Sunday, July 15, 2012

The future of journalism: Wanna' buy a house?

"There are a lot of niches in a newspaper, and everyone of these is going to be a niche online."

John Rebchook, author, reporter and publisher of the Colorado real-estate blog, Inside Real Estate News, took two years to prove that the niche he had developed as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News could be replicated as a sustainable business online, and that the business could replace his old newspaper salary.

Rebchook expects to reach that mark this year after a struggle not only to craft an attractive online presence for his work, but also to carry his audience from the Rocky, which closed in February 2009, to the blog which he launched in July that same year.

Rebchook's blog represents the future of journalism in the 21st century. Out of the creative destruction of the newspaper industry, which is still struggling to find business models that work, comes individual journalists who turn their own work into a product sold through the new small businesses they create to replace their collapsed careers.

Small, online-only media startups will not pull down the huge numbers that major media organizations consider necessary to sustain themselves -- usually measured in monthly unique visits to a website, with large organizations tallying those in the millions of visits per month. But small online businesses can pull down unique visits numbered in the thousands, and Rebchook has proven those numbers can sustain his small company.

How has he done it? He said several of his sources while he worked at the Rocky came to him after the newspaper closed and proposed starting an online product where they could continue to read Rebchook's independent reporting. With their help, Rebchook was able to launch Inside Real Estate News with three commercial sponsors who funded the operation and made sure Rebchook could continue to support his family as the project got underway.

Today, Rebchook reports 25,000 unique visits per month to the site, and 15,000 unique visitors, with an average staying time on the site of about two minutes, which in the online world represents deep reading and an eternity of any one visitor's attention span.

Unique visitors are distinguished from unique visits by the staying power of any one reader; for example, a reader who went to Rebchook's site to check out one of his latest scoops (Payton Manning's closing on a $4.575 million home in Cherry Hills Village) may have also stayed to read reports on the heating up of the luxury-home market in Denver and the warming of the commercial real-estate market in the metro area.

Those stories attract both a Colorado and national sports audience, as well as the professional real-estate audience that may be selling homes to other relocating professional athletes or CEOs in Colorado or elsewhere, or who use the recovery of the luxury-home market as a measure of a town's comeback within its regional economy.

That's what the Internet has done to the information industry in this country. It has thrown open the doors of publishing to anyone who has information to sell by knocking down the capital cost of entry to the industry; it has put the future of journalism into the hands of journalists who do the work; and it has made available to the world's readers the pages  of any book, magazine, text, newspaper, academic research paper or other collection of knowledge gathered in one place in any language.

Or at least that's the direction we're moving toward. John Rebchook is already a regular contributor.