In January I was sad, but not surprised, to see the Rocky Mountain News shut down. They made a cool video did some nice retrospective posts, and shut down the operations. Since then the Denver Post (which was kind of a part owner of the Rocky) has picked up some of the more popular journalists and probably some of the other staff.
So, some of the staffers, photographers and journalists got together and decided they were going to do things right. They weren't going to be driven by corporate greed like the evil capitalists, they were just going to do the news and make enough money to keep the business rolling. They created a site I Want My Rocky as a rallying point for the former employees of the news and as a place to gather interest in a proposed online-only pay-for-content news source.
Old Media: Guess what, you're old and you're doing it wrong
I was most recently drawn to the site by a post from Cindy House - one of the main people in the post-RMNews project - about New models, new challenges. She talks about how they haven't been successful in getting a readership, so they can't afford good content, so they can't build the readership. So, they're going to start providing consulting services, specifically: "Web design, search engine optimization and editing/writing services to other businesses."
So, how good are their consulting services?
Often the homepage for a service provider is weak. This is the so-called "Cobbler’s Son Has No Shoes" effect. However, there are some painful mistakes on the IWantMyRocky site which are actively hurting their efforts. Let's look at the home page:
The home page has three images near the top: the title, a blurb, and an ad for the RMIndependent. Those three images, with important text inside the image, are a major pain for the visually impaired and search engines which can't read them. You can use alt/title tags on images to give them more meaning, but the IWMR only does that on one of the three images and, even in that case, they use the relatively contextually meaningless "Rocky Mountain Independent" instead of something more useful "News from Rocky Mountain Independent" or something like that. Accessibility and SEO fail :(
Security uh-oh As I was peering across the HTML, I noticed a few interesting things:
<meta name="generator" content="WordPress 2.7.1" /> <!-- leave this for stats -->
That's a slightly outdated version. It's not supported by the Wordpress organization any more (2.8 was only released in June - which gives very little time to upgrade, shame on Wordpress for that). More importantly,
The footer of the page is full of spam links. Bummer. I mailed them about this on Wednesday September 9th and held back on posting this to give them time to upgrade and remove the links. We'll see how it goes.
Changing Media: You're doing it right
During the same time period, our local "independent" news weekly Westword has gone through some changes. They switched to a glossy cover, which seems pretty fun to me, but I'm not an insider enough to know what that really means. And of course thousands of new local blogs and twitter writers have sprouted up providing their own take on local news.
Looking at Compete's Comparison of Westword, Rocky Mountain News, and Rocky Mountain Independent we see some interesting information. Westword and RMN have strong incoming search traffic on random keywords. RMI mostly gets traffic related to the name itself, showing strong navel gazing among news-industry types, or general interest from the former readership of RMN, or something like that...but it's not going to be a business model just yet. Given all the incoming links that IWMR and RMI has received as the RMN imploded, they should be able to rank for important local topics like...politics, sports teams, recreation and other pertinent local topics.
And, what is the response from the news establishment on the paid content debate? Well, paidcontent.org fired up a survey of how well paid content is going. Summary: it's not going well, but some are successful. Some great quotes, though:
The Morning Star is the only daily in Harlingen.
The Democrat-Gazette is the only newspaper in Little Rock.
1999 called with a news flash: "newspaper" doesn't matter any more. Neither of these is the only source of daily news in their community!