One of the more tragicomedic moments of yesterday's Journalism Town Hall was the reaction to my assertion that a $2 million online news organization could replace the local-news reporting function of a Sun-Times or Chicago Tribune.
People flat out didn't believe it. I heard pushback on the panel, I heard about it during the break, I heard about it after the event ended.
I don't know what these folks have in mind, but it sounds like a lot of journalists and news observers are convinced it takes tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars to run a robust local news organization.
Trust me: It doesn't.
Yesterday, I promised to share a spreadsheet proving my point. So here it is -- Chicago's $2 million news organization.
The spreadsheet is payroll only. But our experience is that other expenses are pretty much negligible. Tack on an extra 30% for benefits. We're paying $25,000 in rent for a space that would house the reporters listed below. A couple thousand bucks for insurance, some cash for the lawyers and accountants, and you're in business for well under $2 million.
It's worth noting that this organization pays the regional average wage to its reporters and editors. And the organization would offer much more comprehensive local coverage than the Trib or the Sun-Times. it's been quite some time since those organizations sent someone to cover a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board meeting. But our reporter would (and does) go every month. Ditto for the housing authority, the city colleges board and some other agencies.
How can the Tribune spend millions while our online news organization spends less than $2 million?
It's simple. The new news organization doesn't have an advice columnist, a suburban bureau, an auto writer, or a fashion critic. It does one thing, and it does it better than anyone else: Provide Chicago residents with the information they need to make smart decisions about public affairs.
One of the more interesting aspects of this plan is its relationship, cost-wise, to some other civic projects.
For example, Chicago's Olympic bid cost upwards of $50 million. I'll leave it to you to decide whether vibrant local news coverage is more important than a longshot at the Olympics. But for the price of that bid, you could fund a great Chicago news organization for 25 years.
Don't believe me? Send us some money and we'll prove you wrong.
|Higher Education Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Public Schools Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Public Health - County Hospital Board Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Public Housing Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|City Hall Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|County Board Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Civil Courts Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Criminal Courts Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Federal Courts Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|Growth and Development Reporter||1||$41,000||$41,000|
|General assignment Reporter||2||$41,000||$82,000|
|Editor in Chief||1||$65,000||$65,000|