Jonathan Weber started his career in traditional media as a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times, but the new media bug got hold of him. He was the cofounder and editor in chief of the Industry Standard, which more than any other publication reflected the rise and fall of the dot-com boom. In his remarks as opening speaker on the third day of The Kelsey Group’s ILM:07 conference this morning, Weber said he jumped at the opportunity to leave the hectic life of California to teach in Missoula, Montana.
In 2005, Weber launched New West Publishing, an online independent local media company designed to serve the “culture, economy, politics, environment and life style of the Rocky Mountain West.” He told the audience that the concept of citizen journalism where you “get people to do stuff for free and sell ads around it” seemed like a low risk business proposition. Indeed it quickly moved to “a pro-am model” with a mixture of paid and free folks. The idea is to “promote a conversation that helps us understand and make the most of the changes sweeping our region.”
Today NewWest.net is structured as a regional publication that also focuses in on seven local markets. He reiterated what several speakers throughout the conference have been saying about the difficulty of selling local online advertising. Success requires patience and persistence, the blocking and tackling of the online local media business. At the same time, you need talented players and a good strategy. These could be described as great content and local authenticity.
Not surprisingly, newspapers in the area have been hostile as Weber has had to bridge the gap between the two fundamental groups in his market area — environmentalists and business interests. For 15 years, The Kelsey Group has been encouraging newspapers to deliver their content interactively. It is no wonder that local papers resent another entity coming into their market and doing what they could have done if they had recognized the online opportunity.
What I find most refreshing about New West is that Weber resisted the forces encouraging him to replicate his platform in other markets (New South, New China, etc.). Unlike most other entrepreneurs in the city guide and free DA business, Weber said let’s do this right in one market area and then, and only then, consider expansion.