Entrepreneurial journalism is on the rise. Could it save local news?

It's journalists and writers who matter, after all, not the publications they write for.

Since 2012, I've been providing curated news, independent reporting, and commentary on The DTM Facebook page and website for free. Some generous folks donated some money when The DTM first launched [thank you!], and a handful of people have become patrons [and thank you!], but for the most part this has been a time consuming labor of love.

But now The DTM will be moving to a free/paid website and newsletter subscription model here at Substack. I'll still be posting occasional links to local news and excerpts from DTM website features on Facebook and my personal Twitter account [@DSMcNair], but most reporting and commentary will now be posted here.

Why make this move?

I've spent an inordinate, and unhealthy amount of time concerning myself with the number of website views and followers on social media for The DTM as a measure of viability over the years, and how to leverage that. It's been exhausting, and more and more it's feeling like a waste of time. Making this move now is an effort to get away from headlines and click bait and narrow and strengthen the basic relationship between The DTM and its readers. And maybe even save local journalism.

For years now, as more newspapers cut and and furlough staff, or shut down completely, and as internet news websites come and go, we've been trying to figure out what can save local journalism. While the internet dealt the first blow to print journalism, some thought by leveraging the power of the internet, and later the dynamism of social media, publications could attract larger digital audiences that online advertisers would want to reach. Of course, instead of focusing on journalism, this ushered in the obsession with likes, followers, unique visitors, and click through rates. Journalism and journalists were suddenly being valued by how much web traffic they could generate, or how many twitter followers they had. A story "going viral" became a term associated with publication success. Today, when people complain about "the media" what they're typically complaining about is the hyper-alert news landscape we have now, one fueled by a desire to become the trending story.

During this time, non-profit news websites have emerged as well, supported by foundations and private donors, and many believed this new model could save local journalism. But again, journalism -- which is, really, individual journalists -- has become auxiliary at non-profits to elaborate mission statements, to pleasing major donors, and to organizational public relation campaigns designed to establish a particular brand and generate donations.

All of this has left many individual journalists, including myself, out in the cold, scrounging for freelance gigs, taking PR jobs, starting podcasts, posting more on social media, and wondering where they belong.

However, after some time out in the cold, us journalists have learned something. Maybe we don't need publications. Maybe the solution to all this, or rather the evolution of all this, was to realize we needed to take matters into our own hands. To make our case directly to readers. Traditionally, among professional writers and journalists, self-publishing and "blogging" has always been considered something amateurs and hacks did, people who couldn't get their stuff published in "real" newspapers and magazines. There was a perceived status -- and still is -- that comes with being being published in, say, the New Yorker or the New York Times, or even your local paper. It somehow makes you a real writer. Since writers are typically self-loathing creatures plagued with self-doubt, publications have always had tremendous power over what writers think of themselves.

But as prominent writers and journalists are beginning to liberate themselves from that way of thinking, a kind of simple truth has emerged:

It's journalists and writers who matter, after all, not the publications they write for.

And it's already happening all around us. Sean Tubbs, who wrote for Charlottesville Tomorrow for many years, produces his own newsletter and podcast now. Veteran local journalists Rachel Ryan, Courteney Stuart and Jaclyn Piermarini have lauched their own crime reporting podcast. Molly Conger, who was briefly a columnist for C-Ville Weekly, writes about local government and social justice on her very popular Twitter feed. Former Daily Progress sportswriter Jerry Ratcliffe has operated his own website for years, and former Daily Progress editor Jerry Miller has turned himself into a one-man media company. In addition, various local public figures, journalists, politicians, activists, and concerned citizens have established strong identities online.

Substack, the new platform where The DTM will be located, gets all this. Launched just two years ago by veteran journalists, the platform has drawn many talented writers away from traditional publications.

"So many writers – whether they be journalists, authors, bloggers, academics, analysts, or industry insiders who share their insights with others – are forced to play a game where they don’t control their relationship with their audience, don’t always get paid, and have to worry about almost everything but their writing. Many writers are treated more like content gatherers than storytellers, sent to carve off slices of human attention to feed into a social media machine that seeks to addict rather than enlighten." - Substack

Ultimately, with enough paid subscriptions for The DTM, I'll also be able to feature some of the many talented writers and journalists in our area looking for a home.

Who knows where all this is headed. Or what technological developments are in store for us. But I hope you'll support individual journalists you trust and admire in their efforts to keep doing the work that matters to them. It just might be the way we finally save local journalism.

David