Tips for Starting a Successful Online News Service

As the mid-20th century American journalist A.J. Liebling famously put it, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” For those wondering what he meant, it boils down to the tremendous investment traditionally needed in order to print a newspaper, magazine, or book. In theory, we all have the right to air dirty laundry when it serves the public interest, but few have historically had the opportunity to do so in a way which reaches out to a mass audience.

How times have changed! Or have they? The internet has allowed for virtually anyone to create their own digital source for information, in essence reducing the demand for classic mediums for ingesting news such as the printed word – this is true. But readers of online content are used to getting information for free and are resistant to paywalls, creating a new expense-related dilemma for those wishing to start their own online news service.

What is the secret for starting a successful online news service, considering this continuously cost-prohibitive nature of the business? Simple – stay true to the traditional tricks and virtues of the news business, minus the dependence on paper:

Find the right people

Just like any other enterprise, an online news service’s success ultimately hinges on the talent of its staff. Fortunately for one section of aspiring news people and unfortunately for the other, there are currently far more talented journalists than there are staff writer positions available. Research the top universities for journalism majors and start your talent search from there. Hone in on folks with a record of going above and beyond the standard call of duty for a college reporter. Furthermore, as the business grows, look for similarly skilled individuals already employed by other news sources and try and win them over.

Put them in the field

It’s as true today as it was a century ago: getting the scoop takes time and money. It also often requires travel. And all of this is very often fly by night, as events of the world are unfolding faster than reporters can get the words typed. However, such stories are what build a budding new service’s reputation. So when a reporter on the other side of the country says they need $500 to pay to listen to a trending motivational speaker believed to be a con artist, don’t hesitate to send funds. Keep an eye out for money transfer promos if shrewdness is your instinct, but have an open mind when being asked by a trusted journalist to send cash immediately. Sometimes the lead goes cold or the story is flatter than the price-tag would have you hope, but great journalism needs a patient bankroll.

Make the user experience is “same but different”

Close your eyes and picture a news website. It probably looks the same for everyone: name banner up top, side columns of titles left and right, and a center column of feature pieces accompanied by graphics and photos. It’s basically the classic newspaper format retooled for the digital age. Don’t mess with it too much, but at the same time don’t allow the designer to finish with a bland and forgettable style. If inspiration fails, fallback on a particular color. Similar to “Facebook blues” and Huffington Post greens, a particular color used throughout the website – ideally one not yet tied to a brand – can do wonders to improve the sheen of a news site without adding too much gloss in the process.

Prefer quality over quantity

The name of the game these days is one word: “content.” The prevailing wisdom is the more you have, the more likely your site will be picked up across the web and consequently gain traction with Google. However, this overlooks the basic tenet of the leading search engine’s dynamic: the backlinks are valued based on how trusted the linking site happens to be; a hallmark of the early academic days of the web. With this in mind, 20 articles backlinked by low-level blogs around the web are not worth as much as one article backlinked by two major websites. What does this mean for aspiring news people looking to avoid making business mistakes? It means resisting the urge to have a reporter hammer out several articles in one day in favor of having them focus on crafting a single story. Such reporting is more likely to be linked to by more major news sites, resulting in higher search engine rankings over time.

Many folks are under the impression the news business is undergoing revolutionary change. However, it’s mostly the same old song and dance it was 50 or even 100 years ago. Good reporters write good stories, and the business end is responsible for the funding of these stories as well as ensuring a user-friendly medium for the news to channel to the public. After the inaugural investment capital has waned, it’s likely these attributes will generate the ad revenue needed to keep moving forward.