News media has always been an interest to me going back to my time as sports editor of my high school newspaper, The Northwestern, in 1991. I was deeply involved, maybe even instrumental, in converting Stratfor from a consulting business to a web publisher in 1999. And our first go-to-market strategy for Notice Technologies in 2009-2010 was to partner with local newspapers and the families that owned them. So I have a professional curiousity about local media that I can't quite shake, even if it isn't the best business decision.
The other day, I read an update posted by my friend, Scott McKay, Publisher of The Hayride -- a Louisiana-based conservative blog that covers Louisiana & national politics. Scott was updating his audience on traffic that The Hayride has earned, relative to its major media competitors in Louisiana. You can check out his post here... it's fascinating.
Scott has gone from nothing to being the #2 most read media property in Louisiana in just two years. Let that sink in for a moment.
From nothing to being #2 in his market in two years.
Some of you might say, well... I'm sure some Conservative think tank is funding Scott and his efforts. Nope, think again.
Growth of The Hayride has been ENTIRELY organic, driven by a small tiger team of people insanely focused on developing content interesting to its audience. And it really hasn't made significant adjustments to its original editorial voice or content. They've stuck to it, and in turn developed a large, growing, and apparently loyal voice.
Looking around the media landscape, The Hayride is not at all an anomaly. This era has been more or less defined by the emergence of either bootstrapped or modestly funded (initially) entities that have grown their audiences. The Drudge Report was probably the original -- one guy curating content for the world's edification has turned into a profitable powerhouse. Stratfor was one in the late 1990s and continues to thrive despite its recent hacking attack. The Huffington Post and Breitbart emerged in the middle of the last decade and continue to roll. Mashable is doing the job today in the tech/social media space. Henry Blodget's Business Insider is reporting on business and stock market issues, but with a far smaller staff than say CNBC. At the local level, we're seeing companies like Culturemap, The Magic City Post (Birmingham), Buffalo Rising, The Texas Tribune, and countless others challenge incumbents. In traditional media, even the venerable Seattle P-I has moved entirely to a Web model and streamlined their team several years ago.
What's the lesson here? Traditional media reporting is tough, labor intensive, and expensive. Opinion and analysis, on the other hand, can be a lot more inexpensive. It doesnt' require travel, developing relationships, covering a "beat", or doing deep investigative reporting in person. It is, however, very tough to do on a consistent basis. Those properties who have a supremely talented Publisher/Editor who can pump out 5-7 articles per day *and stick to it* are the future winners. We've seen it time and time again, and we shouldn't be surprised when it happens again.
And if anything, we're in an era where, counterintuitively, less money provides better outcomes for winning niche markets. The future is being built from the ground up by tiger teams. It's a long term play. But if I were building the media conglomerate of the future, I'd find a way to align with or acquire a network of emergent local and vertical blogs.