New West: Tracking, Facilitating Rockies’ Growth

New West Publishing is a different kind of local company — one that uses Web tools, journalism and themed conferences to track the development of an entire region: The Rockies.

Launched by former Industry Standard editor Jonathan Weber — a featured speaker at Kelsey’s upcoming ILM conference — the site operates out of Missoula, MT, where Weber was lured to teach at the J-School after the dot-com implosion. Weber says the challenge of not only covering but also helping facilitate the growth of an entire region was a siren call he could not resist.

“We came up with a regional/local structure that is focused on the growth and change in this part of the country,” says Weber. “We’re marrying a regional publication with a conference and event business.” The site, for instance, has local town pages for Bend, Boise, Boulder, Bozeman Jackson Hole, Missoula and Salt Lake City. It is also hosting a regional real estate and development event Oct. 25-26. It is pretty fascinating to review the conference’s broad array of sponsors, including ANB Financial, Missoula Realtors, The Clark Fork Coalition, The Montana Water Trust, Sun Valley Online.com and YellowStonePark.com.

Weber notes the company’s business model came right out of The Industry Standard’s playbook. “Journalism is the core driver. It is kind of a cliché, but we are helping people to meet each other, and build (the region).”

Earlier efforts to inject journalism directly into regional development, such as The Los Angeles Times in the early 20th century, were decidedly one-sided affairs, as the publications were typically in bed with specific developers. More recent efforts, such as Barry Parr’s CoastSider in Half Moon Bay, might be considered voices against certain types of development. No matter what you do, it seems, is going to be politically charged.

But Weber is seeking to establish an objective voice with intelligent analysis of all the issues inherent, and perhaps inevitable, in the Rockies development. “We try hard not to have a political ax to grind,” he says. “But we do believe in forward thinking about the big picture.”

The site also embraces a little bit of the “new” journalism. “Journalistically … we are trying to get away from the hacking formula. It is somewhere between blogging and journalism … and key writers have their own voice.”

The arrival of New West on the scene, however, hasn’t made it friends with the established local newspapers, which might view it as unwelcome competition. “They’re pretty hostile. We never assumed we’d have strong partnerships,” says Weber.

That antagonism hasn’t crimped the company very much. “From a financial standpoint, we’re doing fairly well,” says Weber. But it is sometimes a challenge to launch a regional publication, since many advertisers are either local or national. Consequently, Weber says that multiple revenue streams are helping to keep the company going.

Online ads provide 50 percent of the company’s revenues, and the conferences and event business contribute two-thirds of the other half. Other revenues come in from a small indoor advertising business. “It is a venue to promote our own stuff, and cross-sell local advertising,” he says. The next phase of the business plan is to deepen the company’s relationship with small businesses and the nonprofit community.

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