Last spring, a small group of journalists backed by former Tulsa World publisher Robert Lorton III set up shop in the Tulsa area to create a new form of journalism that seeks to eliminate the bias found in nearly every news source.
This online, for-profit corporation is called the Frontier, and they plan on succeeding in their goal by eliminating the traditional use of advertisements.
Editor-in-Chief Ziva Branstetter stated that, “because [the Frontier] take[s] no advertising, [they] are completely independent from pressure that some advertisers have traditionally placed on news organizations to downplay or avoid certain stories.”
In order to eliminate the need for advertisements, The Frontier charges a monthly fee to their subscribers in order to fund their operation.
“We have a paywall for most content except for blogs and the death penalty stories that we are reporting as part of our partnership with The Marshall Project.” Branstetter explained. “The monthly cost is fairly high—$30—compared to what other sites are charging. We are not writing for a large, general audience so we do not need 10,000 subscribers to cover our expenses.”
The Frontier focuses on enlightening their subscribers with the highest quality stories they can provide.
“Our readers are generally news junkies who want stories that are more in-depth than others in this market are offering or stories that other media are reluctant to tackle,” says Branstetter. “We publish several stories each week that may be 2,000 words or more, complete with links and embedded documents as well as multimedia, and a variety of shorter stories and blogs.”
Along with the subscriber system, the Frontier does accept sponsorships, however, this system is still evolving. As Editor-in-Chief, Branstetter makes it a priority to avoid letting sponsorships affect the stories that the Frontier publishes.
“I have made it a point not to ask our publisher who the corporations and individuals are who have chosen to support us. I don’t want the knowledge of who our sponsors are to have any influence, however subtle, on choices I make as an editor.” Branstetter said. “I understand and agree with the need to prevent sponsors from having any influence whatsoever over editorial choices and am committed to ensuring that separation is maintained.”
Branstetter was one of the journalists who contributed to the Frontier’s creation. She and reporting partner Cary Aspinwall left the Tulsa World the same day that they were named finalists for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
“We intended to give notice after the Pulitzers were announced, since we had entered, though I didn’t think we’d win or be a finalist.” Branstetter stated. “When our employers found out about our venture, they understandably didn’t want us hanging around the newsroom for two weeks—which isn’t exactly good for morale—so we left that day.”
The Frontier believes that in this rapidly changing media landscape, a new approach to journalism is necessary.
“We offer a form of investigative reporting that is increasingly hard to find and aren’t trying to create click-bait for our web site,” Branstetter said. “It has been liberating not worrying about whether my stories are “viral” enough and also being able to start from a blank slate and create something from the ground up. I’m proud of what we are doing whether it is ultimately a financial success or not.”
The Frontier has a two-year plan to expand its local subscriber base, with the hopes of adding more employees during that time. They also plan on expanding their coverage statewide, with an emphasis on the Oklahoma City area.