How To Build A Media Empire

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The struggle for traditional media to survive gets ever-more complicated. The slowing down of the holiday season, a worsening economy and the need to satisfy shareholders with quarterly earnings creates a lose-lose scenario for them. But, it’s not too late. Here’s a cheap and easy way to build a media empire…

…and the best part is that anybody can do it (yes, even you).

What kind of news are people really looking for on a day-to-day basis?

There are three major buckets:

1. Local news.

2. International news.

3. Quality journalism and opinion.

With the staggering growth of the Internet and mobile services, the best international news is available from multiple sources in a variety of ways. Just the other day, USA Today launched an impressive iPhone app and ABC News did the same. Let’s all agree that any quality newspaper can simply embrace the idea of link journalism and move on from covering the international perspective. If you still don’t believe that this is a solution, take a quick glance at Google News and how they aggregate content from all over the world.

Think local and think quality.

There are way too many places to get hyper-local news content, and there’s even more places where you can find some of the best quality journalism and opinion online (Blogs and beyond), the challenge for any publishing organization is to get those two segments from one journalist or online editor. Here’s the opportunity for any media organization (or even you):

Create an online platform similar to that of The Huffington Post (essentially, a Blog platform for multiple authors with some added functionality). Hire 3-5 amazing journalists from the city that you serve (some of the best have already been let go from the big publishers), pay them well and hook them up with a laptop, Flip Video camera, a M-Audio MicroTrack recorder, the fastest Internet connection you can find, and then let them do what they do best: create local stories with a high level of quality and opinion. There is no need for office space. They can meet (if that’s even required) at a local coffee shop, the library or some place that rents boardrooms by the hour. They can also simply have a Skype conference chat daily (or as required) and work with a tool like Google Docs for their editorial calendar. While you’re at it, let anyone in the community also create content. Keep in mind that content is not just text – we’re talking audio, video and images as well. Allow everything to be open to comment. Create areas that are based on a wiki platform, and let everyone in the community mass collaborate (areas might include: school closings, events calendar, announcements, etc…).

Leave them alone for a couple of years.

Yes, you read that right. Leave them alone for a couple of years. Don’t worry about advertising or how you are going to monetize the space… yet. Hustling for banner ads is not going to generate the revenue that you were hoping for, and by focusing on this – instead of the quality and relevance of the content – it is only going to cause you to be distracted. Give these journalists the time and breathing room to find their groove, and give the community the time to adjust, adapt and embrace this new world of publishing.

Where and when will the money follow?

To be honest, nobody knows. But, looking at the infrastructure above, all you really need to invest in this is the Blogging platform, the 3-5 editorial staff salary and maybe a couple of Webmasters and online editors to keep the flow going. No offices, no printing presses, no unions, etc… The cost to try this type of experiment can’t even be close to the burn rate presently happening for any publisher on a weekly basis.

The outcome will be a better understanding of what news and media really clicks with your community. You’ll better understand how they like their news and when to deliver it (and on what platforms). From there, you can figure out how to replicate this model in other geographical regions or by vertical. By building community and getting all of the people within the community to rally around something so powerful, you will be able to attract the best kinds of advertisers, affiliates, sponsors and even distribution partners. From there, new business models will unfold and define themselves.

You can’t change an industry by simply cutting costs. You can’t grow an industry unless you’re look at revenue generation. You can’t do anything unless you start by doing something radical.


  1. Agree with much of what you suggest, but must add this: hire 3-5 reporters and at least a couple of EDITORS!! As romantic as the notion of reporters just out there gathering news on the frontlines is, anyone who works in a newsroom knows that editors–yes, good ones, not the burned out hacks (but then you don’t want the burned out hack reporters either)–add immensely to the quality of the content. How? By being one step back from the reporting, by offering insight and perspective you don’t always have as you report from the front lines, by being as focused on reader needs as on reporter interests. Good reporters + good editors = great content.

  2. This is a good, simple formula to follow. It runs counter to the complex organizations with far too many layers of unnecessary bulk that make up our newspapers. Clearly there’s something to this, as we’ve seen time and time again small groups or even individuals run circles around the institutions.

  3. Sounds like an awesome idea…hope that somebody from the New York Times reads this post.
    They’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
    I believe that they need to keep their brand, though. It’s well known and respected…
    Happy Holidays Mitch!

  4. I’ve been prompting tourism associations and cvb’s to tell local biz stories using photos, text, audio and video in this way over the past 16 months. The biggest shift folks need to make is from paying for placement to paying for content development.
    The barriers to entry into creating and distributing online multimedia are very low. The tools of the trade: iPhone (italk is simple and records great quality) or other digital recorders, flip video, a wordpress blog with feedburner feeds.
    It’s almost free!
    The biggest hurdle is the shift in thinking that is required to commit the people resources necessary.

  5. i totally agree with your article.
    But there is some business models which can help you to reduce the time-to-market waiting that you describe.
    As founder and ceo of proxiti network (first french hyperlocal news network) i’m exploring this way and currently searching strong financials or medias partners for doing this.
    But you’re right. Tomorrow, who will control the local news will also control the national news.

  6. I’m a veteran of several small papers and alt weeklies all of which are in decline. The model you suggested clarifies a lot of the possibilities my colleagues and I have been mulling. Likewise, I agree with Kim Pittaway that an editor at the helm completes the picture, but with the surfeit of sharp editors now on the dole, I’m sure the talent is out there to lead a project similar to what you’ve suggested. Very inspiring post.

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