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Online news website Florida Independent to shut down at end of month; does that mean anything?

By on April 3, 2012

The very well-written Florida Independent, an online news website that covers  state government and politics, is shutting its, um, doors on April 27.

“It’s no secret that times are tough for journalists all over, and there’s no exception for online-only publications, or for nonprofits,” writes editor Cooper Levey-Baker, who says he is heartbroken by the decision. “Since we launched in May 2010, we have simply been unable to build a strong enough donor base to sustain our operations past the end of April. The site will remain live, but we will cease publishing new content after April 27.”

Does the demise of the Florida Independent mean something to the state of the state’s fledgling blogosphere?

I think it reinforces one point, something I have believed since day one of writing SaintPetersBlog.  There are more than enough traditional news websites in Florida.  Every newspaper has an online version of its product on the web.  And it is very, very hard to compete with them.

No, it’s darn near impossible to compete with the traditional media when it comes to delivering a traditional media product.  That’s why I’ve never understood when new sites attempt to compete.

If Rick Scott signs a bill and the Tampa Bay Times writes a story about that, an online reader is not very likely to read the Times‘ story about the signing and then click to read a similar just-news story on the Florida Independent or the Florida Current or Sunshine State News.

What independent online news sites should be offering is: first, speed.  They should be breaking the story on their websites ahead of the traditional media. But that hasn’t been happening.

Second, they should be offering analysis and perspective. This is what I said to John and Sarah Iarussi, the owners of LobbyTools and the Florida Current (which survives and flourishes because it is an adjunct to LobbyTools, just as Bloomberg News survives because it is part of the larger Bloomberg Company), when they had Gary Fineout on staff.  No one understands the intricacies of state government better than Fineout, so why not make him more of an analyst, rather than a reporter? Any fresh-out-J-school beat reporter can tell you what happened in a legislative committee meeting or a courtroom.  What people want to know is why did that just happen.

What the Florida Independent was doing well was enterprise reporting.  But one good, well-researched story even every day is not enough for advertisers who need a website to draw thousands, if not tens of thousands, of views PER DAY to make it worth their while to pitch their wares on a site.

Interestingly enough, May 2010, is when I “turned on” the advertising on SaintPetersBlog.com, meaning that’s when I first started accepting paid advertising on my website.  Obviously, that decision has worked out well for me and my staff, but it has been a long road upward.

It doesn’t make me feel very good seeing good folks like those at the Florida Independent broke down on the side of that road.

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