John Temple: Honolulu Civil Beat isn't like INDenver Times

After the Rocky Mountain News shut down in February 2009, Rich Boehne, CEO of the tabloid's owner, E.W. Scripps, promised Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple a job.

But Temple turned it down to pursue other opportunities -- the largest of which turned out to be Honolulu Civil Beat, an online news operation that's getting plenty of publicity (check out this NPR profile) in advance of its planned May 4 launch.

Paid subscribers will be asked to support the operation -- a concept that, on its face, sounds quite similar to the approach floated by INDenver Times, an ambitious project assembled in the wake of the Rocky closure featuring around thirty former RMN staffers. The site subsequently shelved ambitious expansion plans when it fell short of its 50,000 subscriber goal by about 47,000.

But Temple thinks any comparisons between Civil Beat and INDenver Times are absurd.

"I don't understand how you could think the concept is similar to INDenver Times," he writes via e-mail. "Have you read Pierre's piece and my piece about what we're doing?"

Pierre is Pierre Omidyar, the founder and chairman of eBay, who's bankrolling Civil Beat. That's one major difference between the Hawaii project and INDenver Times, whose investors, including Kevin Preblud, had a much more modest cash pool from which to draw -- hence their decision not to go forward with the INDenver Times launch when they fell well short of their subscriber target.

Other major distinctions include Civil Beat's focus on what Temple describes as "five fundamental beats: Hawaii, Honolulu, Education, Land and Money;" INDenver Times aspired to cover news, sports, the arts and more. Those beats will be affiliated with "topic pages" allowing users easy access to all the project's reporting in these areas. Moreover, Civil Beat will make its collective feelings known on the subjects in question. Temple writes, "When we've come to our own conclusion about an issue, our editorial board will let you know what we think. We think it's important to take a stand and propose concrete steps, even if you won't always agree with us."

From a business plan standpoint, however, there's more common ground. Like INDenver Times, Civil Beat plans to lure subscribers with greater access to reporters and the news-gathering process, including hosted chats and the like. However, the price will be higher. INDenver Times asked for $60 per year, while Civil Beat is offering an introductory price of $4.99 for the first month, with the cost rising to $19.99 per month after that.

One other similarity: Had INDenver Times met its 50,000 subscriber goal, the more robust version would have debuted on... May 4.

Yesterday, I sent Temple a handful of questions related to these topics. I asked him to describe the differences he saw between Civil Beat and INDenver Times and the reasons the concept of paid subscribers supporting an online news service might work better in Honolulu than it did in Denver. I also wondered if having greater financial support would give Civil Beat more time to find its legs.

Regarding the cost, I pointed out that $19.99 per month is more than many people pay for the home delivery of a physical newspaper. I then asked what factors went into establishing this price and how many subscribers would be needed to fund the operation. I concluded by encouraging him to address any other subjects that I might have neglected to cite.

In reply, Temple noted that he was swamped, offering only quick responses that didn't address several of these questions, including the ones about the subscription price and subscriber goals. In addition to the quote above, he wrote, "We're in Hawaii because this is where Pierre lives. It's his home and he's committed to the community. Has nothing to do with whether it would work better in Denver or Honolulu."

Temple added, "I feel very lucky to work with such a talented group of people with different backgrounds. I'm learning a great deal."

No doubt his education is only beginning.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts