Posts about hyperlocal

geoTwitter and news and more

Twitter announced a geolocation API today and it set my mind to spinning with implications that I tweeted like a Gatling gun:

* For news, it would be possible to verify that witnesses reporting what they see are where they say they are. Twitpics can be geotagged.

* Local news organizations should build apps to track surges of activity around any address. Could be a news event. Could be hipsters congregating (telling one where hippness happens).

* News orgs could also use it as a reporting tool: the fabled pothole report via Twitter.

* A hyperlocal blog could set up a feed of your neighbors’ tweets all around town.

* Over time, the geoTwitter enables what I’ve been thinking of as the annotation layer atop the real world: diners create simple reviews of a restaurant simply around location, anyone annotating any location.

* I wonder about the commercial applications: subscribing to tweet ads near me.

The live web, the social web, and the geo web come together.

Now there are caveats aplenty. Foursquare is similar and hasn’t yet burned up the world and neither has Google Latitude. Laptops need geolocation. There are privacy concerns that may stop people from switching on geolocation (the default is off). There are dangers; geolocation could have made tweets from Iran more credible but also more perilous for the authors. I wonder why Twitter is choosing to erase geo data after time; this diminishes the value of the annotation layer.

But still, a simple API like this can make the mind spin. Now combine geoTwitter with my recent obsession, Google Wave, and imagine how live and collaborative content can be enhanced with geography. Or add geography to Marissa Mayer’s vision of the hyperpersonal news stream. The possibilities are endless.

: LATER: PaidContent sees potential for geotargeted ads. And TechCrunch writes about Foursquare’s alerts to nearby deals.

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.

Charity or collaboration?

The New York Times has accepted free stories from ProPublica. It has endorsed a journalist getting help from the public via Spot.US to underwrite a story that might appear at NYTimes.com. And Poynter’s Bill Mitchell says the paper is even wondering about foundation support for its work (but for perspective, I suspect one could safely say The Times is wondering about any possible economic model of support).

All this is being viewed as charity: giving The Times gifts directly or indirectly to produce journalism in its pages, physical or digital.

I think that’s looking at it – and at The Times – the wrong way. I prefer to think of it as a few of many possible forms of collaboration to create journalism that may or may not appear in the paper (and to which it may or may not link). I prefer to think of the paper as the organizer of networks of journalism.

Thinking that way, then when The Local, the hyperlocal blog at The Times, asked for a volunteer to cover a meeting it wasn’t planning to cover, you could say that it was asking for a charitable act. I’d rather say The Times was opening up to collaboration.

And let’s say that a local blogger covers the meeting and reports on it on her own blog and The Local takes advantage of that by aggregating, curating, quoting, and/or linking to that report. The net result is the same but that’s not charity. It’s cooperation.

Go one step farther: Say that The Times lends a video or sound recorder to that blogger so she can better report on the meeting and provide more coverage to her and The Local’s readers. Is that support an act of charity to the blogger? No, it’s collaboration. (By the way, this will be happening when CUNY provides equipment and training to members of the communities in The Local’s footprint as part of a Carnegie Corporation grant we just received.)

When we define The Times solely as a commercial institution that produces and controls an asset – the news – then any provision of money or effort to it appears to be charity.

But when we define the news as the creation of a larger ecosystem and The Times as just one member of it, then help – money, effort, equipment, training – instead appears to be collaboration.

And once one looks at the ecosystem through the lens of collaboration, then many other things are possible: then The Times (or any other member) could organize many members to work together to produce journalism no one of them could do alone. Then we start to account for the value of the work of the entire news ecosystem not based solely on the size of the staff of the last newsroom standing in the community; we open up to volunteer and entrepreneurial effort that can expand the scope of journalism far, far past what that one newsroom could do.

So I say that The Times and other papers opening up to the work of others supported by others is not an act of begging and charity if it is one bit of evidence of opening up to collaboration.

Now having said all that, I’m aware of the issues that are raised by giving of any sort and Clark Hoyt‘s and Bill Mitchell‘s columns address many of them: the potential for influence from the donor leading the list. There can also be tax questions (only a gift to a 501c3 is a charitable deducation and when is value received by a for-profit company taxable income?). There are labor delicacies when volunteer take on the work formerly done by staffers (there’s one of the reasons that professional journalists sneer at citizen journalism; it’s not always about high standards but instead about self-interest).

Still, I say it’s important to open up journalism and its institutions and players to many kinds of collaboration in a new ecosystem. That cooperation should extend to the commercial – revenue – side of the equation as well, as advertising and ecommerce networks enable each member of the ecosystem to gain more value together than they could alone. This is a key assumption of our work at the CUNY New Business Models for News Project.

One more caution: As we debate and explore the opportunities for charitable and volunteer support of journalism, it is important – critical – that we not declare surrender against the hope that journalism can be sustained in profitable enterprises. This is the keystone of our NewBizNews work at CUNY. We will estimate how much charitable support is possible in a market and what it can buy. We will also emphasize the importance of including volunteer effort in viewing the value of the ecosystem. But we also stipulate that none of that – not foundations, not the goodwill work of bloggers and neighbors – will support the level of reporting and journalism a community needs. And we believe that the market will support journalism – even the growth of journalism – commercially. We are working on models to examine how both the revenue and efficiency of enterprises in the ecosystem – news organizations to bloggers – can be optimized (we’ll be putting out models as we get closer to our first August deadline).

: LATER: Include in this discussion HuffingtonPost’s charitably supported investigative arm; the new Texas Tribune supported by VC John Thornton and friends; and a new philanthropically supported investigative unit in the U.K. They are not the future of journalism; they are part of it.

Help us help hyperlocal news

For CUNY’s New Business Models for News Project, we would be very grateful if local blogs and sites filled out a survey to give us data in our analysis and modeling of the economics of hyperlocal news. The survey is here.

We are trying to find out how hyperlocal blogs and sites are doing their business today – how big they are, how big an area they cover, what’s working in advertising and what’s not. The data they give will be kept anonymous; that is, we’ll release it only in aggregate. We’ll also interview some of you to find out more.

Out of this, we are working to build models to show how to optimize the business of the hyperlocal news site: revenue opportunities, network opportunities, and so on. We’ll share that work on the site as it progresses.

As of today, we have a director, a business analyst, two business consultants, two journalism graduates, and six business students working on this effort. It’s serious. The more information we have to work with, the better they can serve the community. So if you have a local news blog or site, please fill out the survey and pass it along to others you know.

Thanks.

Happy birthday, Baristanet

Baristanet, the queen of hyperlocal blogs, is five years old today.

I remember well the NJ.com Meetup we held back then to try to encourage locals to blog on our site. I learned an important lesson there. Debbie Galant, the original Barista, said starting a town blog was a good idea but she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it for my site. She wanted to own and build her own site and value and brand.

And she did. Bariastanet is a phenomenon. It has not just survived but succeeded. It is profitable. It is expanding, adding another blog to its stable recently. It has developed a strong reputation inside Montclair and outside. Congratulations to Deb and Liz and company for that. They have inspired others to start hyperlocal blogs not only across the country but in their own backyard, as The New York Times creates The Local and AOL president Tim Armstrong funds Patch in the nabe. Five years ago, they knew they were onto something and they’re being proved right.

I think the next frontier will be creating networks across blogs of geography and interest so they can reach critical mass to sell to larger advertisers and to share content and effort and perhaps cost. I believe blogs such as this will be a – not the but a – building block in the new ecosystem of news that will begin to replace in fits and starts failing newspapers. (In that ecosystem, I think there will also be newfangled news organizations that help organize the news in this diverse network.) I also hope that we’ll find many new ways for the Baristanets of the world to serve local businesses and make more money so they can sustain their work.

Great work, Baristas.