Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Online news attracts star journalists and big money

AFP, WASHINGTON

The news media is generating some big news of its own, as a growing number of star US journalists move online, bringing followers and financial backers with them.

Online news sites have been around for years, but in recent months the trend has gained momentum, defying predictions of a troubled media industry.

The latest was the relaunch of FiveThirtyEight, headed by Nate Silver, a statistician and journalist who made his own headlines with his accurate prediction of the 2012 presidential election.

The site, which covers a range of news with a statistician’s eye, is backed by the sports broadcaster ESPN, after Silver left the New York Times with his blog.

BIG NAMES

Also joining the fray was The Intercept, a news site backed by technology entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar with an editorial team led by Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who broke news with documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Omidyar has pledged to invest US$250 million in his First Look Media, which includes a not-for-profit news operation and a separate technology arm for new media.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s popular “Wonkblog” columnist Ezra Klein left the newspaper to start a news Web site backed by Vox Media.

Yahoo wooed television news star Katie Couric and former New York Times technology writer David Pogue. And journalists at the Wall Street Journal-backed technology blog “AllThingsD” broke off in January to create Re/code, a separate Web site with support from Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

The new energy in Internet news comes as the entrenched news industry faces deepening financial woes, and the model for online profits remains unclear.

So is the news business dying or being reborn?

Alan Mutter, a former Chicago newspaper editor who consults for journalism and technology ventures, said that while traditional newspapers are withering, online news sites may be working.

The digital news business is likely to be “vertical,” covering a segment such as technology, sports or politics, unlike a newspaper, which aims to cover all sectors. Online news can get money from subscriptions, premium content or links to shopping, for example.

Newspapers try to get a broad audience by offering comics, coupons and recipes, while covering news ranging from local crime to politics to walks on the moon, and online sites are changing that model.

The shift is similar to what happened in retailing, with multi-sector department stores hammered by specialty apparel, housewares or electronics stores.

“Newspapers are basically following a publishing-model mindset that is locked in 1958,” Mutter said.

“They take the same content and put it on a Web site or put it on mobile and they say they have a digital strategy,” he added.

Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell who writes the Newsonomics blog, said it has become easier to launch news sites.

“The technology has gotten much better and cheaper in the past few years,” Doctor said.

News startups can expand internationally and gain a far larger audience than they would with a local or even national US newspaper, he said.

Without the legacy costs of newspapers like printing, distribution and long-standing pensions, Web sites can become profitable relatively quickly.

While not all ventures will succeed, they are attracting venture capital because “you could double or triple your money if you pick a winner,” Doctor said.

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