If you ever wanted to see how a traditional media outlet can transform itself into the journalism of the future, take a look at the Las Vegas Sun.
As a semi-native of Sin City (lived there from ages 6 to 18), I grew up with both the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Sun. Neither paricularly caught my eye when I was younger. I vaguely remember questioning why the Sun was being distributed as a section of the R-J, when that change happened in 2005.
But during the last couple years, the Sun unveiled a new Web site that set a high standard for online journalism. It brought Internet nerd Rob Curley and his crew on board, and the site has grown exponentially since then.
I’ve had the chance to tour the Sun newsroom in September and to attend Curley’s keynote on his hyperlocal method Tuesday night. What they do is amazing. There’s a conference room that converts into a recording studio. There are sports writers who cover the UNLV Rebels like there’s no tomorrow. There are people who work on databases on projects on everything from the history of Las Vegas to how long flight delays are at McCarran International to southern Nevada water issues.
It’s what everyone should aim for in this day an age, when two-thirds of Americans apparently think that traditional media is out of touch (thanks to Newsosaur Alan Mutter for that tip).
So what’s the supposed catch to producing all of this?
Well, there’s no business model for any of it. What Curley is concerned with is doing good journalism, and thank God someone can afford to do that.
But as mentioned earlier, the family-owned Sun is in a joint operation agreement with the R-J (the whole thing where the Sun is distributed within the R-J). That means the Sun doesn’t have to worry about declining advertising revenues like other places right now, so the future is bright. Unless the R-J folds (and as far as I know, Stephens Media isn’t in trouble just yet), the Sun is the perfect playground for Curley to try out his ideas.
He explained it best when he said that their site and newspaper aren’t built around bringing in money. The eight-page paper doesn’t have any ads.
While I was coming off my journalism high at the end of Curley’s keynote, I spoke with the senior digital editor from the Reno Gazette-Journal. He said there are plenty of places who are trying to create the same kind of journalism Curley was showing off, but they don’t have the same resources.
“If I can do what he does with 10 people instead of 40, then I’m going to do it,” he told me. “People are trying different things to make it work.”
I get that. I also get that right now, media outlets are just trying to stay afloat, and investing in something that doesn’t generate revenue seems frivolous or even idiotic.
But I think every news organization can take a page from Curley’s book. The more tuned in we are, the better we serve the public we are supposed to serve. We need to become relevant again, and we need to do it yesterday. I think that’s the first thing that journalists should remember (or learn). At the end of the day, no matter what the business model is or isn’t, isn’t that what is important?