Subscribers-only Arizona Guardian is in Phoenix area
PHOENIX – In many ways, it’s a typical news meeting about State Capitol coverage.
Paul Giblin, a veteran political reporter, is heading to cover a news conference by Democrats in the state House of Representatives. Patti Epler, an editor and political reporter, will join him and shoot photos.
Mary K. Reinhart, with extensive experience covering health care and social services, is going to catch a similar availability with Senate Republican leaders, joined by Dennis Welch, a seasoned statehouse and government reporter.
There is no conference room, conference table or whiteboard for this session, however. The four meet in a hallway of the Arizona State Senate building.
The journalists, all laid off as the East Valley Tribune retrenched in January, joined forces to create the Arizona Guardian, an online venture that they hope will not only turn a profit but perhaps help create the future of news.
Giblin, who spent 14 years with the Tribune, said he and his partners have had opportunities to take more lucrative positions outside of journalism but were committed to the craft. And they still are, he said.
“We’re kind of slaves to journalism,” Giblin said. “We like the ideal of journalism, the principles of journalism – the excitement of journalism, quite frankly.”
And then there is a more practical reason for starting the venture.
“I hope this works because I need a job,” Giblin said.
The Arizona Guardian, a subscribers-only Web site, launched Jan. 5 as Giblin, Epler, Reinhart and Welch teamed with Bob Grossfeld, a Democratic strategist who serves as publisher, business and marketing manager and webmaster. Each of the five has an equal stake.
For $30 a month, a subscriber gets access to the site’s news coverage. A $150-a-month subscription aimed at lawmakers, lobbyists and companies offers more frequent e-mail and text alerts and eventually will offer a bill-tracking service among other premium content, the owners say.
“Our audience is different than typical media outlets,” Reinhart said. “It’s the gang that hangs out at the Capitol, as opposed to the soccer moms and the NASCAR dads.”
The premium subscription puts the Arizona Guardian into competition with the Arizona Capitol Times, a weekly newspaper and Web site appealing to those with an interest in state government. The Capitol Times offers its own premium service with comprehensive news about state government issues and action, bills and gossip.
Ginger Lamb, publisher and vice president of the Arizona Capitol Times, said competition keeps everyone on their toes.
“The more news coverage of government and Legislature the better,” she said. “It only makes everybody better.”
Grossfeld declined to say how many subscriptions the Arizona Guardian has sold or how many it needs to turn a profit.
A typical 24-hour news cycle at the Arizona Guardian features about 10 to 12 stories, which include coverage of the governor’s office, the state Legislature and the budget as well as features on topics such as lunch spots around the Capitol and columns submitted by politicians.
The reporters take their own photos and edit each other’s copy.
“The biggest challenge that we face is just being able to keep up with the volume of the news that’s going on down here,” Epler said. “We only have four reporters working on the site right now, and we could use at least twice that many.”
Epler and her counterparts have faced challenges when it comes to workspace. Initially denied access to the press room in the Senate building, Arizona Guardian staffers set up there anyway before being banished recently.
They now work out of a basement office near the Capitol.
Howard Fischer, a longtime statehouse reporter who in 1992 founded Capitol Media Services to feed content to media outlets, said the Arizona Guardian’s model may represent the future of journalism.
“I hope they are successful,” Fischer said. “We all may end up doing this, but it’s a hard way to make a living.”
Sarah Muench, the spokeswoman for House Democrats, said she is a satisfied subscriber.
“I am extremely interested in what they write,” Muench said. “Their coverage helps keeps me informed, which helps me do my job.”
Welch hopes for many more such subscribers.
“For personal reasons, I hope this works because, well, because I need to pay my bills,” Welch said. “But in the larger sense I hope this works so we can find a new model, a new way for journalists to keep practicing journalism.”
Tim McGuire, the Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said operations such as the Arizona Guardian represent the future of journalism. However, he isn’t enthusiastic about the subscribers-only model.
“Entrepreneurial journalists are going to be out there looking for business models – experiment and possibly bump into the answer,” McGuire said. “Has the Guardian run into the answer? I don’t really think so, but God I hope so.”
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