Three new startups are pushing back against the rise of "news deserts" and the pitfalls facing local journalism.
The Colorado Sun, Block Club Chicago, and the Daily Memphian aspire to fill the voids in their communities left by shrinking staffs, budget shortfalls, and shuttered publications in local newsrooms.
All three projects are less than a few months old -- Block Club Chicago debuted in June, while the Daily Memphian launched September 17. Despite the financial concerns that often plague small outlets, the sites have received an outpouring of support from readers and sponsors. Block Club Chicago raised over $183,000 on Kickstarter, and the Daily Memphian raised $6.7 million.
"Journalism didn't fail," said Eric Barnes, president and executive editor of the Daily Memphian. "The business model behind journalism on a local level is what failed. And that was a mix of just changes that weren't foreseen and changes in the advertising world, the Internet, a bunch of really self-inflicted wounds in terms of putting so much content online for free. But none of that spoke to the importance, the quality, or the value of journalism itself."
Barnes, along with Stephanie Lulay of Block Club Chicago and Larry Ryckman of the Colorado Sun, which went live earlier this month, detailed their outlets' business models, areas of coverage, and plans for the future on this week's Reliable Sources podcast.
Listen to the whole podcast here:
The Colorado Sun and the Daily Memphian were both formed in response to layoffs -- for the former, at the Denver Post, and for the latter, at the Commercial Appeal, their editors told CNN's Brian Stelter.
"To me, the point was to protect local journalism and to save what I felt was the heart and essence of the Denver Post," said Ryckman, editor of the Colorado Sun and the former senior editor of news for the Denver Post. "The community would have lost to have seen these folks, some of them with two Pulitzer Prizes to their names, leave journalism. That is a loss not so much for journalists but for the community itself."
Lulay, co-founder of Block Club Chicago, said the site was formed after DNAInfo was shut down last November. Readers rallied around the outlet; while the Kickstarter campaign's goal was $25,000, over 3,000 backers pledged more than $183,000. A post on the page from March says that if the campaign exceeded $172,000, "we will be America's most successful local journalism campaign in Kickstarter history."
"That was so heartwarming to us to see how much Chicago readers really wanted to see this kind of news come back," Lulay said.
Block Club Chicago, like the Colorado Sun, receives support from Civil, a blockchain journalism startup.
Both Lulay and Ryckman stressed that the "journalism" aspect of their job is easy to navigate. What's more difficult is having to wear multiple hats in a new company.
"We are now also H.R. people," Lulay told Stelter of herself and her co-founders Jen Sabella and Shamus Toomey. "We are customer service representatives. We are grant writers. There's a lot of other things that go into running an organization of this size besides the journalism."
"I tell a story that when I was a kid, my parents owned a small business," Ryckman said. "My father was the CEO and the janitor. And that's sort of the position that I'm in at the Colorado Sun. You do what needs to be done."