Monday, January 23, 2012

6,000 paid subs support digital news site in Nova Scotia

At first it seems an unlikely place for an expensive paywall business model to work -- Nova Scotia. 

Nearly 6,000 subscribers are paying $360 a year for access to the website, according to Tim Currie's story in Nieman Lab

That's about $2 million and represents 80 percent of the revenue of the site. 

How are they doing it? One of the key elements is focusing on basic public-records searches and document-based reporting.

This kind of reporting is a great opportunity for digital media to make themselves different and absolutely must-read publications. It also requires a news staff that knows its community, the names of newsmakers and businesses that readers are interested in. AllNovaScotia apparently has that kind of staff knowledge. 

The dependence on public records is not practiced much in the mainstream media, but it has been worked successfully for decades by the small staffs of the 40 American City Business Journals newspapers (where I worked for 18 years). Document searches can help a small staff set the news agenda for a community and beat much larger news organizations, which are sometimes content to wait for news to come to them. 

The experience of American City Business Journals shows that the experience of is no fluke. The model can be replicated

Juicy material

There are treasure troves of information in the daily flow of information from courthouses and county recorders' offices. Tax liens and bankruptcies were popular reading among business people trying to decide who might be a good credit risk. Real estate transactions, both residential and commercial, provide great material for breaking news and a gossip column. 

Lawsuits turn up all kinds of fascinating information on the internal operations of privately owned businesses. 

New corporations and partnerships include newsworthy names and are an early warning system for finding out about new business ventures before the partners want to announce them publicly. 

What's required

To make this kind of reporting work, all of the editorial staff have to be disciplined to search the data daily and weekly for the nuggets of information that have potential to be turned into big stories. 

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