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FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2017

Lissa Harris, the editor, publisher and sole full-time employee of the Watershed Post, an online news source in the Catskills of New York, announced recently that too much competition from social media has forced her to stop reporting regular community news. She said she will keep the website running, continue to accept long-term display advertising and occasionally post local content when she has the time, but that it will no longer be a business, rather "a labor of love." According to Columbia Journalism Review, the Post has 50,000 monthly readers, half within the region and half from outside.

Lissa HarrisLissa HarrisHarris wrote in a column March 12: "We have a great local audience that is hungry for news. But I feel the writing is on the wall for digital display advertising, our main revenue stream for supporting online news. I see more and more small businesses taking money they would once have spent with local news outlets, and spending it on digital ads—not on local websites, but on promoted Facebook posts and Google keyword advertising."

She writes, "As a business person, I can’t argue with that. It works. The titans of the web have huge and increasing reach, even in our rural communities. They have sophisticated tools for targeting likely customers by geography and demographics. They have products that a business owner can buy for $5 with a few clicks of a mouse, products that require no human time investment on the other end for design or sales or customer support. What they don’t have is reporters."

"Facebook is a powerful marketing tool," she writes. "It’s a powerful community information tool—something we saw first-hand during the Irene floods in 2011, when social media played a vital role in keeping people informed in a crisis. But Facebook is not going to cover a government meeting, or dig into data buried in paper records, or call an official to check up on a fishy-sounding rumor, or ask pesky questions about matters of controversy. For that, you need reporters—and they need to be independent, they need to be paid."

"I have been telling fellow reporters for years that we’re not competing with each other, we’re competing with social media," she writes. "I wish that weren’t true. I wish I had lost this fight to my fellow local news publishers. There would have been a certain curmudgeonly nobility to a contest between print weeklies and digital media, with the old guard emerging victorious over us geeky upstarts. But the rest of the local news media landscape is struggling as well. Several local weeklies have folded since we started the Watershed Post in 2010, and others are alive but fragile. Layoffs and cutbacks have claimed decades’ worth of newsroom experience at our regional dailies."

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 5/12/2017 10:10:00 AM

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