Latest California Watch Story Cost Half A Mil To Produce

California Watch’s three-part series “On Shaky Ground,” produced over 20 months and including maps, databases, an iPhone app, and a hashtag, cost $550,000 to produce, says Ken Doctor at Nieman Lab.

Most of that was in staff time. But it’s still half a million dollars. “That’s now a huge sum of money to a newsroom, even a metro-sized one. Ask a publisher whether he or she is willing to spend a half a million on a story, and you know the answer you’ll usually get,” he says.

That’s kind of depressing. But it’s also somewhat encouraging, because six major daily papers, two radio stations, a TV station, and 125 Patch sites picked up California Watch’s story and distributed it to their readers. Each of those outlets had either paid a subscription fee to CW or paid an ala carte payment to CW for the use of this one story. Each client pays between $3,000 and $15,000 for a subscription or $300 to $1,000 for an individual article, or less than 1 percent of what CW spent. (That’s an attractive option for newsrooms that need “space-filling, audience-interesting content,” and CW could probably raise its rates if it keeps coming out with stories like this.)

Syndication is still a secondary support to California Watch’s $2.7 million budget but it’s an “important building block of the evolving business model,” Doctor writes.

By the way, CW pays 14 journalists on about 70 percent of its budget. Go journalism!