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Street Fight Summit Highlights: Hyperlocal Marketing And Publishing

Street Fight Summit 2014

Street Fight Summit 2014

From experimenting with hyperlocal publishing to bridging the gap between digital and real-world customers, this year’s Street Fight Summit covered a number of topics. The annual hyperlocal marketing and publishing conference, which took place in New York City on Nov 4, is the second Street Fight Summit that we’ve covered. And it seems to be growing in size; according to conference organizers, there were about 400 participants this year.

Many of these attendees held out for the last session of the conference, which focused on how digital companies can grab the attention of SMBs in an overcrowded market. Here’s what we learned from that session, as well as other parts of the Summit. [Read more...]

Are Local or National Advertisers the Target for Hyperlocal Publishing?

streetfightsummit2

streetfightsummit2

Hyperlocal sites DNAinfo, ARL Now and CapeCodToday.com all have one thing in common: they target local advertisers. But what local and national advertisers expect from local content publishers is changing, executives from the three sites said, and local publishers needs to adapt quickly.

Those were the takeaways from the second day of Street Fight Summit in New York City, a conference focused on hyperlocal marketing and publishing. The discussion of advertising models featured Heather Grossmann of DNAinfo, an online publisher focused on New York City and Chicago), Scott Brodbeck, publisher of ARLNow.com focused on the suburbs of Washington D.C. and Julie Brooks, publisher of CapeCodToday.com, a hyperlocal site that launched 16 years ago.

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Hyperlocal journalism: you can only automate so much

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Jim KirkCutting costs: good. Streamlining operations: really good. Eliminating a human editor from the process of publishing news: not gonna happen.

That’s the message that Sun-Times Media’s editor-in-chief, Jim Kirk, sought to relay on the second day of the Street Fight Summit conference on hyperlocal publishing in New York City. Kirk was talking with Everyblock president Brian Addison and DataSphere veep Gary Cowan about automation and the use of raw data to complement—or replace—traditional, i.e. human, content creation and curation.

Kirk, who joined Sun-Times in April from Crain’s, referred to the Journatic scandal in which a freelance writer plagiarized an article for crosstown rival Tribune’s hyperlocal arm (Sun-Times had a relationship with Journatic at the time) and said that human editors add cost but remain a necessity. Nevertheless, he added, the days of waiting for a new business to arrive are over and Sun-Times and other publishers have to push for new ways to produce local content at a cost that’s sustainable. “It’s either move forward or die,” Kirk told the audience.

Everyblock’s Addison also had words of caution about relying too much on raw data over reporting that uses it. Everyblock, owned by NBC, combines aggregation of data and news with a social platform based on ZIP code, relying on a combination of content scattered elsewhere and users who contribute messages and events info. But Addison said raw data is only a starting point for providing hyperlocal content. Publishing unfiltered police reports, for example? “It’s dry and creepy,” said Addison. “It has niche appeal.”

Patch co-founder describes success factors in hyperlocal profitability

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When it comes to running a hyperlocal news site, Patch co-founder Warren Webster said it’s best for business to keep the locals in charge.

In a Fireside Chat panel with interviewer Jeff Bercovici from Forbes at the Street Fight Summit in New York, Webster explained that at the AOL-owned network of hyperlocal sites there’s “less decision-making in New York, but more decisions made in towns across America.”

Now at 903 sites, Patch.com with AOL is growing, and at an incredible rate. In his chat with Bercovici, Webster revealed that 100 sites for Patch are profitable, and seemed pleased with that number.

“We couldn’t be happier with the trajectory,” said Webster.

Webster explained that for the sites that are profitable, “a major factor is tenure.”

He described how many of the longest-running Patch sites have proven to be the most profitable. Other success factors include a stronger staff in certain Patch communities, the difference in the type of community offering coverage, and the size and health of the community within a Patch location.

“The most encouraging sign is tenure,” said Webster. “Most have gone on to profitability.”

Webster revealed that national advertising played a small part in Patch’s success. Instead, Webster credits the regional sales reps for the site’s achievements.

“It’s really just local supporting local,” said Webster.

Webster went on to say that Patch has merged about 25 of the Patch sites, but the decisions were made by the people who live in those regions.

Hyperlocal tycoons spill what works, what doesn’t

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Old-school journalism. Experimenting with profit models. Knowing your readers.

That’s some advice from three of the most successful entrepreneurs in the hyperlocal news space, bantering about the future at the Street Fight Summit conference in New York City. The panel included Zohar Yardeni, CEO of Daily Voice, Josh Fenton, co-founder of GoLocal24, and Leela de Kretser, publisher of DNAinfo.com.

Of the three, DNAinfo may be the one best-known outside its coverage areas for poaching top journalism talent in 2012 as it expanded to Chicago. The outfit, backed by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, has made breaking scoops a mainstay of its business plan. De Kretser, the company’s top editorial exec, told an audience Tuesday that hyperlocal journalism definitely has a place in the news ecosystem, but making the money that keeps it going is not a foregone conclusion.

“We have to test and use revenue models without blowing up our business,” said Leela de Kretser. Blowing up the business means turning off the local readers that form the firm’s marketing pitch to advertisers. “You’ve got to get the local flavor. Setting up a news site—if you do not know how the city works, it’s going to be a disaster,” she said, perhaps taking an implicit swipe at AOL’s nationwide network of Patch sites that have come under fire for a cookie cutter approach.

For Josh Fenton, whose GoLocal24 now covers Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Mass., the model is shoe-leather reporting and partnerships with legacy media made possible by his low fixed costs relative to the older outlets.

“People want old school enterprise journalism,” said Fenton. He pointed to a recent story on hospital rankings that garnered a million page views.

De Kretser agreed: “Investigative journalism is cheaper than it’s ever been…thanks to data.” But the real advantage, she added, is a community focus and having reporters who are connected to the place they cover. “You’ve got to have good people who cover the neighborhood really well,” said de Kretser.

If these prescriptions—great journalism, local focus, sustainable profits—sounded a little vague, it’s not a new thing. Back in 2007, as the hyperlocal craze was gearing up, American Journalism Review’s Paul Farhi noted that “Many operators don’t really have a business model. The first wave of hyperlocal sites has featured seat-of-the-pants operations, staffed part-time by dedicated volunteers, community activists and impassioned gadflies.” He cited a J-lab survey of 141 hyperlocal operators and fully half said they didn’t need revenue to operate. Only 10 percent were breaking even.

Profitability may still be elusive, but the focus on making money as a way to support journalism certainly isn’t as scarce anymore.

Fenton explained that the GoLocal brand partners with other media outlets, often his ostensible competition from the old media of broadcast and print, to provide content streams.

Yardeni’s Daily Voice seeks the magic of scalability—economies of scale—with a network of local news sites stretching across New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and locally based contributors. Traffic is growing, with over 500,000 pageviews a month. “We’re not profitable, but we’re on our way there,” Yardeni said.

Correction:  Due to an editing error, de Kretser’s discussion about experimenting with revenue models was amended to reflect that she was talking about hyperlocal in general, not DNAinfo in particular.

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