Supporting the new news ecosystem

Friend Mark Potts is announcing a new company today, called GrowthSpur, which will help support what I believe will be the future ecosystem of local news. You can read about it at Jon Fine’s column in BusinessWeek and on Mark’s blog. I’ve been helping since its early phases.

Mark, who also founded and learned a lot of hyperlocal lessons at Backfence.com, saw a need and an opportunity in providing news to metro areas as newspapers there fade. Like others, he and I – being editors – thought of organizing shock troops of journalists to go into such silent markets. But then we realized that there already is journalism happening there with bloggers and former journalists starting sites to serve local communities. So it seemed the real need and opportunity was to provide business support for them: helping them survive and succeed online.

And so that’s what GrowthSpur will do: optimize the business of local sites and blogs – hyperlocal blogs, local interest blogs, new news organizations. It will help them create and sell better advertising and services for local marketers. It will help create metro-wide and local networks. It will enable new revenue models (think: e-commerce). In short: Its aim is to improve the business of local news. Potts has assembled a team to do that.

At the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, we’re seeing that hyperlocal blogs can already be good businesses and through the efforts of enterprises like GrowthSpur, we think they can be even better, which we believe will encourage more of them to start (more on that soon). At the Project, we’ve worked with Potts et al; they’ve helped us with thinking through models and we’ve helped them – and other enterprises – with research and analysis, all of which we’ll be sharing on the project’s site.

I’m excited to see entrepreneurship come to local news – not just mourning over the fate of legacy businesses and institutions but investment in the future of journalism. At the NewBizNews Project, we’ve surveyed scores of local bloggers and sites that are making new, sustainable businesses. We will be advising them on how to improve those businesses and we hope that might inspire more journalists and bloggers to join in. We’ve gotten advice from new companies like Merrill Brown’s Prism, which has a plan for metro news and will build it. We’re collecting new revenue models. We’ll soon share much more about our research and models. The bottom line: There is a bottom line for news.

: And here’s John Thornton, founder of the Texas Tribune, talking about his investment in local news from the not-for-profit perspective.

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  • http://www.thebullspen.com Jim Johnson

    Jeff – You shouldn’t just focus on hyperlocal – but also hyperspecific. There are things, people, and events that transcend geography but draw an audience as well.

    A blog or site about University of South Florida athletics may not attract the audience of the New York Times or Washington Post, but it has an audience of rabid, loyal followers with known interests and predictable demographics — the kinds of things the right marketers can find and take advantage of…

    Another great example would be a movie or tv ‘critic’… good ones can draw larger audiences (see Ebert, Siskel, etc). But even for those who don’t do TV, if they are good at what they do, they will find readers. [Remember, news finds you!]

    It can be true for anything that interests some group of people… not just local news, but news about things, people, and events that draw interest across metropolitan areas, states, regions, or nations.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Jim
      Completely agree. Hyperlocal for me has become a synonym for that. In our NewBizNews plans, we are also including interest blogs (but still local).

    • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

      Excellent examples of “Hyperspecific” and profitable news properties would be Politico, TechCrunch, Engadget, etc… Some would call them nichepapers…

      These folk focus on one single subject or community of interest and then do their best to excel in covering it. By becoming the “best” in their domains, they create the “scarcity” of quality that allows them to gain pricing power (usually over advertisers) and thus drive profits.

      There are a vast quantity of potentially profitable niches or communities of interest that remain to be “claimed” by focused journalists and there is a tremendous opportunity that remains for someone to find the best way to weave the output of all these niche producers into a coherent, personalized, and pleasing news experience.

      bob wyman

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        Amen, Bob.

      • steve

        could even drop the word “hyper”.

        local can serve an entire metro area, but have you looked at a local tv station property lately?

        the lamest (most commonly used) excuse for having national and international content on a local tv property is “well, if we don’t give it to them they’ll go elsewhere for it”.

        LET ‘EM!

        we happened into a rather fancy restaurant for my tastes last evening. after looking over web properties most of the day, when the staff handed me the menu, it seemed strange not to see every damn thing the fine establishment offered wasn’t plastered right there on the cover… from appetizers to dessert. you know, like your local tv station’s online effort.

        and they wonder why the bounce rate is through the roof?

  • http://injersey.com Ted

    Personally, I think the key to selling hyperlocal blogs and websites isn’t another ad network, but figuring out a way to develop a simple, easy-to-implement, self-serve ad platform on all these sites. Sort of like a localized version of AdSense, with the sites setting their rates, ad sizes, etc.

    The NY Times has already done this on their “The Local” blogs by partnering with AdReady, and Patch.com built their own self-serve platform. The reason it’s important is that, for the most part, sales reps don’t have the time or inclination to go after lots of $200 sales in the small markets. We need to give those advertisers a simple way to get their message out on the hyperlocal sites, with minimal overhead.

    We just launched a new series of hyperlocal sites tied to the Gannett New Jersey newspapers called Injersey.com. We’re trying to set this very sort of platform up right now because, quite simply, it’s going to be next to impossible to get the shrunken sales force excited about selling hyperlocal.

    It would be great if this sort of DIY ad platform is part of GrowthSpur’s gameplan. Self-serve is the way to go.

    • http://www.sunvalleyonline.com Dave Chase

      Ted – It actually is much more than an ad network. The way I look at it is the ad network is one of many ways to make local sites economically sustainable.

      Word of caution on self-serve advertising. Like most things in technology, it is overestimated in the short-term and underestimated in the long term. I have personally called on boatloads of local small businesses on behalf of http://www.sunvalleyonline.com. The vast majority aren’t ready for self-serve ads. Separately, my consulting firm (www.altusalliance.com) has consulted to a self-serve ad technology company. Why? Because self-serve isn’t driving meaningful revenue despite many smart, hard working people trying. In the medium term, I’m bullish on what I call the “publisher assist” model. Those self-serve ad tools are great at making a small ad buy be easier to do but a human still needs to help them get started. You can be assured that we believe in making the local ad buying process more efficient.

      We are also focused on a concept Jeff has discussed here called “citizen ad sales” to address the economics issue you rightfully point out on the small deals. It’s a topic for a longer post some time but many of us believe the transformation of local media will be at least as big in the sales side of the house as the editorial. We have some exciting things planned there as well.

  • Marine

    At first, it sounded like the glam.com of local news – and why not ? The website looks more like a consulting biz. Maybe you still nee a large audience brand and a kind of visual link to the network ?? We’ll watch anyway, good luck !

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  • Bob P.

    This seems a step in the right direction. There need to be more of these third-party, even “free-lance” ad sales people so that there are better alternatives to GoogleAds. This seems good.

    But a couple of quibbles: Mark Potts writes, “We believe, based on our research and experience, that a well-run, sophisticated local site can bring in more than $100,000 a year in revenue from advertising, e-commerce and other sources.” Well, that’s pretty good for a one-person operation, a local mommy blog or a blogger who hangs around City Hall all the time. Even a two-person show. But do those qualify as “sophisticated”? If you’re trying to have a little staff to cover news a little more broadly with some depth and intensity, how far is 100,000 bucks gonna get you?

    Secondly, the BusinessWeek column also says GrowthSpur takes an “undisclosed” cut of the ad sale. Why undisclosed? What’s the commission? Why so secretive?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Bob,
      That number is for a hyperlocal site covering a town. In our work in NewBizNews, we also project a larger newsorganization(s) with different coverage and functions. We’ll share all that in mid-August.
      I won’t speak for Mark but I think the answer to your second question is just that startups’ business plans are always in flux.

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  • http://www.ranchocordovapost.com Geoff

    $100,000 buys an Editor, Assistant Editor, Staff Photographer and a Marketing Director. Throw in a couple dozen freelancers and contributing writers and you’ve got one heck of a news and sales organization. With that kind of operation we can produce 25 stories per day which is a lot of coverage for a 70,000 population city. The model works if you have the right systems and process in place to support it. Think open, distributed, collaborative networks of local news sites do this type of thing in 5,000 cities around the country. It’s powerful.

  • http://www.dailypatricia.com patricia

    It doesn’t solve the real problem facing media companies: HOW to marry an audience to their sites the way that they did with their former print product.

    All the technology in the world, SEO, linking, aggregating, etc. will not fulfill the dire need for companies in the industry to do this.

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  • http://www.lidadestek.com/ lida

    $100,000 buys an Editor, Assistant Editor, Staff Photographer and a Marketing Director. Throw in a couple dozen freelancers and contributing writers and you’ve got one heck of a news and sales organization. With that kind of operation we can produce 25 stories per day which is a lot of coverage for a 70,000 population city. The model works if you have the right systems and process in place to support it. Think open, distributed, collaborative networks of local news sites do this type of thing in 5,000 cities around the country. It’s powerful.