LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


“Profitable, Sustainable” Local News. From eBay?

ebayYesterday I wrote that local stations need to be thinking about online upstarts that could soon pose a serious threat to local TV's longtime dominance.  I suggested a hypothetical Google Local News.  Okay, I was a touch off. I should've said eBay.

Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay writes on his blog today that he's starting up an online local news operation based in Honolulu that he says "will produce original, in-depth reporting and analysis of local issues in Hawaii." The operation--set to launch next year--has no name, but they're hiring an editor to head things up, and taking names for future reporters and web developers.

Pierre Omidyar:  Convinced He Can Make Money in Local News

Pierre Omidyar: Convinced He Can Make Money in Local News

Why would eBay want to dip its toes into the murky and messy waters of local news?

Simple. Money.  It may not feel like a gravy train anymore to old media companies like the ones who run television stations, but streamlined, low-infrastructure--and high innovation--companies like eBay smell profit.  As Omidyar writes: We believe that a strong democracy requires an engaged society supported by effective news reporting and analysis. And, we believe that this can be done in a profitable, sustainable way."

The eBay gang's been working with Howard Weaver on the project, and he sees it as a potential game-changer: "I think this can be an important step in the evolution of news in the digital age and a chance to strengthen the role professional journalism needs to play. I’m interested for a lot of reasons, but I’d sum it up this way: the new venture intends to demonstrate that a digitally native, technologically fluent web organization can profitably serve targeted readers who want sophisticated journalism focused on local civic affairs."

There's that weird word again:  profit.

There's another word that's key:  speed. They're launching in early 2010.  No name yet, no building and no staff.  Think how long an old media company would take to get from there to launch.  Digital tech companies move faster and aren't hampered by "the way we do things in local news."  The map's going to be re-written faster than many of us realize.  And the winners likely won't be players on the field today.

Profitable, sustainable local news.  What a concept.