In his new book “Entrepreneurial Journalism,” Mark Briggs discusses the future of journalism and with the waning of print journalism, he sees an online future full of opportunity. With the plethora of blogs online, the key to attracting an audience is differentiating your online outlet from the pack and in doing so, finding a loyal audience. However, Briggs warns that audience loyalty isn’t all that is required. “The audience must be loyal and fully engaged if you want to produce dynamic, vibrant content and help your news site grow (Briggs, Quill re-print, 29).” It is important to build a loyal audience that will return again and again, but also an audience that will stick around when they visit the site and read more pages than just the home page. An online outlet will not grow unless this occurs. “When a publication builds a loyal audience based on the quality of its news coverage, advertisers pay to be seen in the same space (Briggs, Quill, Nov/Dec 2011, 29).”
In an article in American Journalism Review by Sherry Ricchiardi, Megan Kamerick recounts a personal work experience where a sports editor covered a run-of-the-mill men’s basketball team while totally neglecting the women’s basketball team that made it to the tournament finals. “When outraged readers asked why, the sports editor said he forgot (Ricchiardi, AJR, Winter 2011, 33).” The newspaper decided to follow its own interests, rather than the interests of its readers. With so many options available on the web, serving the audience will become even more important in the coming years. Again, if a website serves the audience, it will attract a loyal audience.
In the November/December 2011 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Michael Meyer wrote, “Online local news sites struggle with the same economic environment as the rest of the media industry, but with the additional challenges of a small audience base, a reliance on financing from local foundations with unstable endowments, and a need to convince cautious small-business owners to embrace online advertising (Meyer, CJR, 141).” Meyer tackles the familiar subject of not only finding an audience, but also of figuring out what to do regarding funding. His conclusion is that funding is a unique situation that is highly contingent on the needs of each individual website. It all depends on the goals of the website. Make no mistake: funding is a critical element in helping to differentiate a professional journalist from someone blogging from their bedroom. Unfortunately, the distinction is often difficult to decipher. A well-trained writer with no business background may suffer. “As a result, business strategies are frequently incoherent. Some sites operate in a manner indistinguishable from a freelancer scrambling for his next assignment (Meyer, CJR, 141).” The bottom line is taking the first step and getting off the ground. Meyer says the most innovative people in online news are those who regularly produce journalism and sustain it long-term.