Town News turns publisher as 'incubator' tackles news deserts

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US systems developer Town News is moving further into the content business with a new service based around 'news deserts'... the localities effectively abandoned by publishers and journalists.

The Moline, Illinois, company quotes a University of North Carolina report that between 1300-1400 communities have lost their newspapers since 2004, leaving them with no local coverage.

"Circulation declines, stagnating ad growth, and media consolidation have created 'news deserts', whose citizens have little access to the information and oversight that's critical to a functioning democracy", it says.

TownNews' new News Nirvana service claims to identify these areas, partnering them with local publishers and editors and providing a platform for success. "Qualifying news start-ups" will be equipped with features including a mobile-friendly website with editorial tools, subscription support and analytics, and will be able to make use of the company's Content Exchange network of more than 600 participating new publishers.

A central News Nirvana portal features journalism sourced from participating sites and the Content Exchange network.

Chief revenue officer Rick Rogers calls News Nirvana "an incubator for digital news start-ups".

The scheme will offer would-be publishers a 'light' version of the Town News platform with the opportunity to graduate to full version when they're off the ground. Each site will be hosted on a subdomain of the News Nirvana network, which will also will feature content participating sites. Currently the News Nirvana site's most popular page is the one explaining its News Nirvana Privacy and Terms of Service Statement.

Sites are optimised for programmatic and local advertising sales, the former managed by existing TownNews facilities.

Missouri-based Link 2 Lee's Summit will be the first site to launch on the new platform. Founder Nick Parker describes his as a "relatively new" community news organisation, taking advantage of the new tools.

He worked for the local newspaper in various roles in the 1990s before it was sold and no longer locally owned. Parker moved to real estate, but returned to local journalism in 2016. He plans to use the News Nirvana programme as a basis for expansion.

Pictured (from top): The central News Nirvana portal; Nick Parker; Parker's Link2Lee'sSummit site

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