Posts about hyperlocal

Big news in Hyperlocaland

Debbie Galant, co-founder of Baristanet and the Queen of Hyperlocal, is moving to a new gig at Montclair State University, where she will share her experience and help nurture and grow the local news ecosystem of New Jersey. In short, she will spread her hyperlocal fairy dust over the Garden State. Baristanet continues under the strong and loyal local leadership of Liz George, who has been there almost from the start. The queen has left the building. Long live the queens.

I am personally delighted that Debbie is helping to spearhead this effort. I’ve been helping MSU and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation on the project since the foundation’s head (and my neighbor), Chris Daggett, and a group of other funders called a meeting of public and private media people, bloggers, funders, and other concerned parties two years ago in Newark to address the crisis in the state’s media. At that meeting, it was Debbie who suggested the structure of a co-op to serve the independent members of the state’s media ecosystem. It is fitting that she will now be working to build it.

What exactly this venture will do will take shape after Debbie embarks on what she calls a listening tour, talking to the members of the media ecosystem to see what they need and listening to others to see what it would take to make it grow and improve. Opportunities could include training (in media, journalism, and business); sharing content; collaborative projects; and services (technology? insurance?). What else?

MSU is a wonderful home for this effort. The university is starting a School of Communication and Media. Under President Susan Cole, working with Matthew Frankel and Jack Shannon there, MSU has already invited in NJTV to base its operations at the school. WNYC’s New Jersey arm, NJ Public Radio, will work out of there, as will other media organizations. As all these newsies — and students and faculty — work under one roof, it’s hoped that collaboration will blossom and New Jersey will benefit.

I see New Jersey as a magnificent opportunity to rethink and rebuild local news. I like to think of it as a blank slate: a huge and underserved market that can finally get the media it deserves. The Dodge Foundation, MSU, and WNYC have raised some funds for their endeavors. There’s more to be raised and much to be done. This is just the beginning.

I remember Baristanet’s beginning as one model for what can be done to improve news locally. More than eight years ago, when I still ran NJ.com, I held a meetup in a New Jersey coffeehouse to try to get folks to blog about their towns on our service. Debbie Galant, who’d been writing about blogs before she wrote them, was there. She thought blogging about a town was a great idea. “But why would I do it for you, Jeff?” she said. She was, as usual, right. So she started her own, Baristanet.

That blog has been an amazing success, covering Montclair and Maplewood with a strong local voice (and having fun while they’re at it) while innovating ways to serve local advertisers and earning enough to support the endeavor. Success became Baristanet’s burden as many others jumped in to compete in its not-at-all-metaphorical backyard: Aol’s Patch, for a time The New York Times’ The Local, not to mention the long-established weekly paper. Meanwhile, too many towns in New Jersey are still starved for coverage. Feast/famine. Now, I hope, Debbie can help spread the wealth to other towns and help others (like my entrepreneurial graduate, founder of ElizabethInsideout).

Success became a burden in another sense as many came knocking at Baristanet’s door for advice. I was frequently among them, asking Debbie to come speak to students and join conferences and help with the research we have done at CUNY on new business models for local news. Debbie would sigh because she was plenty busy serving Baristanet. But she was also plenty generous, always bringing her knowledge and experience to help others. Now that will be her job. Perfect.

I know that hyperlocal is a challenging model. There are questions about whether it scales (that’s the suspense of Patch). We need to do much more work on how to best serve local advertisers in effective and profitable ways (that’s our next wave of research at CUNY; more on that later this week). There’s no one more realistic about the challenges and opportunities than Debbie. So I salute her on her new endeavor. God’s work.

(Disclosures are in order: I worked for the parent company of NJ.com for almost a dozen years and I’m back now helping with its development. In the past, I was listed as an adviser to Patch, but that has always been informal. And I have a vested interest in improving New Jersey media. I live there.)

The NJ News Co-op

Please take a look at — and rate and comment on! — a proposal I helped draft for the Knight News Challenge proposing a co-op to support the emerging local news ecosystem in otherwise-deprived New Jersey.

The idea is that the scattered, independent members of that ecosystem need help to (1) curate and share the best of what they do across all media and get them more attention; (2) organize them to create collaborative works of journalism; to train them in skills from journalism to new media to business; and (3) begin to fill in the blanks that the ecosystem and the market leave with beat reporting and investigations. It’s not meant to be a news organization so much as it helps organize and support other news organizations of all sizes, media, and models in the state. The goal is not to grow a large enterprise but to help grow a large ecosystem.

I believe we are seeing the new ecosystem emerge (see our business modeling at CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism here) but I also believe it needs help and support to grow and inspire more journalists and community members to join in. Thus the co-op.

The notion of a co-op was inspired by Deb Gallant, New Jersey’s own Queen of Hyperlocal at a meeting organized by my friend and neighbor, Chris Daggett, whom you last saw here when he ran as an independent for governor of New Jersey; now he heads the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Chris brought together other foundations plus journalists, public broadcasting folks, and state officials in an all-day meeting to look at what can be done to help New Jersey’s media future. There are other efforts coming out of these players; this is just one.

New Jersey’s media scene is a unique mess. It has never been served by the media outlets at either end of the state, in New York and Philadelphia. The daily newspapers are shrinking rapidly. The governor has been looking to sell the public broadcasting licenses here at NJN and, truth be told, they’ve never been robust.

But all that bad news is good news, for it means that New Jersey is a blank slate, a unique opportunity to build a new media sphere. We want to nurture that development. This endeavor is a not-for-profit cooperative. These enterprises also need commercial help with revenue (advertising and events); others are simultaneously working on that.

(Because entries lose paragraph-spacing, it’s a bit hard to read on the Knight site. So you can read it here but please, please do comment there. We’re eager for suggestions and questions and help in fleshing this out.)

The birth of TBD?

Jim Brady, daddy of metro/hyperlocal startup TBD.com, sent me pictures Tim Windsor sent him from our summit on new business models for news at CUNY two years ago. In the session on the new newsroom, Jim got up and started sketching the structure and size — little knowing, as he said in testimony before the FTC a while ago, that he’d end up building it at TBD.com. Jim at the whiteboard:

IMG_0104

The detail. Note the reference to a blog network of experts — which TBD wisely built.

IMG_0109

For the history books. If there still will be books.

Hyper times

For the record, I do not count The New York Times ending its New Jersey version of The Local and passing over its readers to Baristanet as a failure. The idea that The Times could have owned and run a blog with a journalist in every town and neighborhood in New York — let alone America — simply didn’t scale. The more important skill for The Times to learn is working with networks of independent entrepreneurs who own and run their own local enterprises. That’s what will scale. So I say this is a step forward. (Disclosures: CUNY, where I teach, is running The Local in Brooklyn.)

Mobile=local

At the Brite conference, I talked about mobile coming to be synonymous with local. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote on the topic for an essay in a German book about the future of the net:

The biggest battlefield is local and mobile (I combine them because soon, local will mean simply wherever you are now). That’s why Google is in the phone business and the mapping business and why it is working hard to let us search by speaking or even by taking pictures so we don’t have to type while walking or driving.

The winner in local will be the one that knows more about what’s around me right now. Using my smartphone’s GPS and maps—or using Google Googles to simply take a picture of, say, a club on the corner—I can ask the web what it knows about that place. Are any of my friends there now? (Foursquare or Gowalla or soon Facebook and Twitter and Google Buzz could tell me.) Do my friends like the place? (Facebook and Yelp have the answer.) Show me pictures and video from inside (that’s just geo-tagged content from Flickr and YouTube). Show me government data on the place (any health violations or arrests? Everyblock has that). What band is playing there tonight? Let me hear them. Let me buy their music. What’s on the menu? What’s the most popular dish? Give me coupons and bargains. OK, now I’ll tell my friends (on Twitter and Facebook) that I’m there and they’ll follow. This scenario—more than a newspaper story—will define local.

To do all this, Google—or the next Google—needs two things: First, it needs more data; it needs us to annotate the world with information (if Google can’t find this data elsewhere on the web, it will create the means for us to generate it). Second, Google needs to know more about us—it needs more signals such as location, usage history, and social networks—so it can make its services more relevant to us.