From The Published Archives: Is “niche journalism” the future of news?

It’s happening again.  I’m blocking big time.  There’s no worse fate for a writer than to not produce, especially when you’re hungry for a bigger audience and possible full-time revenue.  Because of this annoyingly recurring dilemma, I thought it would help to dip into my personal archives again and post an older piece previously seen elsewhere.

Regular readers of this space will remember that I used to blog for Fading To Black, a site devoted to chronicling the sad decline of the newspaper business.  Rather than wait another five days to post this, I’m showcasing this particular piece now.

“Is ‘niche journalism’ the future of news?” was originally published on FTB on April 14, 2007 and was one of my first postings on the site.  It was inspired by an article I read on The Capital Times website, a longtime daily out of Madison, Wisconsin which has since undergone some interesting changes.  Originally a broadsheet that published seven days a week, it transformed itself into a mostly website-only operation supplemented by a twice-a-week freebie tabloid (Wednesdays and Thursdays) a little over a year after my piece surfaced.  Declining circulation numbers inspired this drastic, risky change.

Anyway, the article in question featured comments about the future of the news media by Jim VandeHei, a former Washington Post reporter who had helped co-found in 2007.  He predicted that the old-school newspaper model, where coverage was given to various areas of public interest, was done and that in the future, news organizations would build a business around just one subject be it politics, entertainment, sports or whatever.  He also said the continuing trend of closing down foreign news bureaus would go on which, considering the state of the Middle East and the ongoing tragedy in Japan this year, really looks like a stupid move on the part of clueless media corporations.  CNN can’t do it all, people.

At any event, my piece examines this interesting concept of single-minded journalism and openly questions whether it’s actually sustainable or not in the longterm.  Four years later, have there been any “niche journalism” success stories? 

One last thing.  I’ve had to replace the original link to The Capital Times article with a cached version.  (Thank you, Internet Archive Wayback Machine.)  All other links in the piece are unaffected.

Is “niche journalism” the future of news?

“The days of big newspapers that cover everything are over.”

That’s what former Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei told Katie Dean of The Capital Times in a story that appeared yesterday in the Madison, Wisconsin daily. VandeHei is currently working for The Politico, the 3-month-old political website that attracted “2 million unique visitors” in March alone. (The print version is a freebie that circulates 25,000 copies mostly in the Washington, D.C. area.) The whole venture was launched by Allbritton Communications on January 23rd, the same day President Bush delivered his State Of The Union address.

VandeHei argues that because consumers are flocking more and more to the Internet to follow specific news stories that interest them the most, following the old newspaper model of covering a variety of subjects is outdated.

VandeHei said Thursday that the Web creates a “huge opportunity for niche journalism,” be it in sports, science, finance or politics.
“I believe that that’s very much the future,” he said.
The trend of major print publications closing foreign bureaus will continue, VandeHei said, adding that while it is a loss for readers, it makes business sense because such bureaus are expensive to run and the news they generate is available from other sources.

But as Dean reports, The Politico makes 90 per cent of its revenue through its print version which is substantially different from its online counterpart. (The print version is tailor-made for beltway polticians. The website is for political junkies.) Also, it has come under fire from critics who have argued that it doesn’t always get its facts right. As Eric Boehlert pointed out in his March 27th column for the Media Matters For America website, “…The Politico does not have a bias problem. The Politico has a reporting problem.”

Still, the idea is interesting and not without merit. In the world of cable television, we’ve seen channels devoted exclusively to music, sports, movies and news. There have been many success stories. (MTV, CNN, Fox News Channel, ESPN, HBO.) Why not try it with the newspaper business? With the print media in tremendous financial decline, does “niche journalism” have the potential to turn things around?

Any gamblers out there willing to take a chance on it?

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Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 9, 2011
5:06 p.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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