While last week's announcement of the storied New Orleans Times-Picayune's regression from a daily print publication to a thrice-a-week newspaper rocked the media world, a similar, albeit much smaller-scale development came to light in the New Mexico journalism scene.
Local online reporter Matthew Reichbach, known for his aggressive political blogging since the mid-2000s, announced last Tuesday that he was scaling back content on his New Mexico Telegram website. The reason? The same old story in the short history of 21st century journalism: an economic model that isn't cutting it. Reichbach has been supporting his one-man-show website mostly through his own fundraising, which he says he lacks skills in.
"I hate asking people for money," Reichbach tells SFR. "It's not something I think I'll ever be good at."
For the first month of NM Telegram's existence, Reichbach didn't ask for donations. Instead, he set the tone of his website with original reporting and analysis so future donors would know what they were getting in return. Along the way, he covered both the
parties' state preprimary conventions, offering rapid updates from the convention floors every 10 to 15 minutes.
That's Reichbach's style. I've seen him in action. When outgoing state House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, unexpectedly announced his struggles with lung cancer at the Roundhouse in January, Reichbach had a full post of the news published within minutes while the other Roundhouse reporters were still tweeting about it (at the time, Reichbach was covering the legislative session for Clearly New Mexico).
"It's a different type of writing," he says, underlining that his work is geared toward online news consumers who crave frequent updates.
Reichbach got his DIY-style start in reporting in 2006, blogging politics at FBIHOP with his brother. Later on, he was picked up by the New Mexico Independent, establishing himself at the forefront of new media news coverage in New Mexico.
For NM Telegram, Reichbach's broken stories on candidate ballot controversies and offered critiques of polling coverage from other media outlets. His model, he says, is something akin to a local version of Talking Points Memo.
But the website's most notable feature—arguably—has been Morning Word, a daily roundup of local news stories preceded by an analysis in the vein of Ezra Klein's Wonkbook. Reichbach says he flags news stories throughout the day and writes out the roundup late at night so it's ready by the next morning.
As stellar as he is at providing quickly-updated, original reporting, Reichbach hasn't been so hot at raising money. He says he's only come back with about $1,000 from donations since launching his blog, which he's been working on full-time until recently since March. Last month, he realized he needed another job to provide for the basics. Now he works 40 hours a week at a call center doing customer service. He didn't want to disclose the company he's working for.
He says he was partially blinded by being too close to his reporting and not close enough to developing an economic blueprint for his website.
"Maybe I was looking at it too starry-eyed," he says. "It didn't work out as I'd hoped."
A full-time job elsewhere, naturally, means less time to work on content for the Telegram, which publishes about three to four news posts a day. Reichbach says he's still going to shoot for two or three posts a day despite his other workload. He's planning to keep Morning Word going.
But while news of a second job won't be welcome for his readers—he gets about 2,000 unique visitors each week—it's a common phenomenon among political bloggers.
"I was trying to do something that would have been unusual," he says. "It's very rare to be paid to be a blogger."