, Zach Zavoral, worked as a sports reporter for that same daily, the Post Register. If it's not him then ther are two Zach Zavorals in the world.) There was literally a time within the past 15 years that this county of 12,000 was served by no fewer than five newspapers, four of them locally-grown. That all have gone bust -- one was shuttered and rolled into its sister paper in nearby Rexburg -- isn't surprising, given the scarcity of local ad revenue and the inability of a county with such a small population to support four home-grown papers.

I've had a few people ask me why I didn't do something similar when I left the paper in 2005, and I told them flat out: Too much work for not enough reward, or no reward at all. As much as people regard journalism as a public service, reality and common sense makes it a commodity. That advertising has paid for news gathering and reporting is a fact that has worked well, up until the Internet made news free, figuratively and literally. I'm not convinced a paper focusing on a city of 1,100, with a sphere of influence that, thinking generously, could add up to 3,000, will fare well, given the state of the economy and particularly the state of Fremont County thinking. Get one out-of-town business advertising there and you'll see a backlash against your paper that no amount of in-town advertising can save. And I'm no advertising or promotions man, so any attempt on my part to singlehandedly wield the sword of Internet local journalism would be predestined to failure, not because it's not a labor of love, but because it wouldn't pay the bills.

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