Could print have saved us?

By Steve Outing

Dan Pacheco, who’s a newspaper industry expert on grassroots/citizen media and social networking, has done a thoughtful blog entry about the demise of my company (the Enthusiast Group) and Backfence.com. Since his work for the Bakersfield Californian and its various websites involves some of the same models of grassroots content and social networking that we were playing with (indeed, the Bakersfield social media work predates my company), some folks have been asking Pacheco if his social media ventures are next. (The death watch mentality.)

His answer: emphatically, no! Why? Pacheco says — and I agree — that the big difference with his company’s social media and grassroots neighborhood news ventures is that the online sites are tethered to complementary print properties, which provides a workable revenue model. (Local advertisers, he points out, remain stuck on the outdated idea that print is significant while online is still experimental, so their money is easier to get for print.) Both Backfence and my company were building online pure-play sites, and that’s a tough business.

Pacheco asks if a print strategy to complement the websites could have saved my company. Possibly. It’s something we considered seriously — having print products that featured the best of the content submitted by users and our “enthusiasts-in-chief” to our sites. But we would have had to raise much more money than we did to support a print strategy.

We pondered such ideas as partnering with magazines in our sports niches, which might feature an insert of our content. I still think that was a good idea, but we didn’t get anywhere with publishers, who still seem stuck in the past, not recognizing that the audience (especially the younger segment) is clearly transitioning online.

And we learned the hard way that outdoor companies — the Enthusiast Group’s target advertisers — are, like most local advertisers, still stuck in the past and focused mostly on print.

So don’t cry for Bakersfield. Pacheco and company still have a good shot at figuring out this grassroots media thing.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!