Peter Rice has recreated that concept for the digital age and thinks this is the way more news outlets should operate.
Way back when, it wasn’t uncommon for small towns to have their own newspapers, filled with the stories and goings-on that mattered to people who lived there.
“Local news should be like a friend you enjoy catching up with occasionally. It should not be a helicopter parent that won’t leave you alone, which is unfortunately the model ad-supported media have to use,” says Rice, editor of the Downtown Albuquerque News. “Newsletters are a kinder, gentler way to satisfy customers and make money.”
Rice started his publication, affectionately called DAN, in the summer of 2019 after being “infuriated or angered at some point” in the early 2000s about the decline of newspapers and “the almost self-immolation of the news business. I couldn’t escape the suspicion that the business was not as hard as the industry was making it look. It was very clear it had to change.”
While newspapers went online, keeping their content free and hoping advertisers would come with them, Rice thought there had to be a better way, especially because “the overhead of the news business was about to go way down. Distributing digital media is about 3 percent of the cost of the old model, which literally involved loggers and truckers.”
Why not just give people their local news, ask them to pay for it, and kick advertisers to the curb?
“If these papers could convert even a third or a half of their subscriber base, which was already in the habit of paying for news, if they could just get them to continue paying for news in a different format, in retrospect we could’ve avoided a lot of the carnage we’ve seen in American newsrooms and all these news deserts that have been so depressing and threatening of self-government in general,” he says.
And that’s how DAN started. ‘It’s basically just a dead-simple business model that I thought they should’ve been using all along. It is the old-fashioned business model, it’s just very low overhead, because the technology takes out the printing and the ink and the distribution cost for the most part. What do you have when you have the old newspaper model with no advertising and no overhead? You’ve got readers paying money for news.”
Peter Rice, editor of the Downtown Albuquerque News, explains how he may have cracked the local news sustainability problem with a reader-supported, hyper-local newsletter.