New Australian online news venture

It may only be days into the aftermath of Fairfax’s high profile redundancies, a week when some of the most respected Australian journalists published their last columns, but we are seeing seeds of hope sewn in their wake.

Crikey has reported that former Fairfax senior correspondent, Simon Mann from The Age, will be the founding editor of a new online news venture at the University of Melbourne known as The Citizen.

Crikey understands that The Citizen will be staffed by the university’s postgraduate journalism students and will cater for the local general public of Melbourne.

Progressively, The Citizen is said to be inspired by the proliferation of “hyper-local” news sites that are somewhat successfully sprouting across the United States. The online news venture will reportedly trial and tap into citizen journalism resources as well.

Melbourne University is also the cradle of another recent online media masthead, The Conversation.

“Hyper-local”, focused content and citizen journalism

While a detailed outline of The Citizen’s editorial mission is unavailable, two points reported by Crikey have stood out for me as important facets of emerging online news editorial strategies: localised content and citizen journalism.

Nieman Journalism Lab (NJL) recently published an informative piece about the growing success of Deseret News. The Salt Lake City masthead produces specific local content with an inclination for issues on faith and family while their digital department develops online-only products aimed at a wider national audience, bringing in revenue.

As author of the NJL article Jonathan Stray says,

“A focused editorial strategy allows them to compete on the national stage, while a separate digital unit innovates and comes up with unique, web-only products.”

According to Stray, digital revenue at Deseret News was up 50 per cent annually for the past three years. Profits from digital products like online marketplaces, daily deals and user-contributed content now make up more than 25 per cent of total revenue.

Deseret News’ niche editorial focus allows them stand out on a national news level,

“We’re not going to try to compete nationally on political news with Politico and Washington Post. And we’re not going to try to compete nationally on financial news with the Wall Street Journal and so on.” Deseret News editor Paul Edwards said.

Almost simultaneously NJL published another report of how news organisations can benefit from collaborating with citizen journalists and social media to tell a story.

The article by Gina Masullo Chen argues that the recent coverage of Hurricane Isaac demonstrated the promise of a hybrid news model where traditional news organisations – including print, TV, radio – offered regular text reports with elements from Twitter and Facebook. Some news organisations blended the inclusion of apps like Hurricane Tracker to help inform audiences.

The Daily Beast has been using the Storify tool, most effectively with breaking news that garner arresting images,

Storify allows a user to glue together “social stories” by using bits of social media to create a narrative. Choose a topic, search for it on Twitter or Facebook, and piece together images, quotes and links on your topic page to create a stream of related information.

The downside is none of the information is fact-checked, unless a journalist follows up every single post, Storify must be accepted as unverified. While this draws journalistic tenets of accuracy and trustworthiness into question, the power and usefulness of mixing user-generated content and traditional journalism is compelling.


 *Focus and web only content: How Deseret News supports a local newsroom with a national strategy

*Hurricane Isaac shows the promise of a hybrid model for news


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