Bay Citizen Wants To Publish Your Content -- For 25 Bucks

Categories: Media, internets
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There you go, pal! Now the Bay Citizen would like to publish your work.

The Warren Hellman-funded Bay Citizen will feature content from local news organizations on its website -- and they're planning to pay $25 per article, plus "partnership" perks.

This is not for freelance reporting, but for primarily hyperlocal and cultural stories that will run simultaneously on The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news site which launches May 26, and on the partner organization's home site.

In a world in which big news outlets are dying, and tiny, web-based publications are springing up, the Bay Citizen's plan is an interesting take on how a large, well-funded media organization should relate to the smaller outlets all around it.

The old-school model of journalism was straight-up competition. News organizations would fight to break the same stories and acknowledge the existence of rival publications grudgingly, if at all. In the new "link economy" model, news organizations profit by linking to each others' stories, and focusing their reporting efforts on different projects. "Cover what you do best. Link to the rest," as Jeff Jarvis put it.

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The Citizen will produce its own reporting, with a staff of six beat reporters. But, as they try to reinvent metro journalism for a web audience, they also want to collaborate with smaller local news organizations across the Bay Area -- and they don't just want to link.

"We want to be able to host full stories on the site," said Jonathan Weber, the Bay Citizen's editor-in-chief.

At a meeting today with more than 40 potential partners from small news organizations, Weber said he saw a flaw in the link economy. "The experience can be very disconnected. You click on something, you're in a different place, and you don't know why you're there or who it is, and that can be a very frustrating experience," he said.

Instead, Weber proposed another model: "partner organizations" would give the Bay Citizen non-exclusive rights to run their content, in exchange for $25 per article, various links to the partner's home site, and some team-player perks, like being able to ask a Bay Citizen journalist to help report one of their own larger projects.

This is an arrangement designed particularly for small, hyperlocal organizations -- those for whom a big boost in traffic might have a significant appeal. The Citizen already has a separate deal with New American Media, Weber said, and they will be buying content from Bay City News wire service.

With their hyperlocal partnership plan, The Bay Citizen seems to want to position itself as a kind of benevolent lord of the manor, nourishing small sites with advice and reporting aid, while at the same time lifting up their content to display to a larger audience.

Weber, who previously ran the Rocky Mountain regional news start-up New West, has said repeatedly that he knows what it's like to be a small organization struggling to keep afloat financially. Twenty-five dollars is not a lot, Weber acknowledged, but in his experience, "a little bit of money is better than no money."

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'A little bit of money is better than no money'
This may be true, but The Bay Citizen has already raised the hackles of some small local news organizations. The entrance of a new nonprofit site left them feeling both threatened and resentful that Hellman's $5 million donation went to funding an entirely new media organization, rather than helping their existing efforts.

From this perspective,  the Bay Citizen's proposal may sound more like journalistic sharecropping, with a billionaire-backed media organization -- led by a $400,000-a-year CEO -- lifting content from small sites for $25 bucks plus a pat on the back.

Today's meeting took place in a conference room at the Citizen's shiny new headquarters at 126 Post Street. The staff had only moved into the office on Monday, and one of the conference room chairs was so new it still had a tag on it.

The meeting's attendees included a large Berkeley Journalism school contingent, as well as several freelancers and representatives from spot.us, the SF Citizen, SF Public Press, California Beat, Triple Pundit  (a green business news site),  Newswire21, SFGate's environmental blog The Thin Green Line, Bay Nature Magazine, mediabugs.org, a cluster of East Bay hyperlocal blogs, including Berkeleyside and Oakland Local, as well as the Berkeley Daily Planet and the Piedmont Post.

But many small San Francisco news organizations were conspicuously absent: hyperlocal blogs like Mission Mission or Muni Diaries, and two mainstays of San Francisco blogging, SFist and the SF Appeal

Eve Batey, editor of the SF Appeal, said last night that she hadn't even heard about the meeting. As a measure of how well the Bay Citizen is integrating itself into the media ecosystem of San Francisco proper, that's a pretty big fail. A former "deputy managing editor for online" at the Chron, Batey is at the dead center of San Francisco's blogging world.

Of coures, as Weber said today, the Bay Citizen is positioning itself as a regional publication, not a San Francisco one.

The Bay Citizen's newly hired community editor, Queena Kim, who currently works for an NPR-affiliate in Los Angeles, also said that more established sites like the SFist would probably not be interested in the kinds of partnership designed for smaller, newer sites.

"They're popular, they're known, they've already got traffic," Kim said.
   
She said one big challenge of her job will be figuring out ways to work with prominent independent news sites, and "finding stuff that's mutually beneficial."

When asked after the meeting if he was interested in participating in the partnership, Michael Howerton, the features editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly publication partially run by volunteers, paused for a moment.

"I'm interested in being interested," he said.

Update: There have been some great comments from local bloggers on this post, and also on Matt Baume's analysis of the meeting over at the SF Appeal. The main question here seems to be: is $25 a reasonable (or even really good) replacement for direct traffic to your site? Weber made clear at the meeting that The Bay Citizen would make a strong effort to tout their partners' brands, with links to their partners' home pages, additional links to other stories from their sites, and possibly even by branding story pages on the Bay Citizen site with their partners' logos.

If there are three types of currency in the blog economy--actual cash, traffic, and brand recognition--the Bay Citizen's compensation plan represents an interesting tradeoff between them.     


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