The hunt for new news models is throwing up surprising results. You can sense the desperation — giants like the New York Times and the UK Guardian plead for subscriptions or even contributions to help keep going. Our dailies are losing readers quickly or slowly — but losing them — shedding staff and dropping editions. Database analytics tell us who we are, what we are, where we are but don’t know how to make us take an interest in anything beyond the personal.

But the need to know is always going to make things happen. Technology may be decimating conventional news outlets but it’s also creating opportunities, especially at the grassroots level. So this month’s blog is playing ‘pick the winner.’

Tauranga-based Newsie is an interactive website and alliance of independent media publishers from across New Zealand, rather like the Press Association (which folded in 2011.) But the big difference is it’s locally and regionally based.

Contributing members are Warkworth-based Local Matters (Hibiscus Matters and Mahurangi Matters); the Kaipara Lifestyler; the Times Online of Auckland; the Franklin and North Waikato Post; Nelson Live; the Record, of Dargaville; the Christchurch-based On The Land series ; the Wanaka Sun; the Advocate South of Te Anau; and Sun Media in Tauranga, the hub member of the consortium from where editor Letitia Anderson pulls in the best round for each story fed to her by the members. It’s a social news platform.

Sun Media’s Andrew Campbell handles council and marine matters; Ryan Wood sport and entertainment; Tandem Studios in Christchurch handles rural matters with contributions from Rob Copeland of the On the Land series; Anderson draws more from Sun Media for the balance.

General manager Jay Burston has introduced the citizen journalist concept — his ‘Newsies’ — are voluntary local writers who write news articles which readers can ‘like’ so the writers can build an audience of people truly interested in what they have to say, as well as aspiring to win a prize for best article of the month. June winner was Wintec journalism student Bridget Kelly, writing about the Young Farmers’ Ball in Taranaki.

Burston is an IT specialist who built the Sunlive website eight years ago, now crosslinked to his new Newsie site, neatly marrying technology and news.

Member companies don’t have skin in the game, he says, but indicators of success come from Facebook — of course — telling of 30 000 likes soon after soft-launch day  of Feb 20, with a steady rise to 70 000 currently. Google provides the demographics — the audience is 70 percent female.

Does that tempt editorial content into women’s magazine territory? Burston defends editorial impartiality: ‘We publish all good stories that come in’ he says. ‘Obviously advertising might follow the demographic but our spread of national, regional and international articles keeps the editorial equilibrium.

Being regionally based was a barrier to being taken seriously by national corporates, he said. Sun Media was the biggest media company in the region by circulation and readership both in print and online ..six times as big as the local NZME product. But media buyers were hard to persuade.

‘It’s difficult to garner support from advertisers for a new site ..there’s very little revenue and big costs. (so we) share resources and minimise costs to make it viable in the long term.’

So, good news and bad news. Are they viable in the long term? The clever use of existing resources and building on the software structure  — it’s an excellent website, very fit-for-purpose — suggests we’ll have to wait until they go public to find that out.


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