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A news future in feisty upstarts?

A quintet of local news organizations trying to gain a digital foothold.

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This Land Press (Tulsa, Okla.)

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A century after W. Tate Brady helped found the city of Tulsa, Okla., his brand was everywhere: Brady Theater. Brady Historical District. Brady Tavern.

But time had buried an ugly truth: He was a Klansman. He helped tar and feather union members. He was an architect of the city's 1921 race riot. In September 2011, a new multimedia company published a meticulously documented account of the history.

Michael Mason, founder of This Land Press, thought 50 people might come to a panel discussion about the story. Then he ran out of chairs.

"I'd never seen 500 people turn up to talk about an article," he recalls. "And the room looked like Tulsa ... people of all races. It spanned the class range."

This Land publishes in print, audio, and video with an emphasis on long-form, narrative features. Backed by more than $1 million in venture capital, the two-year-old company expects to be cash-flow positive in August and employs 13 editorial and production staffers. Its most widely read stories include a profile of Oklahoma-born Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks, and investigations of sex abuse at a suburban megachurch and local police misconduct.

"If you tell a good story, and you do it without preaching, then readers bring their own honest reactions to it," Mr. Mason says. "It's a primal impulse in us to share and communicate through stories."

Honolulu Civil Beat

Since 2006, Hawaii's annual school bus fees have tripled to $72.4 million. But taxpayers didn't realize they'd been taken for a ride until the fall of 2011, when a news outlet revealed that competitive bidding for contracts had abruptly halted three years before. That story prompted a state audit revealing the scope of the disaster.

"No one else in this state does that sort of in-depth reporting," says Patti Epler, editor of Honolulu Civil Beat, which broke the story. Its motto? "Change begins with a question."

Launched in 2010 by billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay, and Randy Ching, a former eBay executive, Civil Beat is dedicated to public affairs journalism and livening up local discourse. Its six staff writers, called "reporter-hosts," unearth the news and facilitate online discussions. The site charges $19.99 per month for full access and does not disclose subscriber numbers.

This summer, Civil Beat ran a series called "Hawaii's Vanishing Voter" and co-created a mock election on Facebook to push back at low voter turnout. In 2008, with Honolulu native son Barack Obama on the ballot, fewer than half of eligible voters went to the polls – the nation's lowest state turnout.

"We said, 'Hey, we don't care who you vote for – we just want you to vote,' " Ms. Epler recalls.

New Haven (Conn.) Independent


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