Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

“The next generation of both journalists and news consumers will scatter to small cities and more rural areas and away from America’s big media hubs. Waiting there for them will be modern local news operations.”

Covid-19 has changed America forever. One change: Many large employers have indicated a willingness to allow employees to work from wherever they choose, and a few of the largest have even indicated that a three-day in-office work week will be the new normal.

This will scatter the next generation of both journalists and news consumers to small cities and more rural areas and away from America’s big media hubs. Waiting there for them will be modern local news operations, appropriately sized for their area and monetized through the combination of membership, subscription, and local advertising that best suits their community.

This was already happening before Covid. In Vermont, VTDigger vies with newspapers to be the voice of the state. Just a few miles (but a few hours of New England driving) away, Maine Today has taken a legacy newspaper group and made it into a digital authority for the entire state. Nationally, Patch, now almost seven years removed from its AOL stewardship, covers over 1,200 communities and books over $20 million in revenue.

Each of these three came to their respective opportunities from radically different places — VTDigger is a membership-backed nonprofit, MaineToday is a locally backed rollup of Maine’s oldest newspapers, and Patch’s private equity owners bought it from pre-Verizon AOL — but no matter their origin story, each has made a commitment to excellent local journalism and sustainable business models.

The immediate aftermath of Covid will send more readers and writers to smaller communities. In the long term, this will bring much-needed information to those places and create news oases where there once were deserts.

John Saroff is the CEO of Chartbeat.

Covid-19 has changed America forever. One change: Many large employers have indicated a willingness to allow employees to work from wherever they choose, and a few of the largest have even indicated that a three-day in-office work week will be the new normal.

This will scatter the next generation of both journalists and news consumers to small cities and more rural areas and away from America’s big media hubs. Waiting there for them will be modern local news operations, appropriately sized for their area and monetized through the combination of membership, subscription, and local advertising that best suits their community.

This was already happening before Covid. In Vermont, VTDigger vies with newspapers to be the voice of the state. Just a few miles (but a few hours of New England driving) away, Maine Today has taken a legacy newspaper group and made it into a digital authority for the entire state. Nationally, Patch, now almost seven years removed from its AOL stewardship, covers over 1,200 communities and books over $20 million in revenue.

Each of these three came to their respective opportunities from radically different places — VTDigger is a membership-backed nonprofit, MaineToday is a locally backed rollup of Maine’s oldest newspapers, and Patch’s private equity owners bought it from pre-Verizon AOL — but no matter their origin story, each has made a commitment to excellent local journalism and sustainable business models.

The immediate aftermath of Covid will send more readers and writers to smaller communities. In the long term, this will bring much-needed information to those places and create news oases where there once were deserts.

John Saroff is the CEO of Chartbeat.

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