Add Another Slice From the Online News Pie
Austin Radio stations, AM and FM, are lined up one after another, each offering differing content. Some is music, some is news, some is “talk” and commentary. Some is in English. Some is in Spanish. Most are commercial, but some are public. Hyper-local, low-power radio stations are reaching out to niche audiences.
Since the digital conversion, much the same has happened to local TV. No longer are there only the major network affiliates. Each licensed television station has the capability of launching side-band stations, and most have. Each is trying to carve out a niche and create a new revenue stream, with the exception of KLRU-TV (PBS). KLRU also has two side-band stations of its own.
It’s only natural that the same thing would happen online. Of course, each of these local mediums has a complementary web site. In the past two or three years several stand-alone news, information, or opinion sites have sprung up.
Now another Austin-centric web site will launch mid-summer supplying readers with a wide range of information and news focusing on the things making Austin unique. Former News 8 News Director Kevin Benz is Editor-in-Chief of what will be an online news magazine called CultureMapAustin. (Find it at www.culturemap.com.)
“CultureMap aims for a less cynical, more optimistic editorial tone,” Benz says. “Our journalists will cover news we hope will directly touch those who live here. We hope everyone will see themselves reflected in the stories we do about the things that make Austin a special place to live.”
Benz used the phrase, “Our journalists…” That’s significant. CultureMapAustin.com is not an aggregation of blogs. Benz says his site will pay its writers for their columns and content. He’s adamant. “We’re going to be different from others—no pay for play, no payola. We’ll have fair coverage.”
The writers are backed by a staff consisting of “some of the smartest people in this business,” Benz says. “Our CEO, Stephen Newman helped launch the New York Times online presence and spent a decade at CNN. Our Managing Editor, Caitlin Ryan worked at Conde-Nast, Google, and most recently was Editor of Rare magazine here in Austin.” Benz, himself, has deep Austin roots having done news here for 23 years. “ I watched a great town become a world-class city, and yet we’ve worked hard to maintain that quirky, cultural vibe, that allure, that keeps people coming and keeps so many of us here. That allure will be the stuff of CultureMap.”
Of course, the chief competitor is statesman.com’s companion site austin360.com. Austin360.com, of course, has the paid staff of the Austin American-Statesman. By far, austin360.com has the most page-views in town. CultureMapAustin.com will fight it out with them and other sites like AustinPost.com, Austinist.com, AustinChronicle.com, Do512.com and others.
CultureMapAustin will be a commercial web site as are Austin360, AustinChronicle.com, the Austinist.com and others.
AustinPost.org is not for profit, underwritten by Trilogy Employee Foundation. TexasTribune.org is also nonprofit focusing all efforts on politics and beholden to none.
After enjoying some success based on bloggers, Austin Post recently hired a cadre of reporters to cover the news of the day and supplement their citizen writers. Unlike Austin Post, CultureMapAustin will cover news as it relates to Austin’s quality of life. “We’re the big umbrella,” Benz says.
CultureMapAustin will include articles Benz says are under covered: Literature and books, high arts such as ballet and dance, the Austin Symphony, theater, the film industry, visual design including architecture, interior design, and graphic design. Calendars and listings for music and events will be vetted.
“Further, we intend to use all the media available to tell better, more compelling stories,” Benz says. We’ll use the written word of course, and we’ll include still photography and photo essays, video and video essays, as well as social media to give our community an entertaining and informative look at what makes Austin the fun, weird, world-class city it is.” Benz intends to have a “lively” presence on Facebook.
CultureMapAustin’s concept and “look” will be similar to http://houston.culturemap.com/ launched some 15-months ago. Benz says it “…has become a vital part of the cultural conversation in that city,” and he expects the same success here.
Of course, current census figures indicate that the Houston MSA is roughly three times the size of Austin and its demographics are quite different. It’s a much bigger pie being sliced up for recognition and revenue, and different people are consuming it.
It will be interesting to see how CultureMapAustin with its professional approach to online journalism succeeds in this market. Benz recognizes Austin is unique. Austin is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all market. So, the new site will have to set itself apart from the others to see success.
© Jim McNabb, 2011