Entry barriers are low in the online news world. Cheap hosting and free templates have launched a million blogs, including some where a single person, calling himself “Gazette” or “Bugle” or “Wire” or what have you, masquerades as a full-on news publication.
Most often, such sites are hardly worthy of attention—there’s at least one that lists the owner’s cats as part of the editorial team—but some are far more professional. A single journalist writing by day and handling business by night could seem like the industry’s long-awaited low point, but if it is, it’s one where a hardy few have thrived. So far, there are twelve in CJR’s News Frontier Database of more than 150 noteworthy online news sites.
A single-journalist publication is the ultimate in low overhead, so it’s not surprising that large corporations have entered the field. In January, the NFDB profiled DoDBuzz, a one-man shop that, astoundingly, is able to provide strong coverage of Department of Defense weapons acquisitions. At the time, it was run by Colin Clark, a self-described “start-up expert” and veteran journalist who built DoDBuzz for Military.com, a division of Monster.com. Before that, Clark had founded Washington AeroSpace Briefing, another one-man operation, for web-content monolith Imaginova. He has since left to run the team at AOL Defense as its founding editor, but he credits his days in the one-person news world for teaching him how to hone a vision for a small publication.
One unequivocally good thing about a single worker shop is that it can do important work in niches that may be far too narrow to support a staff of, well, two. Shmarya Rosenberg is a former rabbinical student whose news site, FailedMessiah.com, investigates the insular world of ultra-orthodox Judaism. With about five-hundred thousand monthly page views, it has been, as the site’s NFDB profile explains, “instrumental in bringing scandals and controversies from within ultra-orthodoxy to the secular world’s attention.”
FailedMessiah.com is unincorporated. But Portland Afoot, a one-man site covering “low car” life, is a full-fledged nonprofit with a board of directors. I spoke with Michael Andersen, the sole journalist behind the site, just before he dashed out the door to attend his first annual fundraiser. “That’s my life,” he said. “It’s a lot of running around, a lot of changing modes rapidly from editorial to marketing to fundraising to advertising. And I’m pretty bad at, like, three of those things—but I can do all of them.” He said that the biggest advantage to working solo, besides not having to be anyone’s manager, is the “unity of vision.” Even the biggest newsroom can’t beat one journalist at that.