There's a growing trend of former employees of defunct or downsized papers who gather together and start publishing their own free newspapers online. For example, former Rocky Mountain News reporters have established their own site. A friend in Hyde Park, NY, started a new online site after the paper for which he wrote a regular column ceased publication.
The latest example, courtesy of the New York Times: "Cast Out, but Still Reporting" about former Newark Star-Ledger reporters.
There are a couple of interesting elements about this trend:
- These are established, experienced reporters -- and they are working for free.
- They realize that the interest in local news did not go away -- even as business problems plagued their newspapers. In other words, there are structural problems with the old model -- perhaps too much debt taken on, as with the Tribune Co. or GateHouse Media.
- That said, there are structural problems with these new online sites. Namely no advertising revenue (yet), no subscription fees, and no payroll. Hardly sustainable.
- These new sites will put pressure on other papers in their markets (Denver Post, Seattle Times), making it less likely those newly single-paper markets will flourish as much as their publishers proclaimed.
Meanwhile, as for PR functions, it it important to consider these new outlets, though I don't know how many are offering up business sections vs. local municipal news.