In the past few days, some local blogs have been linking to pieces in The Batavian, a new media experiment from local media company Gatehouse
Communications Media. Gatehouse launched The Batavian four months ago, and it's been slowly growing into a fascinating example of what can happen when a newspaper company throws the old rules out the window.
The Batavian has a number of differences from traditional newspaper Internet properties. First, it has no printed counterpart. Batavia has a daily newspaper, the Daily News, which has no real website. The Batavian leaves the more lucrative print market to the Daily News, but it also avoids the expensive investment of a printing plant.
More importantly, The Batavian lets any registered reader contribute posts, and it treats all registered readers as equals. One full-time reporter, and a couple of other Gatehouse employees who contribute occasionally, make sure The Batavian has new posts every day. The rest of The Batavian's content comes from residents.
Even the pros at The Batavian approach their stories differently from traditional print journalists. For example, one of the most commented stories concerned Jack Davis' fake Jon Powers website. The story was reported by Philip Anselmo, The Batavian's lone full-time reporter. Philip's story links liberally to local blogs that first broke the story, but it also includes some research about the political consultant behind the site, Erick Mullen. (Mullen produced some ads for Eric Massa in 2006. Massa has a new, local consultant this cycle.)
Philip invited Mullen to respond to the story, which he does in the comments. Other commenters have it out with Mullen in a respectful, yet pointed argument. The whole experience is refreshing. Philip doesn't pretend blogs don't exist, he expresses his opinion (while stating the facts), and Mullen has an opportunity to respond completely to the charges made in the piece. This isn't "traditional" journalism -- it's better.
There are other things to like about The Batavian. Locals post videos of spot news events, like fires. When everyone has a cell phone, it makes sense and saves money to let town residents report breaking news themselves.
The Batavian makes little effort to cover news from outside the area. It includes a number of feeds from area news sources, which means its staff doesn't have to duplicate the effort of others. Traditional newspapers, which have to fill a certain number of pages every day, run the same wire stories as every other newspaper in the state. The Batavian's list of links avoids that cost entirely.
The big question for The Batavian is how it will make money. It doesn't have ads, though an "Early Bird Special" offer indicates that they're coming. The good news is that The Batavian costs a tiny fraction of what a "real newspaper" costs, so it can afford to charge less for advertising. Traditional newspapers are struggling mightily to make money from cheap Internet ads. Perhaps The Batavian won't struggle so hard.
Like every other media company, Gatehouse has its share of financial troubles. We'll see if they're able to get past those and launch more sites like The Batavian. Here's hoping.