Finding a niche 

Arkie adventures in new media.

click to enlarge NEW MEDIA: Flyer focuses on arts and entertainment.
  • NEW MEDIA: Flyer focuses on arts and entertainment.

It's been a bad year for the economy but it's been particularly lackluster for newspapers. According to the website Paper Cuts, a site that tracks layoffs in the paper biz, 15,510 people have lost their jobs so far this year. Last week, the Detroit Free Press announced it would no longer deliver a paper at home every day, but would instead offer an on-line subscription plus paper delivery three days a week. Newspapers all across the country are struggling to find their place in the new e-business environment.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the death of the newspaper is a bad thing. Our attention spans aren't getting any longer, and newspaper reporting is, ideally, more in-depth than news-oriented blogs or TV news.

But some are welcoming the decline, embracing new media and doing their best to fill the hole newspapers may one day leave.

Michael Tilley was laid off from his job as regional business editor for the Fort Smith Times Record and the Morning News in Springdale, Stephens Media newspapers. After losing his job, he decided to strike out on his own. He now runs The City Wire (www.thecitywire.com), a densely-packed local news site based in Fort Smith. Tilley says the Wire is a regional website, focusing on business news in Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin and Logan counties.

“It's hard for people who have spent many years in the news industry to just abandon the model and go somewhere else, but that's really what's needed,” Tilley says. “It's a slow death. I just wonder why these big media companies who have the resources and the people in place don't do what I'm doing. You don't have to tear down trees, smash them up and pour ink on them.”

One of the reasons newspapers are having so much trouble is there are so many free news outlets on the Internet. People are used to getting what they want, exactly when they want it, and that doesn't mean waiting for the paper to be dropped on their doorstep. It wasn't long ago that everybody got the same news, either from the three major television networks, their hometown paper, or larger papers like the New York Times. Now, the audience is fragmented, and Tilley says the way to succeed in the new media environment is to find your niche.

“And that niche is different from town to town, from state to state,” Tilley says. “We're not trying to be a newspaper. We don't do car wrecks and court cases and Podunk controversy. We're trying to give people who are really interested in what's going on around them what they want. And they really just don't care about Tony Alamo.”

Tilley's not alone. The Fayetteville Flyer (www.fayettevilleflyer.com) has been finding its niche over the past year and now the Flyer's creators are hoping to devote more attention to the site. The Flyer is akin to a web-only alt weekly. Dustin Bartholomew and Todd Gill started the site in their spare time, focusing mainly on Fayetteville's arts and entertainment scene. As traffic to the site increased and advertisers started calling, Bartholomew and Gill decided it was time to devote more time to the site and start looking for ways to generate a revenue stream to sustain it. They began selling ads and plan to launch a separate site in February to help make money to sustain the Flyer. 

Even though they're devoting more time to their craft, Bartholomew and Gill say the Flyer will still focus on arts and entertainment, local profiles and feature pieces.

“As far as news goes we are definitely the last on the scene, so we're never going to be like the newspapers,” Gill says. “I mean, it's just me and Dustin. We're not trained journalists. We don't really want the Flyer to be that, but we're not opposed to broadening the scope a little bit.”

During the latest mayoral race in Fayetteville, Bartholomew realized there wasn't one place where you could go for information on all the candidates. They interviewed each candidate and posted all the information on the web.

“It was really easy to do and throughout the process we thought ‘Why in the world isn't somebody doing something like this?' ” Bartholomew says.

Tilley hopes the City Wire will find that same success. He says the key is to figure out where the more traditional or mainstream outlets are failing and fill the gap.

“I'm not chasing down car wrecks and ambulances because I just don't think that matters. And I think that's one of the reasons that the mainstream press is failing to some extent,” he says. “Are we going to catch everything? No, but we don't want to be the be-all-end-all. We just want to be on the top of people's list for solid local news.”


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