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Lookout Local: Ken Doctor’s prescription for sustaining local media in the US

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of authoritarian regimes have been challenging newsrooms, Lookout Local aims to create a sustainable business model by focusing on its community and readers so that journalism can thrive.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor info@wan-ifra.org | October 21, 2020

By Shameel Ibrahim

While the triple threats of changing news consumption habits, declining advertising revenues and now the COVID-19 pandemic have forced traditional news establishments to rethink their economic models, online news companies are emerging that might hold some answers, as they experiment with alternative business approaches to sustain themselves.

Ken Doctor aims to achieve that through his online news startup Lookout Local, which is due to launch in November of this year. Doctor is a leading news industry analyst, including more than two decades at Knight-Ridder, the US’ second-largest newspaper company. He is also the author of “Newsonomics.”

Speaking during WAN-IFRA’s virtual Digital Media Asia 2020 conference in October, Doctor, CEO & Founder of Lookout Local, told participants more about his new venture.

For a start, Lookout Local aims to be a for-profit, highly local company focusing on Doctor’s home city of Santa Cruz, California. Fuelled by multiple revenue streams and partners, it also aims to “rebuild” democracy and economically viable journalism.

His startup has partnered with 11 other organisations, including public-interest media outlets like ProPublica and traditional publishers like the Los AnglesTimes.

The problem and the Lookout solution

Doctor identifies the present problems with news dailies being that they are financed by big corporations and have overpriced subscription plans.

He aims to create a “digital disruption” by planning to give three times the product at one third the price to the consumer, while not compromising on revenue and content.

Doctor said, “It is quite clear by 2020 that the global news economy value(s) scale” and that journalists should start building local digital businesses that “both satisfy democratic and consumer needs.”

Doctor said there are a wealth of opportunities present in the digital news landscape.

The way forward

By not having the interference of financial corporations, he said Lookout Local aims to base itself on simple principles and sustainable solutions, relying on technology.

Lookout Local focuses on four main aspects of its business to provide a steady revenue stream as well as quality content:

  • The first aspect is to have a local, community-based sponsorship where the website would offer ad spaces to local businesses instead of established corporations.
  • Secondly, to have a “community model” to make state-of-the-art digital media by linking existing community groups.
  • Another important aspect will be the product itself, which is a mobile-first, purely online and newsletter-centric model.
  • Lastly, the editorial philosophy of the company would be “timely, topical and knowledgeable” journalism which is credible to its readers and is focused on community betterment.

“We will not have any junk ads. We’re not going to do any programmatic. It’s essentially multiple brands. It is a membership model based essentially on $11 or $15 a month, relatively cheap. That [is] one third of the price, and three times the content,” Doctor said.

Above image: The planned membership business model of Lookout Local.

“It’s my belief, in being an analyst now for 15 years that, for us in journalism, and especially in local journalism, nobody’s going to come to save us. Philanthropists – and I’ve talked to many of them – do not want to support news and local news all over the country and all over the world,” – Ken Doctor

If successful, Doctor said the Lookout model will have the potential to scale across the country.


About the author: Shameel Ibrahim is a third-year journalism student at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

Edited by Bill Poorman.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

info@wan-ifra.org