I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I read today that El Paso’s online Newspaper Tree is taking a hiatus. I’ve always enjoyed checking out NPT’s coverage of the news in El Paso – their original analysis, their coverage of public corruption and their willingess to allow different perspectives on the page. If you want to know what’s really going on in El Paso you go to NPT and read the articles, then you read the comments. Sure, there are a few loony, crank commenters like always, but overall readers are much more thoughtful and engaged and often they contribute to understanding the story better.
The NPT became even better last year when it hired veteran investigative reporter David Crowder who had worked for three decades at the El Paso Times. Both Negron and Crowder were calling public officials to account on a weekly basis and illustrating to readers why public policy matters.
The economy took a beating on the news journal’s owner El Paso Media Group. As a result the media group’s publisher is not funding the NPT anymore. I called up Sito Negron, the editor of NPT, to find out what’s in store for the online newspaper. Negron has a very positive attitude. “What we’ve been doing has been very well received in the community and since we made the announcement we were going on hiatus, we’ve been contacted with some interesting options to keep NPT going.”
Negron said that NPT has never made money, despite their attempts to do so. El Paso doesn’t have a large Internet advertising market. To make money off of advertising NPT would have to get millions of hits everyday on its Web site. NPT has a healthy circulation but it’s by no means in the millions.
The most viable option will be to become a nonprofit, he said. This seems to be the tactic being taken by many newspapers and magazines these days. There’s plenty of stories and plenty of reporters to write them — now if we could just find a way to make a living doing it. That’s what every media organization is struggling to figure out at the moment.
Negron, 42, has been in the journalism business for at least two decades “and just about done it all,” he said. Instead of taking the gloomy path — he has two kids to feed and no salary coming in afterall — he sees great things ahead for journaiism, which I think is admirable.
“Journalism is super healthy,” he said. “We used to bitch about the corporate media and then there was an explosion of alternative weeklies and there’s magazines like the Texas Observer and Mother Jones,” he said. “There are multiple threads of journalism now.”
Multiple threads — unfortunately none of them are made out of gold. I, for one, am hoping that NPT survives and thrives in the coming years.