The New West FAQ for Online Community Journalism Entrepreneurs
By Jonathan Weber, Editor and Founder, NewWest.net
“We are not big believers in the formulas of “objectivity” traditionally employed by American newspapers.”
Almost every week, I get at least one call from someone who is interested in starting an online publication in their city/ town/ region and wants to ask my advice. I try to be helpful, though since I started New West I’ve also tried to avoid punditizing about this sector and instead prove that I can actually make a successful business. But now that we’re more than two years in and doing pretty well, and interest in this kind of venture only seems to be growing, I thought I’d offer some public answers to the proverbial Frequently Asked Questions. Hopefully these thoughts are worth a bit more than you’re paying for them, but no promises!
Why did you start New West?
In 2002, I was invited to be a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Montana. When I came to Missoula, I got very interested in what seemed to be a big story - the dramatic growth and change happening in this part of the country. At the same time, I had covered and participated in the emergence of online media from the very beginning, and by 2005, with the growth of broadband and other factors, it seemed that online media was reaching a tipping point. I thought if I could marry a big story that wasn’t being covered much as such with a new approach to journalism there might be a business there.
Did you raise money from investors? How did you go about that?
Yes, we raised a high-six-figure sum from a group of angel investors. There are some friends and family in the deal, and there are also professional investors who did it as a personal angel investment. The success of the fundraising was very much dependent on my track record and reputation as editor in chief of the Industry Standard, and required relentless networking and cajoling over a period of almost a year.
Can you get venture capital funding for something like this?
In general, no. VCs are looking for very specific kinds of deals that have the potential for very high returns. Despite what common sense might suggest, the vast majority of VCs are unmoved by an idea which might have less risk and require less capital upfront but does not have the potential to return twenty or thirty or fifty times the investment in the event of smashing success. VC media deals require ‘conquer the world’ business models, and I don’t recommend trying to conquer the world. Conquer your neighborhood first.