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Monday, July 23, 2012

As the New Orleans media landscape turns ...

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 6:12 PM

As The Times-Picayune continues down its path of thrice-weekly-plus-occasional-Saints-Monday print publication, several local online news sources have made moves to bolster their own positions.

The New Orleans Digital News Alliance is a collaboration between four local websites: My Spilt Milk (the cultural-criticism site recently started by former OffBeat editor Alex Rawls), NOLA Defender, Uptown Messenger and the non-profit newsroom The Lens. As announced by Rawls:

Each site has a distinctive mission. NOLA Defender refers to itself as an alt-daily that provides hyperlocal coverage of politics, crime, and culture in Southern Louisiana; Uptown Messenger covers the people and events of New Orleans' Uptown neighborhoods, reporting on government, crime, schools, business and culture; The Lens is the city’s first nonprofit, public-interest newsroom; and My Spilt Milk takes a timely look at New Orleans' culture with an emphasis on music. Collectively, we provide valuable information and perspectives on the Crescent City.

The Lens, along with cultural website NolaVie, also will be collaborating with, the online arm of NPR affiliate WWNO-FM, which made the switch from classical music to a daytime NPR news format.

But there's another name in the game that may upend the way New Orleans gets its online news. It's called NOLA Beat — and you'll be hearing more about it later this week.

The brainchild of Greater New Orleans Inc. president Michael Hecht and Leslie Jacobs, the head of Educate Now!, NOLA Beat (which was in its early stages known as is a nonprofit startup planned in the mold of ProPublica or the Texas Tribune, two of the country's most well-known nonprofit news sites. A letter circulated around the New Orleans business community and to potential investors describes the proposed site as a "best-practice model of nonprofit digital journalism that will ensure robust reporting in areas vital to our community and, as an essential public good, provide an open source of quality information for multiple media outlets, community and civic organizations. Its mission will to be "to provide information and promote civic discourse on issues which impact the vibrancy and vitality of the Greater New Orleans region."

NOLA Beat's proposal calls for reporting in five "key focus beats," each with a dedicated beat reporter: government accountability ("watchdog function for elected officials and good government"); business ("coverage of economic development progress, including key policy issues"); education ("specific focus on educational reform"); criminal justice ("coverage of progress with crime and the judicial system") and environment ("coastal restoration and flood protection issues").

The content will be free and open-source (meaning other news organizations will be free to use NOLA Beat's reporting), and the website will have an "aggregation" component, linking to and summarizing other local New Orleans news sources.

Reached over the weekend for comment, neither Hecht nor Jacobs would go on the record about their proposed venture (disclosure: Gambit met with Jacobs June 12 to discuss the project). Details are still being tweaked, but the original proposal notes partnerships with the University of New Orleans, WWNO-FM, the Business Council of New Orleans and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans — to "help ensure the broad and diverse spectrum of the Greater New Orleans community is reflected in the work of"

That model calls for a startup newsroom with a $2 million yearly budget, with 10 beat reporters and other staffers, and describes a three-year upfront funding plan leading to eventual sustainability based on a combination of memberships, sponsorships, grants, events and "earned income." But the first three years, under the proposed model, will be funded largely by grants, individual donations and corporate donors.

The search for those donors — and those monies — is what will be announced later this week. Gambit has been told Hecht and Jacobs' plan is to have the new newsroom open by the end of 2012.

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