From left: Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice, David Lee, Lindsay Wood and Peter Rice

Credit: Courtesy DAN

For the past couple of decades, local news has been struggling everywhere but the problem is particularly visible in the US where large swathes of the country turned into news deserts. These are often poorer, less-wired areas where communities lack credible sources of information about their local institutions which harms local democracy.

But new local outlets also spring up and do well. Take Downtown Albuquerque News (DAN), a hyperlocal newspaper created in 2019 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, US, covering a zone of about 30,000 people.

Instead of resenting the platforms, chasing philanthropic funding or trying to monetise everything else but journalism, DAN makes money with a simple, low-tech newsletter.

100 per cent reader-funded, it does not advertise or sell anything. Its founder and editor Peter Rice said that, even before Google and Facebook, advertising money has been hard and time-consuming to chase. For small, local newsrooms, it means more admin and less time for journalism.

"For ten bucks a month you know what’s going on"

DAN publishes hyperlocal stories about "stuff you are wondering about when you walk around your neighbourhood", like whether new restaurants or construction works.

The company is a family business. Rice works with his wife Lindsay Wood and dad David Lee. The revenue model could not be much simpler. All stories are emailed once a week to some 500 subscribers and nothing is given away for free online. The subscription is either weekly ($10) or annual ($100) and that is about it.

"The paywall is as hard as it gets," says Rice. "The website could go down for a week and it wouldn't matter."

Its growth strategy is mostly word of mouth and since its inception, DAN's audience has been growing at a steady rate of some 10 subscribers a month. Interviewing fellow Albuquerqueans is another way to spread awareness. In the past, Rice tried to advertise on Facebook but he did not see any impact on new subscriber numbers.

"Why is our business model successful? It's because it's dead simple," he says, adding that not chasing advertising, events or philanthropic funding means he has got time to focus on local journalism, which is what people pay for.

Know your reader

Readers contribute to the editorial by asking questions about their local area that the reporters answer in the regular feature "Detective DAN".

Another monthly feature is called the Climate and Transport Index, which is a quick way to keep track of local data and make content out of it.

"It's a huge pain to set up but very easy to maintain and republish," says Rice, adding that other regular features that use this kind of tracking tool cover crime (including the circling of police helicopters in their patch), leisure or real estate prices.

Reader contributions also often make it to the Friday Roundup, a weekly email of stories that did not fit elsewhere, peppered with photos of interesting things that the reporters or readers passed by. This feedback loop results in dollars, too.

"People keep their subscription because they are curious," says Rice. "They want to know [their local area] is looked after and if it isn't, they want to know who to raise hell with.

"That's one of the things we lost as the politics nationalised - politicians have no clue about their local issues."

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