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VOL. 129 | NO. 73 | Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Media Explosion

Flurry of digital media outlets launching in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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One of the defining features of a traditional newspaper is the content bundle, a broad selection of topics and stories meant to appeal to the widest group of readers possible.

Tiffany Warmbrod, left, with dog Maddox and Katey McCabe with Maude and Heffalump at Overton Bark dog park. The two are part of Bluff City Bark, one of several new local publications. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Increasingly, though, upstart digital media outlets are launching in Memphis that take the opposite approach. They’re focusing their brands on content that doesn’t seek to be all things to all people, going after specific niches that the founders of these outlets feel get short shrift from legacy media.

Those outlets include ventures like High Ground News, theGRIND, the education news outlet Chalkbeat, which just launched a Memphis bureau, and the Memphis-based digital magazine for pet news, Bluff City Bark.

The last launched its first issue a few days ago, featuring Buckley’s owner Jeff Fioranelli on the cover with his two dogs, and was the subject of a launch party April 12 at Newby’s. Attendees at the party proudly displayed signs that read, “We have been Bluff City Barked.”

“I think digital publications like (Bluff City Bark), High Ground News and theGRIND are not just the wave of the future anymore – they’re here,” said Tiffany Warmbrod, a writer for the new pet magazine. “So many technological advances over the past 20 years have changed how we receive and send news today. We are a generation of instant gratification, and why wait when we can find whatever we want with just a few keystrokes? It’s great to see so many Memphians becoming active members of our community.”

Carrie Brown-Smith, an assistant professor in the department of journalism at the University of Memphis, said she’s excited by the entrepreneurial spirit powering such ventures.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s such a fragmented media landscape today, and outlets like these are trying to hit people who are passionate about a specific subject. You also see traditional news organizations developing new verticals. I think there’s plenty of space in Memphis for providers like these.”

Bluff City Bark had originally set out to charge $19.99 for six digital issues a year but scrapped that idea recently and decided to make the whole thing free, relying on other sources of revenue such as advertising. Similarly, other outlets like Bluff City Bark are in a comparable period of experimentation – figuring out what their readers want to see and, for some, what subscribers and advertisers are willing to pay for.

A team of students from Rhodes earlier this year launched theGRIND, which publishes features such as news stories, spotlights on Memphis-area businesses and people, event details and more, all under the rubric of presenting both issues and a side of Memphis and its people the founders think are too often overlooked.

Recent features published by theGRIND – the name of which includes a reference to the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” phrase associated with the Memphis Grizzlies – include a feature on living gluten-free in Memphis and a discussion of Memphis music with Signal Flow PR CEO Elizabeth Cawein.

High Ground News takes a similar approach. In a welcome note to the High Ground site posted March 12, managing editor Anna Mullins wrote that the outlet will do everything from covering corporate growth to small neighborhood movements. Its areas of focus will include “economic and neighborhood development, healthy communities, entrepreneurship, nonprofits, sustainability, leadership, technology and innovation.”

“I absolutely love that High Ground gives you the opportunity to search by a particular area of the city,” Warmbrod said. “I think so many times we are all guilty of missing amazing events, important news or forgetting about some of the hidden gems the city has to offer just because it’s outside of our proverbial bubble.”

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