Friday, April 1, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: New West and the next generation of local media

Thanks to ad:tech for publishing this first.

We live in an era where newspapers continue to fall in circ and close. We sorely need a new media model that can fill the void in local and regional news coverage. While on some level we all have access to more news than ever through the Internet, there really isn’t a proven model yet that can perform the vital public service that local media once provided.

There are certainly some being tested. AOL’s Patch, for example, provides local news via a special page each for hundreds of communities – each with a local editor in place in the community it serves.

Another model I’d like to tell you about is that of New West, a start-up based in Missoula, Montana which has just received its second round from Flywheel Ventures of New Mexico. New West was formed to serve the local and regional needs of the Rockies by combining professional journalists, bloggers, photographers, and community members in a digital offering that serves local news and information needs as well as those of the region at large.

It couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Lots of small local papers in the Rockies have gone under – and with them the important community information and advocacy that newspapers have traditionally provided to the communities they serve.

The editorial remit of New West is to analyze the top news in a six-state region with a focus on stories that affect the region as a whole, and deliver these in a manner that shows a unique regional perspective. Soon, the publication will debut six state-specific pages to cover the issues unique to each of those areas. Finally, the publication is working in partnership with FWIX to deliver localized news feeds for a reader’s location.

Sharing content across media outlets is of course nothing new to the newspaper business. AP and UPI were built on this very concept, and continue to provide an important set of news and information for offline and online media alike.

But New West is vertically integrated, based upon the compelling idea that there are news and issues unique to the Rockies that are best covered by people who are part of the region. Essentially, that there are a Rocky Mountain outlook and lifestyle that are unique, and fundamentally underserved by the national and international news syndicators. That there are critical regional issues of great importance to residents. Issues like:

• Regional politics
• Development
• Tourism and the “snow industry”
• Agriculture
• Water
• Energy

The Rockies are fascinating socioeconomically, and certainly the realities of daily life are rather different from those I experience in urban Oakland. By celebrating and working to protect that daily life, New West hopes to drive greater cohesion in a ruthlessly independent population.

In addition, New West seeks to help advertisers reach and connect with the demographically comfortable, culturally aware, and fundamentally active readership. Further, the audience stats for the site are rather impressive:

• 84% College grad
• 93% vote in local and national elections
• 20% CEO/President/Chair/Owner
• 31% Manager/Director/Supervisor

Stats better than many of the "go-tos" we traditionally choose when we want to reach an elite audience. Indeed, you would probably be shocked at the number of VC leaders that call Montana their second home.

In addition to IAB standards, the site offers interstitials, rich media experiences, sponsored content, and deep brand integrations.

One of the things that is clear based upon their editorial mix is that Westerners are anxious to be a part of this new company and model. The number of authors who post to the site, the number of business leaders who contribute, and the number and depth of community participation in the content are remarkable.

In addition to the website, the company has wisely chosen to develop multiple revenue models, including an events business and a web development shop that helps supplement revenue and incomes as the publication continues its growth trajectory.

The site itself has received a great number of industry accolades, including this from the New York Times.

By just about every measure New West, the online magazine, is a success: It features great writing and reporting, presented via a smart blend of magazine and bloglike articles covering the Rocky Mountain states. Traffic is growing. Critics are raving.

I like their pluck, and their commitment to doing well by doing good – helping community members and advertisers capitalize on the unique attributes of Rocky Mountain life.

Cheers? Jeers? Tweet 'em to @CatalystaJim.

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