Even before COVID-19 ravaged the world economy, local media organizations — especially newspapers — faced daunting challenges. According to the University of North Carolina's The Expanding News Desert report, between 1,300 and 1,400 communities have lost their newspapers since 2004, leaving them with no local coverage. Circulation declines, stagnating ad growth and media consolidation have created "news deserts," whose citizens have little access to the information and oversight that's critical to a functioning democracy.
News Nirvana, a new service from TownNews, identifies news deserts, partners with capable local publishers and editors, and provides them with the tools, resources and consulting to make their new digital news initiatives successful. Qualifying news start-ups will be equipped with a mobile-friendly website that includes robust editorial tools, subscription/membership support, detailed site analytics and more. Participating sites will have the ability to distribute their content on the TownNews Content Exchange, a network of more than 600 participating new publishers nationwide.
"News Nirvana is an incubator for digital news start-ups," said Rick Rogers, chief revenue officer at TownNews. "We're giving qualifying publishers access to a 'light' edition of the industry-leading platform that's used by more than 2,000 new organizations nationwide. They can get started without worrying about the technology — that part is covered.
"Once they're off the ground, they can seamlessly graduate to the full TownNews platform, and gain total access to the most powerful revenue, audience and efficiency tools in the business."
Each site will be hosted on its own subdomain on the News Nirvana network (example: Link2LeesSummit.NewsNirvana.com). The News Nirvana portal site (www.NewsNirvana.com) will feature quality journalism sourced from participating sites and the TownNews Content Exchange Network.
"One of the most difficult challenges for digital news operations is managing and optimizing the myriad of available technology. Coupled with knowledge needed for ad operations, subscription programs and paywalls, it can be very daunting for a small news company. We're taking all of that on, so that they can focus on providing local news coverage and local merchant promotion," Rogers said.
All News Nirvana sites feature layouts that are optimized to drive revenue from programmatic and local advertising sales. Programmatic advertising is managed by TownNews Ad Ops, the same team that's responsible for generating millions of dollars in advertising across the TownNews client network.
"It's a revenue share model based on locally sold advertising and what TownNews can yield through our programmatic efforts. By lowering the entry costs and providing advertising support, a News Nirvana site can become revenue-positive much more quickly," Rogers said.
The first site to launch on the new platform will be Link 2 Lee's Summit, an online-native news site covering Lee's Summit, Missouri.
"I am excited for this opportunity to utilize the News Nirvana system to enhance our coverage of the Lee's Summit community. TownNews has a long history of developing quality digital tools with proven results in audience building, storytelling and revenue generation," said Nick Parker, the founder of Link 2 Lee's Summit. "We're a relatively new community news organization and these tools will push us into the next evolution of our service to the community."
According to Parker, a healthy local media ecosystem is critical, especially in today's contentious political atmosphere. In the 1990s, Parker worked as a sports editor, news designer and managing editor for the local newspaper in Lee's Summit. Years later the newspaper sold and moved away from local ownership, and Parker moved to a career in the real estate marketing sector. But journalism was always in his blood, so Parker returned to his roots and started Link 2 Lee's Summit in 2016 — with a goal of telling the stories that need to be told in the community he calls home.
The News Nirvana program will allow Parker to expand Link 2 Lee's Summit with a dynamic website to showcase his news coverage along with his community-focused podcast content.
"In today's economic and political climates, the importance of a strong community news service is more necessary than ever," Parker said. "There is a real and present need for watch dogs, trained reporters and news personnel a community can both trust and relate to. Thriving communities demand access to all of those things, and more. The News Nirvana platform puts the tools necessary to provide this service within reach of the small community media services who are stepping up to fill the ever-increasing local news gap. These are tools I wouldn't typically have affordable access to. This partnership will significantly push the evolution of our community news service and our ability to tell the stories of Lee's Summit, Missouri."
"News Nirvana is the perfect solution for digital start-ups in news deserts or publications in underserved media markets that are at risk," Rogers said. "If you have the desire and drive to give your community the news and information they desperately need, we can help.
"If you're a journalist or publisher located in a community without reliable local coverage, News Nirvana is a great way to launch a new digital news site. To get started, visit www.NewsNirvana.com/Apply."