Tag Archives: hyperlocal

GoLocal 24: Positioning Hyperlocal at the Top of The News Cycle

The decline of newspaper readership opens a door for other media to head the news cycle, with everything else trickling down to the TV and radio stations and Web sites that feed off the original content.

That’s the premise for GoLocal24, a local news and lifestyle content company that started with a website and broadcast partnerships in Providence, R.I., and will add a Worchester, MA site in February. The site has seed funding from Angel Street Capital and 10 people on staff — including a well known local news personality.

Founder Josh Fenton says he lived-and-breathed the news cycle as a Hill staffer in Washington, and later as the owner of an ad and PR agency. The decline of newspaper readership has convinced him that there “is a likelihood that the newspaper that drives the news cycle will cease to exist. Already, newspapers have “no relevance” to most consumers under 45 years old, he says.

Launched last year, GoProv is likely partially responsible for a decline of Belo’s Providence Journal website, which Fenton says is down 30-40 percent since last summer. Local readers “have had a choice for the last 12 months. We’ve broken more news stories” – quite a claim for such a small site, given the large newsroom that The Providence Journal has.

Multi-channel targeting is the key, notes Fenton. Right now, GoProv is acting as the news source for Channnel 10 NBC and four Clear Channel radio stations. “We go on drive time with the big story of the day, and also to their websites, where we are the local news widget,” he says. Some of the stories, in fact, break on the broadcast stations, then push back to the Website. In addition to breaking news, GoProv is producing a five minute clip of daily news, using two anchors.

Video, in fact, is seen as a great asset as the site preps its Worcester, MA site. Living in the shadow of Boston, there is no network TV station affiliate in Worcester, although it is a city of one million people. “You never have Worcester or Worcester county news on the Boston stations, unless something really horrific happens,” says Fenton.

Social media also plays a major role in building the company. Roughly 20 percent of its traffic derives from Facebook, where it has 85,000 social relationships between fan pages, writers, friends and other social assets, notes Fenton. That number may be ramped up more as additional media outlets come on board. The company is currently in discussions with a sports radio group.

Leveraging a social competency is also a vital component for the company’s advertising relationships. More than 30 advertisers buy a broad package that can include display ads, rich media, email promotions, inclusion in deals and social blasts. The site, in fact, has been cash flow positive since it was seven months old.

Review: ‘The Story So Far — What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism’

Whenever one writes about the future of newspapers and other news organizations, a voice in the back of your head says: “they’ve tried that already and it didn’t work.” Fifteen years into the digital revolution, that’s the dilemma confronting the news industry as it once again revisits possible solutions. Thankfully, no one is giving up.

Paywalls. Video. Search. Hyperlocal. Mobile. All these things are extensively discussed in “The Story So Far: What We Know About The Business of Digital Journalism,” a new Columbia Journalism School report from Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves. The news-centric report doesn’t deal very much with our favorite subject — the transformation of the local marketplace, and the newspapers’ potential role in it. But there is plenty on the plate here.

While there are no ready answers – if we knew the answers, we would have provided them a long time ago — there are strong overviews on each subject. The real focus here is reconnecting to the real “fans” and “regulars” that may engage with a news product 50x more than the “occasionals” and “fly-bys” that make up the bulk of unique visitors. “When people talk about the size of an audience, that’s a sham,” the report quotes Scout Analytics’ Matt Shanahan.

One goal stressed in the report is building a direct relationship with fans to help push contextual advertising. “By producing relevant journalism, deploying data intelligently and relying on social media – not just search engines – to drive traffic, (publishers) can gather a more devoted and involved readership, one that advertisers will also prefer,” notes the authors.

Examiner.com, for instance, does very well when it encourages writes to match their output to social media, search…and advertising. Pet writers did very well last year matching coverage of dog adoption and pet shelters, pushing CPMs from $3-5 to $11 for P&G’s Iam’s Pet Food, a key Examiner sponsor.

In theory, other passion subjects do well too. High school sports especially stands out. The Dallas Morning News’ High School Game Time registers 14 pages a month compared to entertainment (2.5 pages), news (2.78 pages), weather (4.83 pages), and sports (7.71 pages). It also grosses $700K a year of new ad dollars, in partnership with local cable coverage. This year, it is also launching a $1.99 iPhone app., which represents new circulation revenue, along with heavy user paywalls, such as the one recently enacted by The New York Times.

That’s important. Like others, I’ve actually come to conclusion that the news organizations that have the market power to erect such pay walls are the ones that ultimately survive. For The Times, which has boosted per copy costs to $2 a day, circulation dollars have inched up to $683.4 million a year; just behind display advertising, which has fallen from $1.27 billion to $780.4 million. Next year, it doesn’t seem out of the question that circulation will surpass display.

Hyperlocal in 2011: A Break in the Clouds?

I take great delight in the Carlsbad Patch updates on my smartphone every morning. And the Fwix local App on my iPad. But why do I feel they are my “guilty pleasures?” Because there is a rap out there that hyperlocal doesn’t scale and these are toys.

Is it still the case?

Patch now has a local presence in 600 communities, with editorial and sales “pods” of 12 each Some of being run by longtime newspaper industry leaders (such as former SignOn San Diego leader Chris Jennewein and ex NAA New Media Federation staffer Beth Lawton).

Last Sunday, LA Times media columnist James Rainey wrote that Patch is revitalizing local journalism and asserted that may have become THE place for journalists to go (aside from wages of $35k-$50k, or half the salary that big city journalists might have gotten from the big metro, if they were hiring).

That’s fine by Patch President Warren Webster. At ILM:10, Webster didn’t dispute my characterization of Patch as an experiment that wants to quickly get a national footprint to attract national, regional and local advertisers; create a business directory that goes beyond the Yellow Pages; and scale editorial and sales resources.

On a macro-level, local ad revenues typically split 50/50 between targeted national and local. For Webster (and cohorts Jon Brod of AOL Ventures, and AOL Chief Tim Armstrong), the bet is that Patch is poised to do both. They’ve publicly said they were spending $50 million to ramp it up in 2010.

Sites such as Main Street Connect and Hello Metro are going down much the same path – although they likely aren’t as focused on winning national dollars as yet. Main Street Connect in the NY Metro area has raised $4 million for its effort, and recently signed up Carl Lavin from The Philadelphia Inquirer (and more recently, Forbes) to run its own editorial pods. Many single city efforts have also launched, such as Allbritton’s TBD.com in the Washington Metro area.

Sales aren’t guaranteed for any of these. It remains tough to get through to SMBs – note the partial retreat of The New York Times, which offloaded The Local, its hyperlocal effort.

But for the sites that green-light hyperlocal, the hypothesis is they’ll get to local advertisers with local sales forces, and advertisers will follow an audience – especially the affluent, suburban audience targeted in many of these sites. Which brings us to the biggest question for 2011. It isn’t about sales quotas. That’s premature. It’s the audience question.

The audience question is a big “if.” Some of the sites hope to differentiate themselves with audiences via higher quality, more targeted local content or better mapping. But they face super-fragmentation, with at least five or six sources of “good enough” local info, as well as possibly declining user interest in local news in an age of urban sprawl. It is an issue made even more complex by aggregators, where they all feature each other’s content.

Sites that are focused more on geographic aggregation for media partners, such as Topix, Outside.in. Fwix, Datasphere and Everyblock. Local event and news site such as AmericanTowns.com, Center’d and DiscoverOurTown are also part of the mix.

Some of the aggregators are also supported by unique user generated content and pro/amateur content farms, such as Examiner.com, Associated Content, Demand Media, Helium, Merchant Circle studios and others.

Examiner.com, by itself, may actually have many times the traffic of a Patch, as CEO Rick Blair notes. Yahoo’s $100 million acquisition of Associated Content this year may have similar implications. So as we end 2010, and think about 2011, do we think that hyperlocal is going to begin to cut it? One assumes there will inevitably be a shakeout and shut-downs in the coming year. And there will also be smarter ways to economize via user generated content and aggregation. The all purpose use of the “hyperlocal” term will also fall by the wayside.

But if more of us find our guilty pleasures from checking out the hyperlocal news on our smart phones and our iPads, and sneaking peeks on our PCs during the day – there is simply no reason to think it will generally fail.

MerchantCircle Launches Local Content Studio

MerchantCircle is joining the ranks of companies creating local and vertical content, including Demand Media, Associated Content, Examiner.com, AOL’s Seed and Patch, Perfect Market, Helium, Brafton Media and others. MC’s new Local Content Studio is being helmed by Andy Halliday, who many of us remember as former head of eCommerce at Excite@Home, who has since been engaged in several entrepreneurial efforts.

The basic idea for MC’s Local Content Studios, and the others, is to create optimized content that can be used to economically and efficiently spur local traffic to its directories and profiles, while driving ad impressions. Presumably, MC will have an edge over rivals via 1.3 million SMBs that have claimed profiles on the service, covering 95 percent of U.S. communities.

The SMBs may be seeking to build attention for themselves (i.e. real estate agents), and/or earn awards or make a little cash –$1 or $2 per article. The cash can eventually add up: some SMBs, in early testing, are already being sent checks for $300 and up.

The Studio is, in fact, may be seen as an extension of MC’s Answers division, launched last September, in which members are encouraged to provide their expertise on a wide range of subjects (where to fix, how to fix, etc.). Both efforts are part of a broader effort to broaden Merchant Circle’s identity and engagement with consumers and businesses beyond the core directory.

At the heart of The Studios is an online authoring and publishing system which can support thousands of simultaneous content development projects. The projects can be claimed by local merchant members or other writers remotely, submitted, reviewed for approval or corrections, and published to local and topical “Expert Pages.”

Merchant Circle VP Darren Waddell says that the creation of the Studio does not alter Merchant Circle’s extensive and successful relationship with Demand Media, which includes syndication of MC’s Answers, domain registration for MC members, and expert articles and other content to MC profiles for $9.95 per month, among other activities.

MerchantCircle’s efforts to launch more local content is not occurring in a vacuum. We have watched with interest as Yahoo has been developing local news and information via the hiring of writers in New York and San Francisco, and recruitment of writer/editors in San Jose, Chicago and Denver, per reporting in Paid Content. Their written and edited material will likely be paired with material from Associated Content, which Yahoo purchased this spring. It represents a very different take than Patch.com, which is hiring journalists for hyperlocal reporting in up to 500 communities.

Allbritton’s TBD.com (and TBD TV) Launch in DC

The latest attempt to make hyperlocal a sustainable reality came today with Allbritton Communications’ launch of TBD.com, a hyper metro site for the Washington DC area. Allbritton, which has sunk “under $5 million” into the project to date, hopes it will grab hold of the DC audience in the same way that its Politico has done with political types – simultaneously via the Web and TV, where it takes over the slot formerly held by Allbritton’s former News Channel 8.

I’ll say right off the bat that I like it a lot. Although I had the opportunity to visit the newsroom with other members of the BIA/Kelsey team about six weeks ago, I got my first glance at the site today. My takeaway? It’s fun, useful and totally up to date with social and mobile media.

Most importantly, it seems like something I’d probably read (and watch) everyday if I still lived in DC. It just seems natural and un-self conscious – completely opposite DC’s staid (and untrue) image as a stuffed shirt of a city; and other hyper metro sites that I won’t name here, but make NPR seem wild and crazy.

The site integrates, a little, with Allbritton’s WJLA TV, and it is co-located with the WJLA newsroom. You’ll see the WJLA programming schedule and its landmark weather reporters Doug Hill and Bob Ryan headline the weather page, for instance.

But it has a totally separate identity, helped by a dozen writers lead by former Washington City Paper Editor Erik Wemple. As Wemple notes in a public letter: “One of them writes nothing but lists. One is all over pedestrian life. One holds politicians throughout the region accountable. Three carry a year-round obsession with the Redskins. Three are covering some of the fastest-developing communities in the region. Three are the final authority on all things arts and entertainment.”

The entire site will eventually ramp up soon to about 50, including the TBD News team carried over from News Channel 8, and six community reach-out staffers.The site also seamlessly integrates with 129 DC area bloggers and picks up news from all the DC sites, including The Washington Post and also from WJLA competitors such as WTOP-AM. And much of its substantial neighborhood news comes via a news filter that sorts by zip code.

It has also taken some unique approaches that only time will tell will pan out, such as TBD TV, the “companion” channel that takes over from News Channel 8, the 24/7 news channel that had been featured on cable and dish services throughout the metro area. It features programs that sometimes borrow WJLA personalities (i.e. The Arch Campbell Show,) but also has begun to produce some of its own unique offerings (i.e. Capital Golf Weekly).

The site was initially slated to launch at the end of August. It is obviously up early – the testing URL leaked and they decided to roll with it. Consequently, the mobile apps (i.e. “All over the iPhone, All over the Android and All Over the Mobile Web) aren’t ready yet, although they’re being promoted; and there is a lot of content that you’d expect to see that isn’t there (i.e. high school sports) and exurban content. It is possible that they’re leaving the tough (and expensive stuff ) for the thinning Post to cover

But we know there are plans to do other things that will be totally innovative if they pull them off, such as having local bloggers for the site featured on the local news when there is a hot breaking story (i.e. the fighting among 70 teens at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station the other night).

The advertising strategies also aren’t fully unveiled, and the site will obviously focus on building up an audience first. Currently, you’ll just see some run of site ads such as Belfort Furniture and contextual tile ads, such as The Washington Ballet under arts, and McCrea Heating and Air Condition under weather.

Will this site ultimately be self sustaining? That’s the big question. It is expected to lose up to two million dollars a year as it gets going. But if the site maintains its promising start, the local dollars should theoretically follow. Another question is whether the TV companion will take off.

In the course of writing this post, I was chatting about the site’s debut with hyperlocal pioneer Rob Curley, who ran The Post’s ambitious hyperlocal strategy two years ago before moving on to Greenspun Communications’ Las Vegas Sun. Curley was very enthusiastic about the site’s design. The amazing thing is that they probably showed that sites are more likely to win with a TV station as a partner than a newspaper, he said. That’s food for thought.

Omidyar’s ‘Civil Beat’ Tests Multi Pay Tiers

If people would only pay for their local content, nobody would be worried about the future of local news. But so far, most have proved less-than-willing. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, however, is testing out new models at his Honolulu “Civil Beat” site, per NYU’s Jay Rosen, who chatted with TBD.com’s blog.

Full access to the site is $1.49 a day, or $19.95 a month, which might seem pricey for its current editorial output, which averages between four to six articles per day. As with WSJ.com, free days are occasionally offered as promotions (i.e. today).

Much more interesting is a 99 cent monthly fee to be a “discussion member,” with access to article summaries and the consequent discussions; and the ability to comment. Rosen told TBD.com that “solves” the issue of getting bona fide comments.

People who engage in the discussions may not know exactly what they are talking about, since they won’t see the full article. But most will probably get the gist of it.

Main Street Connect Raises $4 Million

Main Street Connect, a new hyperlocal network founded by former community newspaper executive Carll Tucker, former SmartReply exec John Falcone and others in the New York suburbs, notified the SEC on May 26 that it has raised $3.97 million for “working capital” from ten angel investors. The same form notes that the company will attempt to sell up to $10 million of equities. Paid Content reported on the SEC disclosure earlier today.

The high amount, and assumption of geographic concentration, would put the company in contention to compete against other ambitious hyperlocal efforts, such as AOL’s Patch.com, which is set to spend up to $50 million in 2010.

A twist to Main Street Connect’s model is its focus on annual visibility programs that raise awareness for local businesses in several ways, including banners, social media, etc. Part of its strategy is to sell local partnerships, or franchises. Its website notes that “Main Street Connect provides local partners all the tools, working capital, and guidance they require to build profitable high-quality community news sites.”

We previously reported that Main Street Connect has a core base of 25 full time — albeit virtual — staffers, including 11 editorial, six sales, four engineers and four administrators.

In other hyperlocal news, The U.S. Local News Network, which raised $3.18 million, is operating with reduced staff, and in need of new investment. USLNN had previously shut most of the operations of its its Orange County Local News edition, which had been partnered with The Los Angeles Times.

The question in all this is whether conditions are now ripe for hyperlocal to work, or whether its scale and audience will always be too fragmented.

Besides Main Street Connect, Patch and USLNN, other competitors include Yahoo, which is hiring local news editors in a number of markets and just acquired Associated Content, an SEO-based content creator; other content creators, such as Demand Media and Examiner.com; local news aggregators such as Topix and Fwix; event aggregators and city guides such as Center’d, American Towns, Eventful and Zvents; and CMS-based systems such as Matchbin.