When 17-year-old University of New Mexico freshman John Perry wants news about Albuquerque, he doesn’t pick up a paper. Instead, he visits four Web sites, one of which is run by volunteers, employs no journalists and isn’t trying to be a news organization.
It’s called Duke City Fix , and even though Perry enjoys the group blog about Albuquerque, he says it can’t supply news like the other three traditional news sites he visits.
That has him worried as the news industry faces declining revenues and staff cuts.
“Bloggers, we get a lot of information from the media ourselves,” he said. “If the news media is not really reporting that, how are we going to find out? There are a lot of interesting stories I’ve only gotten from The Tribune and nowhere else.”
The closing of The Tribune is the Albuquerque example of a news industry that’s in turmoil nationwide. Local news junkies, independent online journalists and bloggers say they’re concerned about a growing information void, even as some of them are taking steps to fill it.
“We’re going from newspapers to the Internet, and we’re not there yet,” said Heath Haussamen, an independent journalist who reports on and analyzes New Mexico politics at nmpolitics.net.
“Newspapers are hurting, and Internet sites, on local levels, aren’t quite making it yet. Some are, but it’s not common.”
Haussamen, who also wrote a column for The Tribune, began his site in March 2006 while a reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News. Advertisers began contacting him, and he quit his job with the newspaper two months later to work full time on the Internet. His site’s daily traffic has increased tenfold since launch to around 800 unique visitors a day, and he estimated $1,700 worth of monthlong ads are running on the site now.
“In a small state like this, I don’t think this kind of site can make the kind of money to support a family,” he said. “That’s one of the difficulties.”
But money isn’t the main appeal for Haussamen. It’s the freedom to do the in-depth work he enjoys.
“One of my big frustrations was that hard news or investigative stories weren’t getting done,” he said. “I was told, ‘There’s no time for this.’ ”
But there was time for lighter stories like covering popular ice cream flavors during the summer, he said.
“I thought,” he said. “it was a waste of my time to be doing stories like that.”
Those are the kind of stories Perry, who runs a blog focusing on Albuquerque mass transit big-abq-things.blogspot.com, expects that newspaper or newspaper Web site readers might see more of as journalism organizations shrink.
“It’s essentially just stuff to make ratings,” he said. “Car crashes, a murder. It’s not really stuff I’m interested in like, say, city government â€” kind of smaller things, which are admittedly less interesting to most people.”
A news world full of popular-ice-cream-flavor or car-crash stories might sound harmless, but with less investment in difficult, investigative, time-consuming journalism, Chantal Foster, the founder of Duke City Fix, sees serious threats.
“The deep work, the deep thinking, data analysis â€” that’s one of the things I particularly see as the greatest loss for civilization,” she said. “Our best work as humans comes from the times in which we’ve objectively looked at what’s going on around us.”
It’s the kind of work she and other Duke City Fix users, who volunteer their contributions to the site, typically don’t have the time to perform, she said.
Paying people to do that type of work for Duke City Fix is a possibility but not a goal, she said. It would only happen if it helped accomplish the site’s core mission: creating a socially constructive online community that expresses Albuquerque’s identity.
“It would be a means to an end,” she said.
Foster said she has received requests to sell ad space on the site, but she has not done any serious estimation of potential revenues, nor does she plan to any time soon. She recently began accepting a small number of Google ads to help pay for the cost of running Duke City Fix.
Looking to the future, she sees online newspapers evolving into a mix of the hyper-personal, opinionated approach of blogs and journalism that strives â€” but can’t, she notes â€” to be objective and opinion-neutral.
“It will be some compromise between that hyper-personal and obviously biased voice we’re used to from bloggers and what I call the false screen of journalistic distance,” she said. “It will be a shift, but it will be a welcome shift.”
Joe Monahan, the man behind New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan, doesn’t see objective news going out of business, but he does see it getting smaller and becoming one of many niche information products on the Web.
“That top-down model â€” here’s your newspaper; here’s what you get â€” is coming to an end,” he said. “That doesn’t mean professional journalism is coming to an end. It’s just going to be transformed.”
He guesses readers might see an evolution of the model seen now: A traditional news organization, along with others, provides the initial information, while journalists â€” or bloggers â€” provide analysis, reaction and additional, original reporting.
“I do see people like me doing it full time and making a living off it,” he said. “I’ve had a successful financial model. It’s just a question of how many people want to do it. It’s a tremendous amount of work.”
Monahan described his site as “significantly profitable” but said the money is still less than what people will want to make.
Still, with the affordability and ease of Web publication, he sees many opportunities for young journalists willing to strike out on their own.
“As this new generation takes over, they’ll find the model that fits,” he said. “The key is to have the freedom to publish.”