Hyperniche offers new model for journalism

You could describe it as hyperniche. A news start-up providing in-depth reporting on disability issues, Disability News is already proving itself a viable model for quality journalism.

John Pring launched the subscription-funded news service for campaigning organisations in April 2009. A former staffer at Disability Now with ten years’ experience covering disability issues, he was frustrated by the lack of good reporting on the subject.

‘I saw there was a real lack of in-depth reporting on disability. There are many issues that affect disabled people that weren’t being reported on or covered in depth,’ he says, adding that mainstream media typically focus on lifestyle, comment, recycling news from press releases.

By contrast, Pring researches news stories from scratch, emailing them to subscribers every Friday. The campaigning organisations then use them on their websites and in magazines and newsletters, also circulating them internally to help staff keep up-to-date with developments affecting the sector. Pring waits three months before posting the stories on his own website, which serves as an archive-cum-showcase.

‘I focus on the reaction of disabled campaigners themselves to the stories that affect disabled people’s lives, and there’s no-one else out there doing that,’ he says. ‘My service is working because it’s high-quality journalism, serves a niche market and is dependable.’

The service gained a few subscribers almost immediately, but Pring admits that – despite having good contacts in the sector – he has found building the business tough going. ‘Nearly every subscriber took ten or twenty emails and phone calls – it took a lot of persistence,’ he says.

He now has what he describes as twenty ‘really good subscribers’, mostly smaller disability organisations run by disabled people themselves.

Eighteen months on, the business generates an income sufficient to provide a modest living. But Pring admits he needs to up his revenues if he is to survive in the longer-term, adding that the cuts in the not-for-profit sector have had a knock-on effect on his business: ‘I’m pretty sure if I’d started this in the financial climate of four years ago, I’d be doing pretty well’.

But with the numbers of subscribers growing each month, he’s sure there’s a niche for his branch of quality journalism, and sees scope for replicating his model in other areas of the equality sector.

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