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Starting your own newspaper

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SportsHack1818, Dec 3, 2013.

  1. Has anyone on here ever considered starting/running their own newspaper?

    The reason I ask is it's a topic that's been on my mind for some time, and one I especially can't shake today.

    I have a job that I really enjoy, but I am growing weary of the fact that, as long as I'm working for someone else in this business, I am never going to attain the financial flexibility I would like to have while still embracing a career that I love. Instead, it will be another 25 years (if I am lucky enough to not end up on the wrong side of the layoff line) of just making ends meet until retirement comes calling (if I am lucky enough to be able to afford that).

    I've thought time and again about making the gamble and buying a small weekly somewhere, or even creating my own. While everyone is concerned about the death spiral of newspapers, having spent the past six years of my career working at community-minded weeklies, I truly believe there will be a place for this type of journalism in the printed form for many years. And I know that my own bosses, a husband-and-wife team, make a great living via the five weekly newspapers they have bought/created in the past 15-20 years.

    Is there something I'm missing? Or with a sound business plan and a successful journalism background at my disposal, is this something an almost-40 something should consider? On one hand, the idea scares me to death. On the other, the challenge and opportunity make we want to jump in and go for it.
  2. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    And it pains me to frame it this way, but "great journalism" has almost nothing to do with whether a newspaper is going to be successful. Connecting with advertisers and getting your product into the right hands to impress those advertisers is the most crucial thing.

    My observation about the best start-up I ever saw was that the married couple who founded it traded working 50 hours a week for somebody else for working 90-plus for themselves. They did some great work but exhausted themselves in the process. And, in the end, sold the property to the very people they'd been competing against.
  3. lesboulez

    lesboulez Member

    i have a friend/former co-worker that is giving it a go in Eastern NC. he seems to be enjoying the heck out of it and is doing some good work. don't know where they are financially, but he had a good backer, and the staff is bare-bones.

    our paper prints it, and i've seen it get better with time.

    if you've got the guts and someone else's money behind it, i'd say go for it...
  4. lesboulez

    lesboulez Member

    and he just posted this on facebook, so...

  5. Believe me, I am fully aware that great journalism and successful, money-making journalism don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

    Were I to ever actually take the leap and set out on my own, I would model a community weekly after the one I work at. We do good work, we're popular, and we're the go-to news source in our communities even with the presence of a daily that covers our county. So we are doing something right, and I wouldn't be setting out to re-invent the wheel.

    Glad to hear your friend is experiencing some success, les. It's that whole financial backer thing that I don't have going for me right now. If I did, I would make a move like this in a heartbeat. The hard work doesn't scare me. It's the ability to put food on the table that does.
  6. NancyLou

    NancyLou Member

    Several years ago, I teetered on the fence about buying the local Tombstone Epitaph when it was up for sale for $8500. It was a nice little paper and the trusted one in Tombstone. However, I teetered too long and UofA bought it up for their journalism department to dabble with. Totally ruined it. Now it's defunct, pretty much.
  7. Mauve_Avenger

    Mauve_Avenger Member

    I always thought it would be fun to own a newspaper. Especially considering my first job in journalism was me doing sports, news and layout at a weekly newspaper - basically most of the editorial work - I believe it would be rewarding to do it for a newspaper that I owned.
  8. lesboulez

    lesboulez Member

    on the other side, a trio of friends of mine started a weekly about 2005 or so. it lasted about 5 months before they were so poor they couldn't pay their bills...they had no business plan to speak of, so it was destined to flop. but it was interesting to watch...
  9. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    If you have enough money to start or purchase a newspaper, you might as well open a restaurant or buy a boat. As long as you've committed to throwing your savings down a sucking hole, perhaps you should do something that feeds you or lets you relax until you eventually run out of money.

    I hate to be a cynic, but consider today's media ecology. My wife and I looked into buying small local newspapers (in completely different markets) some 20 years ago, and the economics never made sense. Like I said, that was 20 years ago, when newspapers still were a dominant media player. But today? Starting or buying a newspaper is a fool's errand, unless you'll have an absolute monopoly on the local market. And good luck finding that. There aren't many unserved/underserved communities that have enough local business to support a newspaper.

    You could, of course, go with an online product, but you'll have to vigorously promote it to get people to visit your site. That's a very different exercise than throwing sample papers onto driveways or placing racks on every street corner. And you'll still have the primary challenge -- generating enough revenue from advertising to support and grow the company.

    Again, if your local market is big enough to support a local media outlet, chances are good some other organization is already doing it.

    If you truly have the itch to publish and have a thriving company, I strongly suggest considering some niche publication with the potential for nearly 100 percent market penetration -- Woodworking for Women, American Broccoli Farmer, Mustangs Illustrated, etc. Do something that nobody else does, and do it well. The only real trick is identifying what you're going to focus on, analyzing whether there's revenue potential in that niche, and deciding whether you have the passion to write about it and glad-hand your sales prospects.

    Good luck.
  10. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    SportsHack, if you could pull it off, kudos to you. I, for one, will be rooting for you if you indeed go for it.
    I was editor for a startup paper five years ago. Two papers had gone out of business in the town in the last two years (longtime weekly closed, new weekly opened after that but folded shortly after). My boss tried getting financing set up but I don't really think he did the necessary grunt work.
    My ideal was we'd have 1K subscribers by the end of the first year, 5K by the end of two years and 10K end of three years. I figured our product would be so good, people would hear about us and after a couple of rough years it'd be all good.
    By the time I left last fall, we had around 1,200 subscribers and we weren't gaining any traction.
    Here are some of the obstacles we faced:
    1. We opened right as the recession hit full force.
    2. The aforementioned two weeklies that had already gone out of business. The new one left in the middle of the night and didn't do any refunds, explanation or anything, so it left a bitter feeling towards newspapers in the town.
    3. People thought we were the weekly subsection of the 70K daily competitor, which had a very similar name, and thus didn't see why they had to subscribe to our paper.
    4. In addition to the daily paper, we also had three TV stations to compete against, especially for ads.
    5. My boss didn't really believe in promoting the paper and he didn't build relationships with the movers and shakers.
    6. The most staff we ever had editorially was 1.5 FTE, covering a town of 60K plus surrounding small communities.

    Long story short, I was proud of the work we (I) did. But if you do great work and no one knows about it or knows about you, did you really do great work?
    When I left, my boss offered to sell the paper at a way exaggerated price, in essence paying for the name only plus a couple of tired old Macs running CS2 Suites. I briefly thought about either talking him way down on price or starting a monthly magazine (or converting the paper into a magazine), but I just didn't feel the financial risk would be worth it. Food on table, family to support, etc.
    I would say if you're going to do it, either take over an established paper with strong community and business support, or like reformedhack said, open in a market where you have a monopoly.
  11. Paynendearse

    Paynendearse Member

    Dude started an online paper in our locale after quitting the big paper. Shithead turned it into a tabloid attack dog and it got some hits but he never could get to the point where he could hire a legitimate full-time helper. Still owes stringers from months back.
  12. Uncle Frosty

    Uncle Frosty Member

    Been there, done that, with a group of investors who put in about $5 million for a paper that lasted less than three years.

    Timing was bad, product wasn't good enough and the advertising dollars weren't there.

    For a long time, I dreamed of being a gentleman publisher owning a small weekly in the country somewhere, but this completely cured me of it.

    But there are opportunities out there for the right person, I'm sure.
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