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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 1:47 pm | Overcast 60º


As News Industry Fractures, New Media Finding Its Way

Noozhawk's Macfadyen and other local publishers describe challenges on the front lines.

Noozhawk founder Bill Macfadyen described the story behind the startup news operation, with, from left, Randy Campbell of the Santa Barbara Independent and former Ventura County Star publisher Tim Gallagher. (Sonia Fernandez photo / Noozhawk)

Local news is getting bigger, news companies are getting smaller, and the Internet is the new printing press. Those were the main ideas discussed at the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum, as local news industry leaders gathered Wednesday to discuss trends, share insights and answer questions about the state of local journalism and new media.

The panel included both news industry veterans like Bill Macfadyen, founder and publisher of Noozhawk.com; Tim Gallagher, former editor and publisher of the Ventura County Star; and Santa Barbara Independent publisher Randy Campbell, along with relative newcomers Peter Sklar, founder of Edhat.com; and Jeramy Gordon, founder and publisher of the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. The discussion was moderated by the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Bob Johnson.

Gone are the days when big newspapers dominated the journalism landscape, Gallagher said.

“They ate their seed corn,’ he said, referring to larger newspapers that have misspent their profits in such a way that they are not able to adapt quickly to new technology and have been unable to keep up despite the strength of their market share.

Locally, the ongoing controversy surrounding the Santa Barbara News-Press, the area’s oldest newspaper, as well as its decline in popularity, have opened the door for smaller news outlets that are better able to take advantage of technological advancements.

Thanks to the Internet, the traditional method of publishing and distributing news is becoming outmoded, as is the notion of big news outlets battling it out to cover the same big issues. According to the panelists, what people are looking for these days is local community news.

But while the Internet is becoming the medium of choice for this and the next generation of news consumers, the level to which it is embraced and used differs among the local media: The Daily Sound primarily relies on print, with a copy of its paper online, and The Independent uses a combination of its printed alternative weekly and news on its Web site. Noozhawk and Edhat are Internet-only operations but even there the concepts diverge: Noozhawk uses a combination of professional journalists and an army of citizen contributors, while Edhat depends largely on readers to supply community information.

With a shift toward the new media comes a shift in business models. The value of an Internet ad on a news Web site, for instance, is, at least on the local level, still largely uncharted territory, with lots of competition for a limited amount of advertising dollars.

Peter Sklar is the founder of Edhat.com. (Sonia Fernandez photo / Noozhawk)

“That’s a concern for all of us,” said Macfadyen. “Santa Barbara does not have a large corporate community so, obviously, it’s a challenge for sustainability.”

However, freedom from printing and distribution costs have made the news industry more accessible to Internet-based entrepreneurs.

It’s not all roses for small news outlets, however. While the Web’s wealth of information has boosted the quality of research, the pressure on small outlets with few staff to produce frequently has resulted in a lack of depth in investigative reporting, locally and across the country, according to Gallagher.

Also, the advent of Internet-based news and its multimedia offerings, he said, have increased the quality of reading as more people go online. However, tools like Internet chats and messaging have had a negative effect on the way people write.

In the near future, local electronic news probably will move even farther away from words on a computer screen, according to Sklar.

“The future is mobile, and the future is video,” he said.

— Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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