Ithaca Media Notes: 20,000 views, zero donations

As the media feeding frenzy over this death at Cayuga Medical Center winds down (and thankfully, because I could feel the physical fraying of my nerves taking place as this week progressed), I’d like to bring the conversation back to where it all began: with a blog post and a scoop that lit the fuse to a story that has since, exploded.

Josh Brokaw’s Truthsayers Blog, who did not receive a response from hospital administration (“because,” as one administrator told me, “we can’t answer every blogger who reaches out to us.”) after requesting comment, broke the news the hospital was under investigation, prompting the hospital to reach out to media outlets for their perspective to be heard. (A narrative which every outlet in town published unchallenged). What Josh did was what none of us did: he took a lead, he pursued it and he stayed on top of it each day until he had a story; that the hospital is being investigated.

The response to his story, needless to say, was massive. Not only did his piece dictate the news cycle for an entire week but it was also influential, and it exposed his donor-supported blog to an unprecedented audience. Speaking to him on Friday morning, he told me a whopping 20,000 unique visitors read his story which, I’ll admit, was the only one that quoted the complete perspectives of CMC nursing staff.

None of those 20,000 visitors paid him a dime.

I’m an avid consumer of news on the web as well as in print. Admittedly, I’ve probably gotten more than I’ve paid for than the $10 donation I gave the Guardian or my weekend subscription to the New York Times (which includes full online access.) As far as mass media goes, I’m a rarity: with a large net, the larger your pool becomes for those few people willing to support your core operations. At the local level, this model doesn’t typically yield what it should.

The Ithaca Times, for instance, has three people responsible for selling ads for us – just for selling the ads. At the Ithaca Journal, advertising sales account for more than 75 percent of their payroll. Cayuga Radio Group, which supports WHCU, has a whole wing dedicated to sales. Even the Ithaca Voice, which is the most nontraditional of all the local outlets, has a sales staff, albeit if it’s one person. (Hey Mike!)

For all of us except the Voice, we all have a traditional advertising platform to sell on. But the web, which is taking over, is kicking our ass.

Case in point: according to our latest figures, the Ithaca Times has a circulation of 18,125. This is our only metric in advertising, that when people come up to us and ask how many people their advertisement would reach, all we have to say is “more than 18,000 copies with your business in it will be going out.” These ads aren’t too bad of a cost for a decent-sized business. For instance, if you wanted to run an ad that is 1/16th of a page for 52 weeks, it’d cost about $240. A full page would cost about $2,500. It’s safe to say that these ads are our lifeblood: they are our biggest revenue generator, hands down.

Now you look at web publishing. On the internet, there are numerous more metrics to consider, many more analytics at play in determining what the price of an ad should be. Not only do you have returning visitors, but you also have unique visitors, engaged time, clicks on other articles, access from the homepage versus social media… there is so much more uncertainty as to who will see your ad, much less how or if they’ll see it. This is why web revenues are so much less lucrative.

Case in point: You want to be the banner at the top of our home page? $115 per week, 52 weeks. A small rectangle? $104. And we have fewer than 28 pages to put those cheaper ads on.

This is how we make money in a traditional, structured media platform. But the staff responsible for creating the product that drives these advertisers – aka the journalists – are usually kept pretty busy. On average, it takes me anywhere from two to four hours total to write a straightforward, two source news story, from interview to publishing. On top of those duties, I manage a staff of journalists, entertainment writers and interns, I peruse city agendas and the competition and in general, I serve as the spokesperson for the paper. Any phone calls go to me, anybody that walks in the office goes to me and in every walk of my life, I’m first and foremost a representative of the paper. I’m a busy dude, and I operate a newsroom full of busy dudes.

What Josh Brokaw has with Truthsayers is a medium free of all this. He has no ads to sell, nobody to assign stuff too, no baggage to hold him back from his one singular function: to write the stories other people may not be looking into. He’s a journalist, not a salesman.

You could say it helped with his exposure, similar to what the Simeon’s crash coverage did for the Ithaca Voice when they were starting. But this isn’t a company or a business: this is one guy who just wants to bring you the news. If you like the idea of that kind of thing, you can at least help him out with his rent.

You can give Josh money via PayPal. 

Published by iamnickreynolds

Accidental journalist. Pushup Enthusiast. I have a .267 career batting average in World Series elimination games.

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