Wednesday, February 10, 2010

True Online Journalism

This is the kind of online journalism the mainstream media needs to fear. Or emulate. Or purchase. (Hat tip to the Reflections of A Newsosaur blog for bringing this to my attention.)

Michelle Leder, author (but no longer proprietor) of took her expertise in business journalism and parlayed it into a successful finance-oriented blog that has attracted an undisclosed number of subscribers who pay $2,500 a year for premium content and attracted the attention of Chicago-based Morningstar, which purchased just recently.

This kind of online journalism isn’t going to kill traditional newspapers or traditional media, but it is going to provide an expert source for information that the MSM simply cannot afford to provide.

Is what Leder is doing a model for the MSM? Hardly. I can’t see anyone paying that much of a premium for local news, simply because there are so many local news outlets out there. Just in my area alone (which is rural) we have three television stations that present local news for free and one local paper that offers most of its content online for free. The regional daily charges $6 a month for their content. That’s probably about as much as the market will bear – though by their own numbers the online portion of their site represents just under 3 percent of total subscriptions. It’s a way to bet the attention of the American Bureau of Circulation, but it’s hardly a model on which one can anchor a business.

I don’t fault the local news outlets for doing what they do. The regional daily is right to insist on payment for its content. It’s well-reported and researched. With the other sites, we get what we pay for, typically in one-sided reporting and lots and lots of typos. Just like my blog here. But I don’t pretend to be a news outlet.

This is, however, a model for any enterprising journalist who has a specialty and wants to leverage it outside traditional media. Yes, Leder built her site up over time, through long struggles and lots of self-marketing, something many traditional journalists are loath to do (Grammar Nazi is proud I used this word correctly). It doesn’t mean that every niche journalist is going to succeed at this, but it shows it can be done. And it shows the power of the Internet as a publication platform and distributor. Leder could not have done this the old-fashioned way, via print, with the initial overhead costs being far too high.

This is where being a knowledge worker intersects with having enough leverage to use that knowledge to best effect. There are few mainstream news outlets who would use Leder full-time at doing what she does – extracting, in her words, buried treasure – from filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Maybe the Wall Street journal, maybe another national paper. And the others would be foolish to hire her, not because she’s talented, but because her talents would be wasted. An Internet platform is perfect for what she is doing.

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