A Q&A with Michael Kanin, publisher of the Austin Monitor in Texas.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
We launched in late 2013 as the Austin Monitor, but that’s about a quarter of the story. The publication we run started (incidentally, by Ken Martin of the Austin Bulldog) way back in 1995 as a local politics newsletter for Austin City Hall. It was then called In Fact Weekly. It morphed into In Fact Daily, with a similar purview, and went online in the early 2000s. In 2010, Jo Clifton (then editor and publisher) sold it to the Austin-American Statesman (and, by extension, Cox Media Group) in a bid to become just editor. It became clear that they weren’t quite sure what to do with us. In July 2013, we formed the Capital of Texas Media Foundation with designs on acquiring IFD from the Statesman and Cox under the belief that Austin as a municipality wasn’t adequately served by existing media outlets — and that we could grow what would become the Monitor into an entity that could provide better, comprehensive local coverage. We signed the purchase agreement in October 2013, and completed purchase in September 2015.
We currently cover Austin, Travis County, and associated governmental entities. Our aim is to expand well into the central Texas region.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I’ve freelanced for a long time. I’ve covered culture and local news for the Washington City Paper and the Washington Post’s Express. I’ve covered culture for Boston’s Weekly Dig and the Boston Herald. I’ve covered politics and related issues for In Fact Daily, the Austin Chronicle, and the Monitor. And I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of stories related to my local work published by the Texas Observer. I’ve also spent a small fraction of time as a touring musician.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
The Austin Chronicle, the Austin American-Statesman
5. What makes your site unique?
We go to all of the meetings. We go deeper into the goings-on. We may have a pay-meter that kind of works.
6. What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others?
Establishing solid partnerships with like-minded local media organizations (for us, local NBC and local NPR) has proven critical to our efforts. We got that going fairly quickly, but it would have been great to launch with that in place. Also: what I wouldn’t give for a more flexible set of technology—the sort you can buy with a very large budget. I’d focus more on that from the start next time.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Our coverage—and by extension our ability to get so much done on such a tiny budget. I imagine that, among this group at least, this is not an unfamiliar source of pride (pun!).
And our efforts to get it all into local classrooms. Here, we’ve started working with teachers in local schools, offering up access to Monitor coverage and, well…me as a supplement to existing curriculum. As a mission-based organization, we exist to get more folks involved. We believe that getting started with good habits should lead to more civic involvement down the line.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
No surprise here: Our budget. Every piece of additional coverage seems so close…
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
More feature-length stories. More media-rich packages. More data — and on that note, an entire (free) portion of the site we’ll call the Basics that will attempt to lower the bar for participation by providing clearer versions of already-existing city data. Two examples: A searchable database of boards and commissions appointment, and a geographically-centered (and thus much more interactive) reimagining of the City of Austin’s development database.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
To keep up with my colleagues. To learn. To hype. To be excited about the world of local journalism—and the future of what it is that we all do.
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