Newspapers: Efficiency vs. effectiveness
I've started to understand the lure of Quora. For me, at least, it's a chance to expound a little bit while pretending to be helpful.
A few weeks ago, I answered question about how online news organizations can be more efficient.
My larger point in that and other questions is that, yes, start-ups can be much more efficient than traditional news organizations (particularly newspapers). But can they be more effective?
There are two models for successful online news hubs right now. One is to obsessively cover every happening in a given area—call that the EveryBlock model. The other is to take one aspect of local life and cover that comprehensively—call that the Politico model.
If you were going to start an online news site part of your choice would be dictated by expertise, manpower and temperament, but there are other factors to consider. If your local media is trying to do either of the above models and you are, too, a smart editor will co-opt your idea. That's fine if you're looking for a (meager) buyout, but maybe not if you're committed to the idea of your site.
Traditional news operations, with lots of legacy costs to deal with and dozens, if not hundreds, of employees to pay are well aware of the dangers of start-ups, and many of the good ones are trying to instill more entrepreneurial spirit in their editors and reporters, with varying levels of success. But there is an opening for small start-ups that can change direction quickly and try things no larger news organization would be willing to.
So in order to be successful—that is to say, effective—a start-up needs to keep staff to the absolute minimum, and that's hard to make sustainable.