The Flathead Beacon, another model for journalism’s future

Flathead Beacon logoAdding to my Prairie Lights column on the growing online newspaper scene in Montana, here’s a good article from the Columbia Journalism Review about the Flathead Beacon.

The Beacon is a weekly newspaper published in Kalispell, so it doesn’t quite fit in with the other news outlets I wrote about, but the Beacon also happens to have a really strong Web presence.

The online Beacon is slick, clean and easy to use, with a feel something like that of the Missoula Independent’s website. Both, it goes without saying, are far better than what the designers at Lee or Gannett have come up with. The Beacon and the Indy show what happens when you start with the readers, not your ad department, in mind.

Anyway, I mentioned in my column the three main ways to finance an online newspaper or news site—as a for-profit business selling ads (and accepting donations); as a nonprofit and seek individual and foundation contributions; or to be affiliated with a nonprofit organization.

The Flathead Beacon reminds us that there is a fourth way: find a sugar daddy. In the case of the Beacon that would be Maury Povich. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as, if you’re like Povich, you seem to have founded a newspaper out a genuine love for old-fashioned journalism. As the CJR reported:

“… Povich started his career in local journalism, as a television news anchor, and his father, Shirley Povich, was a legendary sportswriter for The Washington Post. Creating a new outlet for traditional local journalism was a way to honor his father’s legacy, Povich said.”

In just nine years, the free tabloid’s staff has grown from seven to 20, it publishes 25,000 copies a week and has 100,000 unique visitors to its website every month. (That’s just about double the average we have here at Last Best News. In fact, our latest monthly figure for unique visits was 49, 517.)

I’m sure there are other models I’ve neglected (and I should have mentioned Jeremy Chapman’s Montana Center for Investigative Reporting, which is also taking the nonprofit route), and I’m sure other models will be invented. All in all, we have many good reasons to have some hopes for the future of newspapers.

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