Michele's List
Building blocks in the emerging local news ecosystem

Debating the failure rate

Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, has a thoughtful post about David Borak's decision to cease publication at Davidson News and Cornelius News. It explores some of the business challenges of journalists who start local online news sites. But Mutter asserts that one in four sites fails. I left a comment on his post questioning his math. 

Here's why: He bases the ratio on the number of sites on CJR's news frontier database (which has a total of 148 site) that have failed. CJR doesn't update that list - if it did, the total number would be a lot higher. There are about 300 sites on Michele's List database, for example. 

For Michele's List, we make a couple of pushes every year to add and drop sites. In 2014, we had about 250 sites on the list and I removed 18 over the course of the year. About half of those ceased publication; the rest were sold or merged with other organizations. That's a much lower failure rate than one in four.

That said, I don't think we learn much from the averages in a very dynamic field. It's more productive to look at how publishers are achieving success and how those practices might be replicated. It's also good to look at specific challenges in sites that cease publication. Boraks had a couple of significant ones: fierce competition for advertisers and inability to recruit a full-time sales rep until 2014. 

Even at one in four, however, local online news operations would be ahead of small business, where only half survive four or five years.

I also wrote this post about Davidson News and other developments.