MSU journalism grads launch website dedicated to Michigan Rivers
By Gretchen Millich, WKAR News
East Lansing, MI – It's no secret that the news business is going through some wrenching changes. Newspapers are shrinking and laying off reporters. For recent graduates, there are fewer and fewer job opportunities.
That was the dilemma facing two journalism graduates from Michigan State University. They came up with an idea that combined their desire to write stories with their love of the outdoors.
Andy McGlashen has always been outdoorsy. Growing up, he spent a lot of time fishing on rivers up north and now goes fly fishing whenever he can.
In 2009, McGlashen got his master's degree from MSU's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and started looking for a job.
"I didn't look too seriously at journalism jobs," says McGlashen. "I looked around a little bit, but I didn't want to go to Chicago or D.C. or New York, and it seemed like there were jobs to be had, but that's where they were. I had a life here. My wife has a good job in this area, and we wanted to stay put near family. So, I didn't want to do that."
McGlashen got a job in Lansing with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says it's a great job, but he still had the itch to do news stories.
Then one evening, McGlashen was driving home from a fishing trip with his friend Jeff Brooks Gillies. Gillies also graduated from the Knight Center. They came up with an idea for a website devoted to rivers in Michigan.
"We want to use our journalism chops somewhere, and we thought that rivers are kind of interesting," says McGlashen. "It's a pretty tight focus. There's only a certain percentage of the population that cares much about rivers. But we also thought that's kind of an appropriate scale for two guys who are working after hours after their day jobs."
McGlashen and Gillies have divided the website into three sections. In one, they post their own reports about rivers in Michigan. Right now, there's a story about restoration projects on the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers and another on a drop in PCB contamination in Walleye in the Saginaw River. There's also a more casually-written blog called "Upstream", and a third section where they gather stories from newspapers and websites around the state.
"Once we started pulling together these stories from elsewhere in the state, we found there's a lot of news to aggregate," says McGlashen. "There's quite a bit going on with Michigan rivers, but there was no one home for that news. That's one value of the site, if you're a canoer, a kayaker or an angler or just anybody who cares about rivers, then this is a one-stop shopping for that kind of news."
Dave Poulson is assistant director of the Knight Center. He likes the fact that McGlashen and Gillies have created a news service around a natural feature, Michigan Rivers. More traditional news is often defined by political boundaries, such as a city or a state.
"They've decided that the rivers in Michigan have a constituency, a group of people who are interested in news about them and those different rivers have a lot in common," says Poulson. "They can pull together that common interest and report about those things. In a sense they're creating a news community that really didn't exist before."
Poulson says his two former students have a huge challenge: how to make money from their website.
"Right now they're running off passion and interest and frustration," says Poulson. "They want to be journalists and they want to write about the environment, and that's the great problem out there right now is how do we monetize this stuff."
Right now, there are no ads on the website, but McGlashen admits that if they want to keep the news service going, eventually they'll want to get paid for their time and effort.
"It's an experiment at this point," he says. "We'll see if we make any money at it. It's fun now, but at some point we might want to get a paycheck to make it a little more fun."
As their readership grows, McGlashen hopes to sell ads to canoe liveries, bait and tackle shops, or resorts near rivers. But for now, he's keeping his day job.