Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dead-tree cred counts online

By Christine Mlot and Melissae Fellet

Three new online ventures in publishing have two things in common: top editors with old-school, self-described dead-tree credentials, and decent traffic--150,000 or more unique views per month--for even long-form narratives. And all are managing to avoid or not rely on advertising to pay the bills.

"What you put out really good products," said Miller-McCune editor John Mecklin, a former newspaper reporter and editor of High Country News. “That is the future. I see a whole bunch of examples where that is happening.”

Roger Cohn discussed coming from Audubon and Mother Jones to launch Yale Environment 360. “One of the things that struck me was how quickly you can build an audience,” and how online stories can have multiple lives. Eight months after a video report on mountain top mining was published to the site, a columnist for Le Monde linked to it and traffic exploded.

The New Haven Independent arose when 25-year veteran reporter Paul Bass saw that "out-of-state media conglomerates abandoned local news,” Melissa Bailey said. The online newspaper whose coverage never went beyond city limits then took on the decidedly national topic of nanotechnology with support from the Online Journalism Project. Apart from foundation support, the project gets donations from readers and sponsors.

Foundations and alumni support the Yale site, which is housed at and received start-up funds from the university. But the site is “editorially independent,” said Cohn.

Miller-McCune magazine launched knowing they were fully funded for five years, due to a large donation from Sara Miller McCune, founder of the academic publisher SAGE publications. They take a long-term approach to profitability. “You don’t start a business and expect to break even in 18 months,” Mecklin said.

Karl Leif Bates, organizer of the session that attracted some 50 science writers late on Saturday afternoon, is bullish on the what the new online world can foster for journalism. “These are emerging life forms that are springing up like mushrooms.”

Photo: Flickr zarky

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