Once upon a time, if you wanted to start your own media empire you were more or less restricted to the Rupert Murdoch approach: inherit one from your Dad. The media scene was sterile and dominated by a few publishers who had been there since the beginning. If you wanted to start up you needed cash to start a business, facilities to print your newspaper and somewhere to sell it. Even then you were faced with a massive uphill battle.
Today, thanks to the internet, things are different. To get your own news site all you need to do is work out how to use Wordpress or one of the many other easy to use website builders. However, it’s one thing to get your news site going, quite another to make it a success, so here are seven milestones you should target.
1. Find your place: You can just simply copy news from the internet and create your own mini BBC News, but don’t expect people to come or Google to rank you. There are already a host of news sites out there and people need something different.
Find a niche which is currently under served or approach news in a vastly different way. The site Byline Times for example, runs with the simple, ‘what the papers don’t say’ which pretty much tells you what you’d expect. This is a place to come for stories that the mainstream media overlook. Bias by omission?
2. Find a name: Choosing a name is vital. You want something which is memorable and instantly tells the user what the site is going to be about. It’s a tricky balancing act and some people try focus on an SEO approach. This, though, often leaves the name feeling clunky and forgettable. You’ll also need to make sure you can buy the domain. It’s no good having a great name if the name is already taken.
3. Making money: You’ll need a business model. It doesn’t necessarily need to be for profit. Many news sites, such as Bellingcat started with a passionate team of volunteers. Others will seek to monetise the content in some way, either with the hope of making a profit or at least keeping things ticking over.
Options include: direct advertising, premium subscription, selling individual articles. At Bywire we’ve developed a new model, based on tokenomics which rewards creators and readers for consuming content.
4. Choose a design and CMS: You will need a content management system. Some are free such as Wordpress which gives you access to simple design templates. Others charge a fee but provide a better user experience and a wider option of designs. Which one you choose may depend on how comfortable you are taking control of design. However, a great professional looking design will give you a real leg up compared to the competition. It is the opinion of the author that for 9/10 news sites, WordPress is perfect.
5. Finding news: Now you need to start populating your content. News aggregator sites pull together content about the latest news. However, these are basically curating content and cannot guarantee accuracy. Other major news sites also give you an idea of what to cover, as do the official websites of organisations such as governments. These are a good place to watch for latest developments.
Social media is a great source of news. You can see what people are saying and often uncover great stories. One of the most powerful stories of this year came when one woman Tweeted a picture of the rather paltry free school meals parcel she received. It caused a major storm and reversed government policy.
6. Sourcing images: Great news sites also need a good visual appeal. You can use free pictures from a number of sources such as Wikipedia and free stock photo sites. If you can, try and create your own video content. This often goes viral more easily than something which is written down. For a great example check out this recent quick video from Bywire partner Not the News.
7. Spread the word: Once you’re up and running start spreading the word. Share content to social media, starting with your own networks, start posting to forums, and engaging in conversations.
When choosing your platform, you might want to work out which one your audience prefers. For example, millennials prefer Facebook, while younger people go for Instagram. Twitter is great for political news while LinkedIn is vital if you have a business audience.
Meanwhile, fossils such as the one writing this piece of content are still wondering whatever happened to MySpace.
Starting a news site, then, is simple. Making a success of it is not. The market is crowded and it can feel impossible to get your voice heard. The steps we’ve detailed here will give you something to start with but it is just a start. You can also apply to become a publisher at Bywire News and upload your content directly to our network. Contact us for more info.
How successful you be will depend on lots of factors, such as how competitive your marketplace is, how receptive your audience is and whether you successfully find a unique voice which strikes a winning chord. Add a little luck and you will have everything need to inform and entertain audiences.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)