Modern Media

Debut of online news publication and big leadership changes signify altered landscape in media business models

The start of a new year will mark the debut of a new online publication, New Mexico Political Report, that will stray from the business model that funds traditional media organizations.

Matthew Reichbach, a political blogger and journalist familiar to many who follow politics in the state, will lead a team of three reporters, including himself, to produce what he plans to be "the best political reporting on New Mexico politics, period."

The news is likely welcome to many, as both traditional and new media organizations struggle to get a grip on successful, long-term business models at a time when they desperately need them. Just earlier today, the Santa Fe New Mexican replaced its longtime publisher Ginny Sohn with Tom Cross, who formerly served as the paper's business manager. Also today, the online New Mexico Compass announced its end after two years.

But the business model for New Mexico Political Report, which will be funded by ProgressNow New Mexico, a registered 501(c)4 that advocates for liberal political issues across the state, is sure to raise skepticism from some.

Reichbach maintains that once the Political Report's coverage launches, its editorial independence will speak for itself. The goal, he says, it to publish aggressive political coverage and also focus on under-reported topics like environmental and women's issues.

These topics should resonate with a liberal-leaning readership, but Reichbach, who also contributed frequently to SFR over the past few years, assures that he and his reporters will not approach their stories with any preconceived notions.

"We're not going to be a partisan or biased source," he says. "We're an independent entity."

He adds that he's familiar with the process after working with New Mexico Independent, a former news website funded by wealthy liberal donors that earned respect in the state's media landscape during its brief run during the latter half of the aughts.

Davis says ProgressNow got interested in launching a media organization as reporters in the state capital dwindled over the past few years, leaving a vacuum in local coverage. Solid, independent news coverage "informs how policy gets made," Davis says, and can in-turn inform the campaigns that his organization is involved in.

"We can't do our work without the news going on," he says.

If the Political Report's coverage informs Davis' group, then fine, Reichbach says. But that's not his goal.

"If we write something that they like, then they can do what they want, but that's not going to be the focus," Reichbach says.

ProgressNow will play no role in the Political Report's editorial coverage, both Reichbach and Davis promise, and will instead solely provide support for the website and pay the checks to its reporters.

"Basically we're going to serve as the publisher," Davis says. "Matt and his team will be able to cover whatever they want."

The Political Report's business model is certainly different than a daily newspaper's method of selling advertisements. But it's one that's already operating locally. For the past four years, reporter Rob Nikolewski covered local politics for New Mexico Watchdog, a news website funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a right-wing, Washington DC-based think tank.

The core mission of Watchdog, a chain of news websites that operates in 28 states, is to "expose waste, fraud and abuse at the state and federal level," according to Franklin Center spokesman Michael Moroney. Still, Moroney says the Watchdog websites operate with editorial independence, maintaining that "an impenetrable wall" exists between them and the Franklin Center. Watchdog also says it abides by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and Associated Press standards.

Though Nikolewski left the NM Watchdog this month for a public relations and policy job with the state Environment Department, the Franklin Center assures that the website isn't going anywhere.

"We will be hiring for [Nikolewski's] position and intend to continue coverage in New Mexico," Moroney says.

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