While mainstream media organizations are migrating online to establish their presence, digital news organizations are springing up to reach an audience hungry for the latest news. Some of these digital news organizations are making big news too, such as The Huffington Post’s OffTheBus Citizen Journalism Program. The Columbia Journalism Review recently created a database of these digital organizations, including original reporting on this new digital journalism landscape. It’s called The News Frontier Database.
Recently I had a chance to talk with Columbia Journalism Review staff writer Michael Meyer about the News Frontier Database and its current uses.
Maurice Cherry: What was the inspiration for creating the News Frontier Database?
Michael Meyer: Before we launched the database there was no comprehensive resource documenting the many online-only news sites, both national and local, that have emerged in recent years. It’s a big, highly diverse world — overwhelmingly so — and we wanted to help people get a sense of what’s out there. We’re not comprehensive yet in terms of the sheer number of sites we’ve documented — that will come — but we are comprehensive in the amount of data we collect on every site we profile.
Another major reason was that there’s a lot of talk about online news and online news business models, but very little reporting on how online news sites actually function — and that’s especially true for local news sites. We wanted our contribution to that conversation to be more fact-based, more rigorous.
We felt that news readers could use this type of resource to discover new sources of information, and we wanted people in the field of online journalism to have a resource through which they could look at what other sites were doing around the country and compare, contrast, do research, get ideas, hear war stories, etc.
One of the most exciting things about the project to me is that it is multifaceted enough that there’s no way I can predict the different ways in which people will use it. For example, the Gender Report, a site that analyzes the representation of women in online news organizations, has used our data to publish two studies so far this year.
MC: Excellent! What has the overall reception been like for the News Frontier Database?
MM: The most positive reception has come from two groups. One group is the many consultants and journalists and business people — I guess I’d call them news entrepreneurs — who use the database as part of their research. The second group is the news sites themselves — the sites we’ve written about. There are so many online news organizations, but only a handful get talked about. We’ve unearthed some sites that are doing some really interesting things that have been around for years but never get discussed. We’re often the first publication anywhere — local or national — to write the definitive profile describing what a given site is and does and hopes to be. I’m extremely proud of that. The database is a way of making attention-worthy sites part of the national conversation about online news.
MC: How many entries are currently in the News Frontier Database?
MM: As of today there are 138 entries, each of which includes an originally reported profile of both the editorial and business operations of the site, as well as an extensive data set. A huge amount of work goes into every single entry. We’ll surpass 150 entries in the coming weeks and will keep adding new sites (and updating sites we’ve already profiled) indefinitely.
MC: What do you see for the future of the News Frontier Database?
MM: First, we want to continue to grow. There are a lot of sites out there and our goal is to include all of them that are producing original journalism and making serious attempts to generate revenue. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us if we want to document even a large fraction of everything that’s out there, but we’re going to try. We also want to strengthen the analysis component of the project and do more number crunching and deep digging on sites with especially robust business models.
I just started writing a sort of “from the database” column for our print magazine which takes a handful of sites from the database and analyzes trends among them. I wrote about niche political sites for our last issue, sort of state-level versions of Politico, only they preceded Politico. Again, there is such a diversity of sites out there producing journalism and making a go at surviving financially. I’ll certainly never be short of ideas for those columns.
If you are a digital news organization, you can submit your information for inclusion into the News Frontier Database at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/429251/cjr-nfdb. Hat-tip to Donovan X. Ramsey, an intern with the Columbia Journalism Review and a past 10,000 Words interview subject.