Effective Strategy On How To Easily Create A Local News Website

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While local newspapers are in a state of steep decline it’s never been easier to create a local news website.

With access to affordable web publishing tools at an all-time high everybody can become a publisher.

The need for local news in some areas is growing because the local newspapers that once did the bulk of local reporting are in a state of steep decline.

This article offers some information on the content production and business strategy of setting up a local news site. It is not a technical guide to set up a WordPress website.

If you’re looking for a technical step-by-step guide to setting up a news site on WordPress you might find this video useful.

The bigger challenge, however, is how to sustain running a local news site with relevant content over the long term.

Local News in Decline

The once glorious newspaper business continues to decline faster than expected. Warren Buffett who loves newspapers recently announced he’s given up hope on the remaining 1,300 regional papers across the US. 

Only the big players like The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal look like they have an opportunity to chase digital subscriptions on a global scale.  

It’s the local and regional newspapers that produce the bulk of local reporting that are getting hit the worst.

In Canada, this trend is evident with The New York Times now having more paid subscribers from Canada than any of the Canadian newspapers. As we’ve seen a decade of steady decline you start to see a clear split in the market as the current business model isn’t sustainable for the regional players to maintain a large newsroom. 

As we’ve seen a multi-decade of steady decline, you start to see a clear split in the market as the current business model isn’t sustainable for the regional players to maintain a large newsroom. 

Why Create a Local News Website?

Under these circumstances, regional newspapers have cut back on local news, creating a gap in local news reporting in many areas. 

If these regional newspapers, who played the role of providing local news to their communities, continue to decline at such a fast pace who will step in to fill the role of local community news? 

Will local community news become a thing of the past? Probably not. 

As local and regional news coverage has shrunk in half over the last ten years, this is opening up a need for local news coverage.

The startup cost of a local news website is minimal, and social media offering a targeting distribution channel, self-publishing has never been easier. 

The Challenges with Local News

An org chart to create A Local News Website
It takes a lot of hard work to produce news every day.

The primitive online business model has been to make money from online ads. However, since the primitive online ad model is based on a cost per thousand pricing model sites that rely on ads need a lot of traffic to make money.

Local news presents a challenge to this model because compared to online viral content that attracts people from all over the world, local news is limited to a much smaller audience.

Local quality content costs just as much to produce, but has a much lower ROI, compared to a piece of content that appeals to a global audience.

Setting up a local news website is a lot of work. This is not going to be an easy ride. The publishing business is very hard. You need to constantly produce credible content, and creating credible content is very time-consuming.

The internet rewards extremes. Take Buzzfeed for example, they make a lot of revenue off click-bait. The dominant internet publishing ad models need scale, and that’s not something you’ll be able to achieve with a local news website. 

The Opportunity with Local News

The obvious solution to the gap in local journalism will see local entrepreneurial journalists set up their own websites to cover local news. 

People still need local news and stories, However, because of the broken online business model, the traditional media are forced to cut back on local and focus their attention on topics that have the widest audience.

The key to success for these aspiring local journalists will be the ability to generate sustainable revenue. Making enough money to support a local operation is not a simple task, and much harder than creating content. 

Facebook and Google dominate the digital ad market, but that leave local business with very little choice. Facebook and Google have strong data and technology, but they can’t go out and build a personal relationship with each community like you can as a local news publisher. 

This market trend combined with the relatively low cost in setting up a local news website has combined to create this new opportunity for independent bloggers and journalists to start their own local news websites.

How to Start a Local News Site?

Starting a local news company can be rewarding, but it comes with big financial risks if you plan to hire professional journalists and editors.

If you’re thinking of taking more of a solo approach you can set up online ad networks like Google Adsense, but the amount of traffic you’ll need to make any money is huge and may not be practical to fund the operation or even cover some of the basic expenses.

If you want to serve your local community by creating more engaged citizens you shouldn’t be thinking about generating traffic with click-bait content. 

What you need to focus on is getting good at going out meeting people face-to-face. The best model to make your site profitable is to solve real business problems, also known as the art of direct sales. 

Many journalists don’t like the idea of selling.  But money will not start flowing to you even if you manage to produce the best local content in the world. 

Ask yourself, how are you going to make the best content when you don’t have any money? Who can work so hard day after day to cover stories without a real salary to support them?

If you’re passionate about your community the best way to sustain a local news website is to get out and sell. 

You might be thinking mixing journalism and sales is not ethical. To that I would ask; what’s better–to leave your community in the dark or ask people in your community for support. 

If regional newspapers can’t afford to cover your community anymore and you’re the only one working on it you need to solve the funding problem. 

You can still be an ethical journalist and ask people for support. Think about it, many content creators have set up Patreon accounts asking for support. 

You focus on providing value for your readers by keeping them informed about topics that are relevant and of interest to them. And you provide value to businesses by offing them exposure to your audience. 

Let me offer you some comfort in relation to selling. As a journalist, the skills you’ve acquired to conduct interviews for a story are the exact same skills you need to build trusted relationships and offer solutions and solve your client’s business problems. 

To generate real revenue from a small local community website you need to go out and sell. 

Fund Your Local News Site with Direct Sales

You can offer banner advertising, custom content, web services, events, etc. Selling these marketing solutions is where the profit is. 

A key to replicable media sales is having success stories or case studies. If you’re starting keep in mind you’ll want to create case studies from your first few clients. These case studies will make things a lot easier going forward. 

Before your case studies are ready you can start to bring value to your clients by educating them on relevant and useful information. You can do this by informing them of new marketing trends and approaches. You can do research and on their competition, and the competitive landscape.

Your goal is to become a trusted advisor and someone who can help them make money and grow their business. 

Business owners are very pragmatic. They have a lot to do to run their business. You’ll get their attention when you speak to what they need.  

Starting your own website is going to be a lot of work, but the profitability can be huge. The challenge when you’re just starting out will be to make content and put energy into running the business. 

The only business model that seems to work for local sites is the direct sales approach.

  • Start with the local community where you live. Your a member of the community already so you’ll notice things and pick up on story ideas. You’ll also save yourself a lot of travel time. Ideally, you’ll need to become an engaged member of the community, so it only makes sense to start with where you live.
  • Research the area including keywords to find out if how many people are searching for your area. Don’t be too narrow or niche in your coverage area. Unless you live in a very vibrant and densely populated neighborhood you could have trouble attracting a substantial audience to make your local news website a profitable business.
  • Research the competitive landscape and learn from other local news websites.