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August 21 2012

14:00

At Rural Newspapers, Some Publishers Still Resist Moving Online

In 1968, Dick Graham bought a small weekly newspaper in Ferry County, Wash., one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-four years later -- give or take a few months -- broadband Internet is arriving.

Graham and his century-old newspaper, The Republic News-Miner, have cast a wary eye toward the web and raised a legitimate question: Should rural newspapers go online?

Graham, now 75, has resisted.

"I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I don't put nothing up for nothing."

Long shielded from the pressure of Internet news competition, as well as classified competitors like Craigslist, rural newspapers have reportedly fared far better than their metropolitan counterparts. While newspapers in population centers saw growing competition from online startups in the past decade, rural newspapers have faced relatively little competition. (So-called hyper-local sites like AOL's Patch are clustered in metropolitan areas and altogether absent from rural areas in the West.)

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As broadband Internet spreads into rural communities -- spurred by a $7 billion federal investment -- rural newspapers are increasingly facing a question encountered by their metropolitan counterparts a decade ago: What information should be offered online?

The considerations aren't solely economic. Rural newspapers that ignore online opportunities may be risking their relevancy -- and losing opportunities -- in their communities, experts say. And rural readers may be missing out as well; a recent survey suggests that rural citizens are going online to look for news but struggle to find local content, especially when compared to more metropolitan citizens. Instead, those readers are finding state or national media outlets that may have little or no "local" content.

That places rural weekly newspapers at a crossroads.

"It's a 24-7 world and they come out 52 times a year," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. "The worst day to die in a rural area is on a Thursday -- your obit won't be printed for a week."

'We need a business-model solution'

Digitally savvy rural journalists can quickly publish breaking community news, making their publications even more relevant to readers. But the web may not work for every rural publication; Cross said some rural papers may jump directly to mobile platforms, as phone technology rapidly evolves and cellular networks continue to spread.

Today, community newspapers are struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online, according to Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 130 community newspapers in the state.

"We have lots of business-model questions," Will said at an April roundtable discussion at Washington State University. "We need a business-model solution."

Translating digital readership into advertising dollars may be as perilous for rural news outlets as it has been for larger metros.

"They rightly have been wary of putting information online for free because that cannibalizes their print content," Cross said. "But I think there is a way to go online ... You put things online that you can't put in print."

Federal investment carries broadband to small towns

ruralbroadband.jpg

In Ferry County, the online debate has been slow to arrive.

For more than a decade, the county's residents relied primarily on dial-up connections or satellite Internet access -- about 80 percent of county residents were unserved by broadband Internet, according to the state's 2012 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington.

Three years ago, the federal government invested more than $7 billion into expanding broadband Internet access to unserved or underserved areas. The money, which was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has strengthened network capability and expanded infrastructure across the country, including Washington state.

Today, more than 96 percent of the state's households have access to broadband Internet, a network that stretches from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to rural farmland and tiny mountain towns. But rural communities still lag behind larger cities, which tend to have faster broadband access, digitally literate citizens, and journalists increasingly adept at web and social media tools.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

Three Initiatives to Help

Participants in the April roundtable, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, recommended three initiatives:

  • A news consortium to facilitate training for community journalists and partnerships with larger media organizations to increase the flow of information.
  • A grassroots campaign to increase digital literacy in rural areas, as well as with state and local policymakers.
  • An annual survey of news awareness among Washington citizens, as well as a measure of the health of the state's media outlets, and the expansion of high-speed broadband.

Obviously, that outreach takes money in a time of strained state and local budgets.

"If communities need to become digitally literate, then how can they accomplish this, given today's economic realities?" Angela Wu, former broadband policy and programs director for Washington state, asked at the April roundtable. (A full report on the roundtable can be viewed here.)

Critics say rural residents choose to live in small towns; many do, of course, but others must be close to jobs or cheaper housing. Others question whether such communities need quicker access to YouTube videos or other web diversions. Those critics fail to realize how video conferencing or a web presence can fundamentally alter rural businesses -- or educate rural citizens.

Research from colleagues at Washington State University suggests that rural residents find it "significantly more difficult" to keep abreast of local news than metropolitan residents. Rural residents are less frequent consumers of news media for local news, even though they appear to be seeking broadcast and online outlets for state and national news, according to the study by Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. (Both rural and non-rural residents say it's easier to keep up with local news than it was five years ago, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than rural residents, according to the survey.)

That gap may be the product of a dearth of local online information in small towns. In many small communities, weekly or monthly publications may be the sole source of news, and that news does not always migrate to the web. But in the Pacific Northwest -- Ferry County -- change is coming.

In Ferry County, competing papers and approaches

In 2009, Greg Sheffield opened another weekly newspaper in Ferry County, creating a new challenge for Graham's News-Miner.

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Sheffield's paper, The Ferry County View, created a competition for the county's 4,000 households. And unlike Graham, he's begun moving content online -- though not all of it.

"I'm just afraid that if we put our content online that if will remove the incentive people have to read the published newspaper," said Sheffield, a former private pilot turned publisher. "I might consider putting it behind a paywall, but it's just not my top priority."

And he's not sure it's a good economic idea.

"I wish there was an old newspaper publisher's club where I could sit down and ask, How do you deal with this?" Sheffield said. "I would love to have that opportunity."

Graham, who has officially retired as publisher of the News-Miner but still owns the publication, said his paper's circulation has dropped from 1,200 to about 900 in recent years.

"I'm no different than a lot of the weekly newspapers. I spent more for computers than I did buying the place," Graham said. "(A web presence) is something that we've had some inquiries about. I'm just not too sure in these small towns how well that goes over."

For Graham, who began working at newspapers at age 12, the arrival of broadband may threaten his readers' habitual perusing of the print paper each week.

"People get their paper early Thursday morning and have their coffee," Graham said, before pausing. "Of course, they're all 80 years old now."

Benjamin Shors teaches journalism at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

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January 12 2012

16:37

Daily Must Reads, Jan. 12, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Nathan Gibbs


1. The Philadelphia Experiment: Why a media company wants to be a tech incubator (Nieman Journalism Lab) 

2. The magical (and sometimes ridiculous) gadgets of tomorrow (The Wirecutter)

3. Inside the NYT's hyper-local efforts (Street Fight)

4. Disqus: People using pseudonyms post the highest-quality comments (Poynter)

5. How Google+ Hangouts could transform traditional TV broadcasting (Lost Remote)

6. Homeland Security watches Twitter, social media (Reuters)



7. Critics see 'disaster' in expansion of domain names (NPR)


Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



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January 04 2012

15:20

2012: Why the Web Is Not Dead and Other Flashpoints

First the easy predictions for the new year: In 2012 we'll see a rise of politics in the digisphere, along with reporting as if the phenomenon is a surprise; more strum over the Murdochs' drum; and a snazzy new iPad 3.

But, there are bigger rumblings afoot in the year ahead, too. Here's my second annual round of predictions for the digital world.

The Return of the Web

Far from the web being dead, we're going to see more and more media organizations figure out how to use it well.

Publishers have started to realize that putting their stock in proprietary apps for Apple devices reaches only a subset of the potential universe, making it hard to "monetize" the investment, not to mention support an entire operation.

Costly to develop, the apps also give Apple more control of customers and their data than the publishers like. To make it worse, attempts to make money through Apple's iAds have been lackluster.

Publishers have started to understand, too, that the latest web applications can, via a browser, handle a lot of the latest whiz-bang interactivity and nifty tools. HTML5, the latest web coding language, can help take advantage of tablet and browser functions such as location, swiping, screen size, portrait and landscape orientation, shaking, tilting and more.

The newer web applications are getting better at integrating with payment systems, preventing unauthorized copying, controlling font size, typeface and other aspects that preserve the look and feel of "the brand."

By using the web, publishers can more easily create something that works across screens, offers similar functionality to a native app built specially for Apple or Android, and gives them access to data and control of revenue.

It also means a lot of the same stuff that hooks into a plain old website (POW?) -- web analytics, certain types of javascript and more -- can be used without having to do a lot of difficult recoding and workarounds.

Look, for example, at the Google Chrome web store (you may need the Chrome browser) to see just a few web-based apps, including NPR's for news and Sports Illustrated's for photos -- some of which require a fee.

Filipe Fortes

The Kindle Cloud Reader, the Financial Times and WalMart's Vudu all went the web route, eschewing native iPad/Phone/Pod apps in favor of the browser to get consumers to buy and consume books, news and video, respectively.

The experience on a computer, tablet or phone can be quite similar to the one on a native app. App companies, too, are gearing up for more web-based functionality.

Flipboard, the iPad app Steve Jobs called a favorite, hired HTML5 expert Filipe Fortes away from Treesaver (a former client of my company). Apple, too, has been listing multiple jobs for those skilled in HTML5.

I'm not saying that native apps will go away -- just that we'll see more development of snazzy new media via the web, which itself is entering a more structured, app-like phase. (See last year's predictions for a discussion of Open vs. Closed philosophies.)

A Year of Legal Wrangling, Wheeling and Dealing

Last year brought a wave of patent acquisitions, including Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola.

This year, we'll see deals done and court cases launched in which holders of various patents, especially in mobile, either sue each other or reach agreement to allow cross-usage. Apple will continue to pursue Google via phone makers over Android.

We'll see legislative and regulatory pushes on privacy and piracy, egged on by powerful lobbyists. (See Mark Glaser's previous piece for a rundown.)

I don't believe that any law will keep people from getting the media they want, though. People will find a way around it, without paying if need be.

Big Four Coop-etition

Just because others have predicted the clash of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple doesn't mean it's not worth mention here, too. But, it also doesn't mean it's absolute: They often help each other, as well.

In my media management class, we recently drew a representation of Amazon as a multi-faceted behemoth, and it dawned on me how formidable the company is as a media distributor.

Not only has Amazon created a proprietary portable platform in the Kindle Fire, but Amazon Prime now includes music, video and borrowed e-books, along with free shipping, all for the same $79 yearly fee.

Amazon is also a content producer through its IMDb movie and TV site and its new book publishing imprint. In the past, it has produced at least one movie and a show hosted by Bill Maher.

Its financial position makes it stronger than many others. For Amazon, advertising is supplementary revenue, unlike for most media companies, like Google or Facebook. It makes its real money through e-commerce, web hosting and as a Content Distribution Network (CDN) that even competitors such as Netflix use.

Is there any company with big ambitions that Google doesn't compete with in some way? From Google Offers in coupons, to Places in location, to Google+, to its suite of document and email products, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Voice, Analytics and on and on, the company is spread through nearly every digital media and interactive sphere.

Like many a media company, Google makes most of its money from ads, on search and through YouTube. Google's share dwarfs all others in digital, and will continue to generate serious cash flow in 2012.

Meanwhile, it's chipping away at Apple's perceived dominance in smartphones with its Android operating system, which is on more smartphones than any other. Its mobile ad company, AdMob, is getting accolades and market share.

Android's feature set challenges Apple's iOS (see legal wrangling, above) and its newer versions seamlessly hook into Google applications like Places, Picasa photos, Maps, Books, Music, Gmail, Docs and more.

The Kindle Fire, based on a "branched" version of Android, is the first tablet to come close to denting the iPad's market share.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says everything -- search, media, commerce -- is better when your friends help you find, evaluate and understand it.

He and COO Sheryl Sandberg told broadcast journalist Charlie Rose in November that Facebook cooperates rather than competes with the rest of the digital universe.

That is, unless you notice that the social network competes head-on with Google for ad dollars in targeted cost-per-click advertising.

Facebook has also beefed up search, is gathering tons of data via the "like" and Facebook Connect APIs, and is grabbing some of the best Silicon Valley talent that used to work at Google, including Sandberg. It has incorporated some of Google+'s favorite features.

You could build the case for cooperation by noting that Facebook now works well on Android and iOS apps. Amazon includes Facebook's "like" button on its pages, and allows sending of gift cards through Facebook Connect.

Mainly, though, Facebook competes for attention, often called the currency of the digital age. Every hour someone spends socially networking or consuming media through its pages is time they don't spend on YouTube, Amazon, Kindle or iTunes.

Apple is, well, Apple -- one of the great brands of all time. Though we'll see a little bit of concern over Jobs' absence -- maybe a little stumble or two -- the company should continue to rack up oohs, ahhs, and sales as it turns out new devices.

Even if its focus slips a tad, the company can use its billions of dollars of cash to try just about anything, and even fail a few times.

No one tops Apple's ability to charge for digital content via iTunes and Apps, and content distributors will have to play along even as they beef up their web app offerings.

If the rumored Apple television comes to pass, we'll see more frisson in the media sphere, and more pull from Apple against Amazon's efforts to wrest away sales of music and video -- a battle that's continued for years.

Relative to the big four, traditional media companies are playing on the weaker side of an uneven field. They are masters of content production, but that content is expensive and doesn't scale and acquire new customers as cheaply as an engineer's algorithm can.

Honorable Mentions

A few other trends merit some mention. There will be continued froth among ad networks and exchanges, and those buying and selling data around them, with consolidation and some shakeouts.

I see a continued push and pull among human- vs. machine-driven solutions. As Facebook tweaks its Edge Rank algorithm, companies like Demand Media will try to regain ground in search results and companies like Trada will introduce humans to the ad-optimization equation. (I hope to write more about this human-vs.-machine issue at a later date.)

At least one of the big six book publishers may have to fold or merge at some point, though that may not happen just yet. It's a truism that in the digital age, middlemen with decreased marketing, distribution and production muscle get squeezed. Amazon, Google Books and iBooks are helping apply the pincers.

There's likely to be activity in the hyperlocal space. Local news services such as Patch and many more localized efforts such as New York's DNAInfo will need to show investors they're gaining ground.

Location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla (now owned by Facebook), and Google Places will increasingly hook into and compete with the hyperlocals. "Location-based marketing" is already a buzz word.

Where Does This Leave You?

Like last year, I'll say this to media operators: Don't bet on just one horse. Pay attention to who has access to and shares the data you help generate. Offer your media on as many popular platforms as is feasible, and make some level of it easy to share.

Make sure your business model accounts for sharing of your content, including sharing you may not appreciate. No regulation will protect your content completely.

If you're a consumer, don't expect Apple or Android to do everything you need or want, but you may want to weave your media tech life around one or the other for simplicity's sake. Do expect to be delighted and infuriated as you upgrade your computer only to discover some of your favorite old stuff doesn't work as well. (And by old, I mean from like two years ago.)

Me, I'll play with my new Android phone, my new MacBook Pro, consider the new iPad and any new Kindle, keep hacking my Windows computers, getting media any way I can (I still use a VCR sometimes!), and learning with great enjoyment.

Happy New Year!

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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June 14 2011

18:10

Create or Die 2: Boosting Coverage of Underserved Communities

The Greensboro 52. That's the label a group of journalists, students, educators and community members adopted during the Create or Die 2 conference in Greensboro, N.C., which took place June 2 to 5.

The label takes its inspiration from the Greensboro Four, African-American students at N.C. A&T University who sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth's in 1960. Others joined them, launching a sit-in movement for civil rights across the South.

The Create or Die 2 participants hope to be just as viral.

The first Create or Die gathering was held in Detroit in 2010. The project, part of Journalism That Matters, describes itself as a collaboration supporting new creators of news and information.

createordie2tweets.jpg

Bill Densmore, director of the Media Giraffe project at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said at the end of Create or Die 2 that the event inspired the upholding and spreading of traditional journalism ethics and values, "by any means necessary."

If that means spreading the standards of investigative journalism through hip-hop and biofueled buses, so be it, said participants at the conference, which took place at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

An Unconference

Actually, the "conference" was designed as a structured unconference, with attention paid to things like seating arrangements and story-sharing to build trust and interaction, within a schedule that allows for concrete idea pitches and tours of the community. Journalism was loosely defined, or perhaps redefined, to include mission-driven efforts and storytelling in a broad sense across various platforms.

Peggy Holman, co-founder of Journalism That Matters, and Michelle Ferrier, associate professor at Elon University, were primary organizers, holding weekly calls with volunteers and building an online community before the event.

Holman has been organizing Journalism That Matters programs for years, and Ferrier brought the gathering to Greensboro, to take inspiration from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and build ties and journalism capacity in the state.

createordie2ferrier.jpg

$500 Grants

Three incubators in the center of North Carolina offered support for startups emerging from the conference. Sponsors also offered $500 grants to groups who pitched ideas at the gathering.

Homewood Nation won a $500 grant for efforts to build online and offline community in a challenged neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Two other $500 grants were combined and went to a creative, diverse group that formed at the gathering.

Members were mostly young, scattered from Los Angeles to Charlotte. They shared ideas, backgrounds and skills at the conference and made plans to launch a new website aimed at letting people claim and control their online IDs.

Create or Die has plans for a biofuel bus tour to spread the word of the project to underserved communities across the country.

Hashtag Still Going Strong

A week out, the conference's impromptu hashtag, #g52, was still going strong on Twitter.

Holman, one of the organizers, reflected on the spirit of the conference in an email afterward.

"If we want to create a more multi-cultural view of the news that is reflective of our changing demographics, we need to shift the mix of providers from the 85 percent of white mainstream journalists that exists today," she wrote. "Yet less than 10 percent of foundation funding is going to people doing online news and information in underserved communities. That's a reason for a wakeup call."

And Ferrier said in an email that the conference isn't really over.

"The gathering is still unfolding," she wrote.


Andria Krewson is a community news editor for The Charlotte Observer and has written about hyper-local journalism for PBS Mediashift. Reach her through http://andriakrewson.com

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May 24 2011

19:59

Newsroom, Community Use Facebook as Key Hub After Joplin Tornado

When Joplin, Mo., was hit with a massive tornado, I knew my community would react. Even though we're nearly 250 miles away, many people in Columbia and mid-Missouri are either Joplin natives or have family there. My newsroom's normally local-focused Facebook page quickly became a clearinghouse for updates about how mid-Missouri could help the tornado-ravaged community.

Fans are using the page now to share news, photos, videos, information on relief efforts, and in general, to connect with each other in a time of crisis.

The efforts grew organically on our page. The KOMU online audience is already very interactive. We have 10,000+ fans and, on average, 7,500 users have some level of interaction with us on a weekly basis, according to Facebook Insights.

I encourage sharing and conversations among everyone in an open and transparent way. I and my web team pay attention and are constantly interacting with our fans. Over time, a relationship has developed -- the kind that's enhanced during severe situations like what happened in Joplin.

When the tornado hit, our Facebook fans knew they could trust us to coordinate and share important information there.

So that's just what we did. Since the tornado, I've been on overdrive. In the last 24 hours, I've gathered information on social media to share on our website, KOMU.com, and on Facebook. I'm gathering as many relief drives as possible to share on Facebook, KOMU.com and the newsroom's Twitter page. My goal is to share and gather data from the social spaces where KOMU's audience already interacts.

The Beginning

When the first information came out on Joplin, KOMU-TV was on the air with details about severe weather in our area. Our meteorologists shared images live that were posted on our Facebook page using an iPad. Anytime we show live Facebook content on television, our interaction online starts to jump.

I was working from home, but knew we had a spark of community activity on our Facebook page. I and a few others working in our newsroom started posting links from our website to Facebook. One of the most viewed pages is a collection of tweets curated on Storify. It's had more than 8,000 views in less than 24 hours and was shared on Facebook more than 165 times. These kind of collections continued to bring people to our Facebook page to interact and share.
SharingOnFacebook

A number of people wanted to know how they could help. We posted immediate links and information about how medical providers could offer their expertise and how relief agencies were trying to coordinate assistance. I wrapped up my oversight of the page around 1:30 in the morning with a dramatic video on YouTube. It created a stir, even though it was very late at night (or early in the morning, depending on your perspective).

Some of the conversations I had with our Facebook audience led to our morning show coverage. A woman who posted a picture about a tree that crushed her van became the subject of a live report the next day.

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The Next Day

Not only did we have continuing requests on how our Facebook users could help, a growing number of people had information about blood drives, fundraisers and donation sites. Not only did I take the time to thank users for the information, I added a link to my Facebook profile by typing "@jen Lee Reeves" to identify myself as the person commenting as a representative for KOMU.

My newsroom started to ask for the community to tell us about the relief efforts they knew about. I tried to keep up with a list and encouraged our Facebook users to post their efforts on a discussion page. When I learned about items that weren't added to the page, I'd copy and past from the Facebook wall and Twitter. (Our newsroom encouraged our region to use #JoplinMidMo to help us keep track of local efforts.)

The best development with Facebook pages is the "Notifications" link that helps me keep track of any interactions on the page. I'm able to see new posts, likes and comments on items that might be hours old on the page. Almost every time I respond, I add that link to my Facebook profile.

Near the end of the day, I slowed down my obsessive oversight of the page. One member was unable to find a donation location, and other page members jumped in with some details. I was able to research a few extra details and add to the conversation.
HelpingScreenShot

A Wish List

After spending so much time inside the Facebook page, I have a few things I'd love to have the next time I'm helping manage a crisis.

  • The ability to post notes. Facebook groups have a wonderful ability to let members create and contribute openly to notes. This would have been much easier to manage with our collection of relief efforts. I'm helping manage a community Facebook page that allows notes. My "television station category" doesn't get notes in Facebook.
  • The ability to create a call to action at the top of the page. I had to repost a number of helpful links and information because our Facebook users kept asking the same questions. It would have been great to have the main relief information easily accessible.
  • Photo tagging needs to be easier. I know this is a new feature where Facebook users can tag a page they like. I had a number of people tell me they weren't able to tag KOMU to a picture. I've also noticed this service is spotty.
  • The ability to tag posts from a mobile app. When I left the newsroom, I had to add to the comments on the KOMU page without the ability to identify myself.

It will be interesting to see how long this call to action continues on our Facebook page. Our newsroom is planning a telethon with local organizations on Thursday for Joplin. I hope to Livestream the event on our Facebook page and offer anyone the ability to embed the stream to their websites. (I haven't figured out all of the logistics, but hopefully I'll have it ready by Thursday.)

Many other Facebook pages focused on Joplin relief, especially one built solely to offer updates and relief. KOMU was able to focus on the efforts in mid-Missouri. The online relationship we had before the crisis was able to grow in this time of need.

Hopefully, it's an example of how a commitment to social media can help encourage ongoing conversations between a newsroom and its community.

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May 05 2011

18:40

How Front Porch Forum Connects Neighbors in Real Life

An awful situation for any parent ... my wife suddenly needed to drive four hours to Boston Children's Hospital to shepherd our son through a medical emergency. He was already in Boston, but Valerie couldn't get out of the driveway. A freak blizzard had drifted four feet of snow across it. If she didn't get on the road soon, the childcare lined up for our younger kids would fall apart. I was out of state and no help at all. What to do?

FPF_homepage.jpg

One simple posting to Front Porch Forum and a dozen neighbors materialized. Wielding snow blowers and shovels, they blasted a path so my wife could begin her journey to the hospital. Her arrival sparked our little boy's turnaround, and now, gratefully, he's home and doing well.

So is this one heartwarming tale important? Well, I can tell you that the news of a neighborhood kid being hospitalized and his mother being kept from him by the big blizzard got top billing that day in our area. Not only did neighbors talk about this story (I'm still asked about it months later), most amazingly, about 2 percent of the neighborhood actually dropped what they were doing as soon as they heard, suited up, and headed out the door to pitch in.

Going local

"Local" is hot in the online universe (or "hyper-local," whatever that means!) -- and for good reason. My neighbors-to-the-rescue story is one of hundreds that we've seen on Front Porch Forum. Thousands more emanate from local blogs, mailing lists, neighborhood websites, and other town-specific Internet outposts. Millions more await the arrival of a successful local online platform.

My wife and I launched Front Porch Forum in 2006 across our metro region after running a precursor for just our own Burlington, Vt., neighborhood for six years. Now, as a 2010 Knight News Challenge award winner, we're rebuilding our platform to incorporate lessons learned, and expanding to new regions.

Over the past decade, I've learned from hundreds of local sites. Some, like Craigslist, have taken over a whole sector, while others, like Backfence.com, informed many, but ultimately failed. To make sense of this growing body of experience, I've examined local sites along dozens of dimensions.

Is Walmart local?

Many tech blogs spin themselves dizzy over the likes of GroupOn, FourSquare, LivingSocial, Patch, etc. They focus on the giant well-funded dot-coms that are national or global in reach. But how can something be "local" when it's coming from far away? As Baristanet's Debra Galant said recently to StreetFight, "Patch certainly rubs all of the independents the wrong way. Patch is part of AOL. (It is) like Walmart coming into main street."

Increasingly, major companies like GroupOn and Patch are employing local sales and content staff in each area where they operate. This stands in stark contrast to the all-algorithm/no-people Google-type model. At the same time, it's more efficient than the traditional newspaper model. For example, Front Porch Forum reaches more households in Burlington than the local Gannett daily, and we employ three compared with its 300.

Aggregators vs. originators: What about the audience?

Several recent commentators divide local into two camps: aggregators and originators. Topix and AmericanTowns are two aggregators, while Datasphere is a network of originators. LocalWiki (another Knight News Challenge award winner) and iBrattleboro are examples of originators, too.

However, this view misses a crucial third source of content ... the locals! When you're talking about a story of interest to only several hundred nearby neighbors, then the community's contribution to the story is crucial. Many aggregators and originators have space for user comments, while other successful sites put the community first, ahead of the stories. For example, Front Porch Forum postings from our neighbors are picked up by local journalists and bloggers every week and spun into traditional news stories.

Who's creating the core content on these local sites: professionals, a few amateurs, or the crowd? Newspaper sites use professional journalists, one-off hyper-local bloggers often have one or more regular amateurs, and other sites, such as Front Porch Forum, get the content from the crowd. We found that half of one town subscribed to Front Porch Forum and an amazing three-quarters of them had posted ... the crowd speaks!

What about community conversation?

A growing list of services offer data aggregated by location, e.g., the innovative Everyblock (and fellow Knight News Challenge award winner). Other sites focus on reporting. Increasingly, these services are coming to realize the value of empowering community-level conversations among neighbors. Witness Everyblock's recent major upgrade to bring social into its mix.

Local secret sauce

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So that's a taste of a few of the critical ingredients to consider when perusing the local online menu. In our decade of local online cooking, we've refined our secret sauce to make Front Porch Forum wildly successful in our pilot region. Half of Burlington subscribes to their neighborhood forums. Even more amazing, more than half of those members actively contribute. Most importantly, neighbor-helping-neighbor stories flow through Front Porch Forum daily, just like the one about the shovel-wielding neighbors who sent my wife on her way to the hospital.

These are but a few of the issues with which to grapple. Others include anonymity vs. pseudo-anonymity vs. real identities, scale, mobile, and lots more. We're currently hosting 150 online neighborhood forums, and our team learns something new every day. Local online is heating up! Stay tuned.

18:40

Design Decision for Local Online News: What's the Secret Sauce?

An awful situation for any parent ... my wife suddenly needed to drive four hours to Boston Children's Hospital to shepherd our son through a medical emergency. He was already in Boston, but Valerie couldn't get out of the driveway. A freak blizzard had drifted four feet of snow across it. If she didn't get on the road soon, the childcare lined up for our younger kids would fall apart. I was out of state and no help at all. What to do?

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One simple posting to Front Porch Forum and a dozen neighbors materialized. Wielding snow blowers and shovels, they blasted a path so my wife could begin her journey to the hospital. Her arrival sparked our little boy's turnaround, and now, gratefully, he's home and doing well.

So is this one heartwarming tale important? Well, I can tell you that the news of a neighborhood kid being hospitalized and his mother being kept from him by the big blizzard got top billing that day in our area. Not only did neighbors talk about this story (I'm still asked about it months later), most amazingly, about 2 percent of the neighborhood actually dropped what they were doing as soon as they heard, suited up, and headed out the door to pitch in.

Going local

"Local" is hot in the online universe (or "hyper-local," whatever that means!) -- and for good reason. My neighbors-to-the-rescue story is one of hundreds that we've seen on Front Porch Forum. Thousands more emanate from local blogs, mailing lists, neighborhood websites, and other town-specific Internet outposts. Millions more await the arrival of a successful local online platform.

My wife and I launched Front Porch Forum in 2006 across our metro region after running a precursor for just our own Burlington, Vt., neighborhood for six years. Now, as a 2010 Knight News Challenge award winner, we're rebuilding our platform to incorporate lessons learned, and expanding to new regions.

Over the past decade, I've learned from hundreds of local sites. Some, like Craigslist, have taken over a whole sector, while others, like Backfence.com, informed many, but ultimately failed. To make sense of this growing body of experience, I've examined local sites along dozens of dimensions.

Is Walmart local?

Many tech blogs spin themselves dizzy over the likes of GroupOn, FourSquare, LivingSocial, Patch, etc. They focus on the giant well-funded dot-coms that are national or global in reach. But how can something be "local" when it's coming from far away? As Baristanet's Debra Galant said recently to StreetFight, "Patch certainly rubs all of the independents the wrong way. Patch is part of AOL. (It is) like Walmart coming into main street."

Increasingly, major companies like GroupOn and Patch are employing local sales and content staff in each area where they operate. This stands in stark contrast to the all-algorithm/no-people Google-type model. At the same time, it's more efficient than the traditional newspaper model. For example, Front Porch Forum reaches more households in Burlington than the local Gannett daily, and we employ three compared with its 300.

Aggregators vs. originators: What about the audience?

Several recent commentators divide local into two camps: aggregators and originators. Topix and AmericanTowns are two aggregators, while Datasphere is a network of originators. LocalWiki (another Knight News Challenge award winner) and iBrattleboro are examples of originators, too.

However, this view misses a crucial third source of content ... the locals! When you're talking about a story of interest to only several hundred nearby neighbors, then the community's contribution to the story is crucial. Many aggregators and originators have space for user comments, while other successful sites put the community first, ahead of the stories. For example, Front Porch Forum postings from our neighbors are picked up by local journalists and bloggers every week and spun into traditional news stories.

Who's creating the core content on these local sites: professionals, a few amateurs, or the crowd? Newspaper sites use professional journalists, one-off hyper-local bloggers often have one or more regular amateurs, and other sites, such as Front Porch Forum, get the content from the crowd. We found that half of one town subscribed to Front Porch Forum and an amazing three-quarters of them had posted ... the crowd speaks!

What about community conversation?

A growing list of services offer data aggregated by location, e.g., the innovative Everyblock (and fellow Knight News Challenge award winner). Other sites focus on reporting. Increasingly, these services are coming to realize the value of empowering community-level conversations among neighbors. Witness Everyblock's recent major upgrade to bring social into its mix.

Local secret sauce

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So that's a taste of a few of the critical ingredients to consider when perusing the local online menu. In our decade of local online cooking, we've refined our secret sauce to make Front Porch Forum wildly successful in our pilot region. Half of Burlington subscribes to their neighborhood forums. Even more amazing, more than half of those members actively contribute. Most importantly, neighbor-helping-neighbor stories flow through Front Porch Forum daily, just like the one about the shovel-wielding neighbors who sent my wife on her way to the hospital.

These are but a few of the issues with which to grapple. Others include anonymity vs. pseudo-anonymity vs. real identities, scale, mobile, and lots more. We're currently hosting 150 online neighborhood forums, and our team learns something new every day. Local online is heating up! Stay tuned.

February 23 2011

19:55

3 Ways to Expand the News Ecosystem

Spot.Us founder David Cohn has convened a virtual carnival: he's posing monthly questions that he'd like to see journalists take a stab at answering. The latest: how do we diversify the news ecosystem? He put it differently -- "Considering your unique circumstances, what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?" -- but I'm pretty sure the end goal is a greater diversity of information and expanded news ecosystem.

What can I do, personally? I can use my technical skills to make document-based investigative reporting a little easier and a little more transparent. But "you knew I was going to say that (because of the work I do for DocumentCloud.

1. Push for More Public Data

And every journalist and citizen can push for increased access to public information. That would, for example, making it possible for more New Yorkers to cover New York City. It doesn't take much to publish public data reliably, it just takes some political will.

2. Increase Collaboration

Another thing we can do is increase story collaboration. No one newsroom can ever reveal the complete picture. The full story become clear when many reporters come at an issue, each from their own unique perspective. If some of those reporters have gone to journalism school and have been mentored by a prize winning journalist and others are just calling it like they see it without even the benefit of a copy editor, more power to us all. (And if you imagine that the former never get a story outrageously wrong or that the latter are never downright spot-on, you haven't been paying attention.)

One reporter, working alone to cover the statehouse, is never going to get as much done as 10 reporters, each actively trying to sniff out a corruption case that hasn't already been discovered.

In the process, though, some journalists have developed a nasty habit of pretending they've got a scoop when, in fact, they're re-telling a story first uncovered by a neighborhood blog. One of my favorite hyper-local bloggers, who regularly reports on her precinct community meetings and other things nearly no other news outlet has the resources to cover, also keeps an unfortunate running tally of stories of hers that were picked up by the press without so much as a nod.

3. Share the Credit

Which brings me to my final point: Share the credit. It really is okay for journalists to look for local leads in neighborhood blogs. But when a reporter finds one, she should be sure to find a way to weave a tip-o-the-hat into her narration of the story.

Don't pretend you work in a vacuum. Giving credit is common courtesy. And it leaves your friendly local bloggers free to be incensed by horrendous construction gaffes and intransigent municipal bureaucracies instead of ticked off at you.

Journalists should strive to share their reporting and pool their technical skills and give one another the courtesy of due credit. Those simple steps would go a long way toward increasing the size, scope, and vitality of the news ecosystem.

February 17 2011

16:45

Blizzard Builds KOMU Community with Mobile Video, Facebook







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

I've always dreamed of a time when my community could come together with the help of our on-air and online collaboration. All it took was a blizzard to make it happen.

Mid-Missouri was hit with a blizzard-like storm that dumped 17.5 inches of snow into Columbia, Mo., and even more south of the city. The entire viewing audience of KOMU-TV was home and stuck inside. An ice storm had threatened to cut power across the region, but that didn't happen. Instead, the community was snowed in with power to their computers and high speed Internet connections. They were contained and ready to be engaged.

The KOMU newsroom was ready. The staff is a mix of professional reporters and journalists who are still students at the Missouri School of Journalism. The managers of the newsroom -- who, like me, are also faculty members -- encouraged the students to step up and help out in the coverage of what was looking to become an epic storm.

About 40 faculty, staff and students essentially lived in the newsroom to make sure all of the newscasts got on the air. I gathered up multiple teams of reporters, who were then placed into different communities. Each team had a really nice camera and at least one person had an iPhone, Android or Blackberry phone that could shoot video and/or Skype. I had the reporters download a set of tools that would help them tell multimedia stories about their locations and how those smaller towns were dealing with the heavy snow.

My recommendations were:

While we didn't use all of them, I wanted to make sure we were ready and able on all kinds of platforms.

Videos on the Scene

The reporters went out to their various locations, found a hotel, and got ready. As the day went on and the snow fell harder, the mobile reporters went out into the storm. They were looking at scenes no one else was willing to travel out to see -- like what a closed interstate highway looked like:

My favorite was taken the morning after the storm when one of our student reporters hopped onto a snow plow to survey the bad road conditions:

While the reporters were out sharing their stories of the snowstorm, our viewers were at home watching every link, video, and live broadcast. When the majority of the storm was over, the KOMU 8 viewers took over by sharing many of their own stories about the storm. Our newsroom has an email address that accepts moderated photos into a Ning network. Hundreds of photos were sent to KOMU -- and that was in addition to the more than 620 photos posted to the KOMU Facebook wall.

The fan page was the centerpiece of our online interaction during the storm. A year ago, KOMU had fewer than 500 "fans" on the page. Before the storm, it was up to 3100. After the storm, it was up to 5500. Our newsroom has yet to use contests to encourage fans to join our page so this jump was huge. Along with the increase in fans, more and more people join in on the conversations and share on the page.

Big Moment for Sharing

This is what I've always craved as a journalist working in a regional market. It's exactly the sort of interaction I've taught my students to foster for years. I have always wanted open the line of communication and sharing with my news audience. This blizzard was the first time I really had that opportunity.

During the storm, I lived on my computer. I commented and reacted to every discussion for at least 36 hours. I slept very little.

My experience was not unique for the staff. My husband, who also works in the newsroom, and stayed there for two days while I worked from home with our children. I had student employees who slept at the station and worked with me throughout the storm.

It was awesome and exhausting. But the relationships formed during that storm seem to be holding. In the two weeks since the storm, KOMU's Facebook page has only had about ten "fans" leave the page.

The downsides? The amount of user-generated content we gathered was overwhelming. I wanted to make sure we had opportunities to share all it. Our anchors did stories about the content viewers had shared, and we featured the images and video by showing off an iPad on the air. I also had my students create collections of the photos our viewers uploaded. Here's our Blizzard Kids collection:

The best moment? I'd say it was when our team found a woman and her son digging out the reporters' car. They were compelled to help by a Skype conversation during our newscast about how the reporters' car had been buried at a local hotel. The mother and son, who were staying there at the time, left their room just to help the reporters get their car out of the hotel parking lot:

What lessons did we learn? That when you have a chance to engage, grab it. We used mobile tools to report and encouraged our viewers to do the same. We shared, we compared, and we were a true community on-air and online. I would suffer through a hundred more blizzards if it meant we could continue to share and collaborate like we did during this one.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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December 15 2010

16:55

Introducing Sourcerer: A Context Management System

If you want to follow the news, the World Wide Web has a lot to offer: a wide variety of information sources, powerful search tools, and no shortage of sites where people can voice their opinions.

At the same time, though, the Web can be overwhelming. Hundreds of links turn up in a Google search. Relevant information can be scattered across dozens of sites. Online conversations often generate more heat than light. And if you have a question about a news topic, it's hard to find the answer.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a website that made it easier to keep up with and understand the news?

Soon, there could be. Let me introduce you to Sourcerer, a website prototype developed this fall by a team of graduate journalism students, including five Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners.

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Sourcerer is a "context management system" designed to help people learn more about a topic by asking questions, answering them, backing up those answers with links, and navigating through previous coverage via a timeline.

Sourcerer emerged out of Medill's Community Media Innovation Project class, which studied the news and information needs of local audiences and the challenges facing online publishers who want to serve them.

Two of the key problems identified by the students:

  • People who don't follow every twist and turn in an ongoing story -- especially one that has deep historical context, such as the achievement gap between white and minority students in public schools -- have difficulty understanding the context of that story. Others have noted this problem as well: Matt Thompson, now of NPR, has written and spoken eloquently about "how journalists might start winning at the context game."
  • At the same time, in every community, there are knowledgeable citizens who dominate discussion boards and comment threads -- often mixing fact with opinion and intimidating those who want to learn more but are afraid of displaying their lack of understanding by asking questions. The Medill team wanted communities to benefit from the expertise of these knowledgeable citizens while creating an environment where discussion could be organized around facts, not just opinions.

Sourcerer seeks to serve people just trying to understand an issue as well as those who already have that understanding. It could be launched as part of an existing news site, or as a collaboration among multiple publishers covering a community or topic.

While the site is not quite ready for a public rollout yet, let me walk you through Sourcerer's key features:

1) Topics

The Medill team concluded that Sourcerer should be organized around topics, rather than stories. Their first challenge was figuring out how to present a complex topic in a way that is not intimidating to someone who hasn't followed the story before. After testing several approaches with users, the students settled on short summaries of key elements, with bold-face highlights and links to external sites providing background.

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2) Questions

The second key element of Sourcerer is an interface for people to ask questions about the topic. Like many question-and-answer sites, Sourcerer allows users to "upvote" questions they think are particularly good. Questions with the most votes appear at the top, and a Sourcerer site covering multiple topics would highlight the most popular questions.

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3) Answers and clips

What differentiates Sourcerer from other Q&A sites is the fact that answers can be posted only if the answerer provides a link to source material backing up the answer. A key feature of the site is the News Clipper, which enables users to provide a link and also grab a key excerpt of the linked-to page for insertion into the answer on Sourcerer.

4) Voting and flagging

In addition to "upvoting" questions, Sourcerer users can also render their opinions about the answers. As with questions, users can register a "thumbs up" for answers they approve of. They can also flag answers as opinions rather than facts.

5) The timeline

One of the coolest features of Sourcerer is a timeline constructed out of the articles that are linked from the site. The timeline is built dynamically -- as answerers provide links to source material, the linked-to articles are added to the timeline.

The timeline displays the articles as a series of vertical bars. The higher the bar, the more popular the linked-to article. The timeline also shades the articles based on whether users deem them factual or opinion-based.

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The timeline displays the articles in chronological order, left to right. Mousing over the timeline displays the article headline and summary. The beauty of this interface is that it provides an easy way to navigate chronologically through articles published about a particular topic -- even articles published on multiple external sites.

You can get a sense of how Sourcerer works by checking out a screencast prepared by Shane Shifflett of the Sourcerer development team. The other developers were Steven Melendez, Geoffrey Hing and Andrew Paley.

We're looking for sites -- and users -- interested in participating in a beta launch. If you're interested, go to Sourcerer.US and sign up.

If you want to know a lot more about Sourcerer, the class' final report provides much more detail about the site as well as the research that led to its development. The report includes a lot of good advice for hyperlocal publishers about audience research and revenue strategies. The class also produced a separate revenue "cookbook" for hyperlocal publishers.

You can see the students present Sourcerer and their other findings and recommendations here. For even more background and context, check out LocalFourth.com, the blog the students maintained during the class. The "Fourth" is a reference to the press -- the Fourth Estate.

December 01 2010

15:00
Medill Students: Audience Research Should Drive Hyperlocal Revenue Strategy

At the Block By Block "community news summit" in September, operators of locally focused websites came together to share what they knew and learn from their peers. Almost all of them were looking for advice on how to support their sites financially.

Here's a start: "Sustaining Hyperlocal News: An Approach to Studying Local Business Markets," a new report from a team of master's students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The report is the first output -- with more to come -- from this term's "innovation project" class.

"To become financially sustainable, hyperlocal publishers need to make revenue a priority rather than an afterthought," the report says.

The report focuses mainly on approaches to generating online advertising revenue in local communities. It draws on interviews with site publishers as well as audience research and advertiser interviews conducted by the class in our "case study" community: Evanston, Illinois, Medill's hometown.

The starting point, the students contend, is "getting to know your audience ... really getting to know them." The report describes the audience research process undertaken by the class, with suggestions on how hyperlocal publishers can adapt and replicate this research.

Based on an analysis of local advertising in Evanston, the report also identifies business categories most likely to be interested in advertising locally: home furnishing, retail, banking, community organizations, restaurants and professional services. Beyond that, the students conclude that new and growing businesses have different advertising needs than "legacy businesses," which are well-established in their communities.

"Sustaining Hyperlocal News" was researched and written by the class business/revenue team, which was led by Frank Kalman and Jesse Young,one of five Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners enrolled in the class. You can read Frank's take on the report on the class blog, LocalFourth.com

The class will also produce a longer report addressing more of the challenges facing hyperlocal publishing on the web, as well as a website prototype demonstrating new forms of online interaction around local news.

For readers in the Chicago area, the class's final presentation next week is open to the public.  It's  scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, in the Forum (first floor auditorium) of the McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston. RSVP here. If you can't attend the presentation, it will be live-streamed (and archived for later viewing) at bit.ly/CMIP2010.

The class is being supported by the Community News Matters grant program. Community News Matters is overseen by the Chicago Community Trust, which initiated the program as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge.


November 29 2010

16:30

Why We Gave Our Students Droid Smartphones to Capture News

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

On a cold fall night about 20 years ago I was standing in a phone booth alongside the Welland Canal. The deck of the lake freighter I was writing about was slowly sinking down as the lock level lowered. In front of me was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 computer with a faint 8-line LCD display. It was acoustically coupled to the grimy pay phone's handset and was sputtering my copy at 300 characters per second back to my newsroom. It spurted the last period of my story in time for me to leap down to the descending, ice-rimmed deck and continue my journey.

Now, two decades later, I want my students to have the same experience. I want them to witness and then file from the scene. But, I want them to use smartphones connected to a high speed, 3G network. And I want those phones to be capable of capturing video, stills and text and sharing.

Okay, I don't want them to back a pig-slow file transfer in a race against a departing lake freighter. But, the idea remains the same.

Droids for All

This semester at Ryerson University in Toronto, thanks to help from Motorola and Telus, a major Canadian cell phone provider, my fellow third-year online journalism instructor Vinita Srivastava and I have been able to provide all our two dozen students with Android-powered Droid smartphones.

While some of the students already have feature phones and Blackberries (and a few iPhones), it's great to have them all at the same level and give them equal and free access to a technology that can get pretty pricey when you factor in a monthly data plan, especially in Canada.

Our intention is to have the students, where possible and appropriate, do as many aspects of their reporting on the phones. That includes research, using social media, recording audio, capturing video, taking still photos, writing and editing stories and filing online to Flickr, YouTube, our class blog and the Toronto-based hyper-local news site, OpenFile. (Disclosure: MediaShift managing editor Craig Silverman is the digital journalism director of OpenFile.)

We are working with OpenFile because they have created a very interesting model for hyper-local news. They fully engage communities in their own coverage and encourage non-journalists to open files on the site on issues or events that interest them or that they are curious about. Site editors then assign freelance journalists to follow up on the leads and produce stories for the site. And, those stories can be followed up by anyone and leave an online comet trail of evidence and additions in their wake.

While the recent municipal election was going on in Toronto, the students used their smartphones to bring citywide election issues down to the neighborhood level. They also live-tweeted candidate meetings and, on election night, results and reactions. They've already used them to capture and share video interviews with candidates, share photo essays of wards, write their stories in coffee shops and even catch breaking news in the form of a dramatic fire in a Wellsley Avenue apartment that led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Some of those residents were interviewed by video using a smartphone.

Other students roamed the streets, looking for local stories. Here's a video interview that student Claire Penhorwood conducted with the owner of a local business:

Device of the Future

All well and good, but why is using smartphones important?

First, because mobile devices like smartphones are not only perfect little tools for journalism; but, equally as important, more and more people are using these devices to consume content and also to create and distribute photos, gossip, events and the other little flakes of experience that are taken for news by those that care deeply about them. So, if we want to tell and share our stories, we should learn to use and master the devices more and more people are using to consume and create it.

ryerson.pngSecond, if you want to explore community-level hyper-local journalism, smartphones are a natural tool for a diffuse, mobile news team.

Third, smartphones are powerful multimedia tools capable of capturing high quality audio and video, but they are also light, unobtrusive and non-threatening for folks not used to media attention.

Fourth, these devices are built for social networks, online sharing and diffuse content creation. If you want to teach the journalistic application of these things, they're an ideal ally.

Finally, they help us model the future. These devices will only get faster, smarter and more capable (and probably thinner). Networks will get faster and ubiquitous. Devices like tablets and smartphones will be our go-to devices for consuming news. We should help our students get used to it.

There's one other aspect of this experiment I should mention. The students post final stories to OpenFile, but also collectively contribute notes on their progress and process to our shared blog, Rye Here, Rye Now, which is built on the Posterous microblogging platform. Students contribute text, video, photos or photo slideshows from their phones just by emailing them to Posterous.

That combination gives students an on-the-ground tool for news capture and a near-instant place to post it. We want to make mobile news coverage gestural. We'll let you know how that turns out.

Wayne MacPhail began in the industry as a magazine photographer, feature writer and editor. In 1983, he moved to the Hamilton Spectator where was a health, science and social services columnist, feature writer and editor. In 1991, he founded Southam InfoLab, a research and development lab looking into future information products for this Canadian national newspaper chain. After leaving Southam, he developed online content for most Canadian online networks. He now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. He also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University.

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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October 30 2010

16:53

Blimee Brings Local News, Engagement and Instant Offers to Digital Signage

New ideas, new ventures, new visions: They never turn out quite the way the entrepreneur expects, and often the path to success comes from walking backwards into a great idea. That's what happened with an innovative digital media journalism venture that emerged from the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The founder wasn't even a journalism student. He was a film student with an idea for a better way to get people interested in watching movies. In fact, his idea was nearly a Thumbnail image for Blimee-logo.jpgproduct with a customer and investor lined up when the student, sophomore Marius Ciocirlan, asked to become one of our special Advanced Projects in Digital Media Entrepreneurship students. Within a matter of hours, the founder had deconstructed his original idea to design a new kind of product and business model that may have a significant impact in reviving an audience for local journalism.

Ciocirlan noticed something that was no more radical than a fish noticing that they live in water. He looked around and observed digital screens and billboards everywhere -- in cafes, restaurants, stores and malls; at gas pumps, and even on roadsides. Furthermore, he noticed that largely they were being used merely to push more advertising and marketing onto the public. With a new medium this pervasive, he mused, there had to be a better way. And Blimee was born.

The Blimee concept is deceptively simple: The online platform pushes content to specific screens at specific locations, and then allows people to interact with the content -- and with each other -- while in front of the screens via Twitter, text messaging and other novel means. Local content plus social interaction displayed on digital signs while people are "out and about."It's a simple combination that yielded profound results.

True Hyperlocal

While so many upstart ventures claim to be close to the holy grail of "hyper-local" news and content, Blimee achieves it handily. By pushing content to the locations, Blimee allows each screen to have unique news, relevant to the neighborhood, mixed with news relevant to the community, town or city at large. Users can tweet comments and responses about the content or even about the activity surrounding them. Viewers in front of screens at other locations can join the conversation -- as can readers from home.
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Relevant hyperlocal content is part of what makes Blimee so compelling, but where does all this content come from? One powerful behind-the-scenes feature is that reporters can be assigned to neighborhoods where they regularly write and deliver news and then get feedback and tips from readers in real-time or later via the web. Blimee revives the local beat. The reporter can develop a relationship with area residents, build their personal brand and develop a following.

Back to the Future

By combining real-time local news and local political issues with local events and attractions in the heart of the community, Blimee revives a trio of concepts that long ago defined community: The town crier, the town hall and the town square.

In the 21st century, Blimee uses digital signage scattered throughout malls, cafes, offices and stores to push local news (town crier), allow people to interact about local issues (town hall) and inform them about local attractions and events (town square).

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Blimee displays news on each screen that is most relevant to the neighborhood or town where the screen is located. Passers-by can stop and see the latest local news, mixed with other fun and compelling information. Later, they can go to Blimee on the web, and look at a map of all its locations and view the news and information on the screens in case they missed something, and even forward new information to the beat reporters. The content has some advertising around it, but Blimee's business model is not to make money from ads -- these revenues go to the content providers: The journalists. Yes, this is a product that actually has a way for journalists to make money.

Blimee also has a strong social networking aspect. While people are standing in front of the screens, Blimee displays tweets and text messages from viewers who are standing in front of screens at other locations. The screens can inform people on timely local civic issues -- from city council votes to reports of traffic or roadwork -- as they stroll through town. People can even tweet just-in-time messages of value for other screen owners, such as the availability of parking or the proximity of aggressive tow trucks. Viewers can comment on the news or on community issues, and Blimee takes ad-hoc polls, and showcases interesting and insightful comments. When viewers get home, they can log on and continue the discussion with their neighbors.

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There's also another feature that makes so much sense, it's almost funny that so many have missed it: While people are in front of a Blimee screen viewing news and messages, Blimee informs them about local attractions, events and special offers -- all of which are within walking distance of where they are right now. Then, when a local movie theater discovers that the "Wall Street" sequel only has a few people seated 15 minutes before the start of the movie, it can broadcast a special offer to all screens within walking distance for a 50 percent discount to all those that can arrive in time.

Of course the same concept is just as valuable for restaurants and any other retail store within walking distance. In fact, this is Blimee's primary business model: Making money from local businesses pushing last-minute offers to attract immediate walk-in customers.

To make the experience even more compelling, Blimee has other aspects to keep people engaged -- from trivia games where several people can play against each other or be quizzed on the "host" restaurant's menu for discounts and prizes -- to the ability to view live webcams from other areas of town nearby.

Immediate Success

From the first day it launched, it's fair to say that Blimee has been a rousing success wherever it has appeared. Almost everyone who looks at the screen "gets it" immediately. Soon after, they realize they can text and tweet their opinions about the news to each other and they see the discussions appear on the screen as they unfold. It is engaging and compelling.

During the first deployments, people were so intrigued to see their comments in public they even posed for photos next to the Blimee screen when their tweets appeared. But viewers are not the only ones who understand Blimee's value. Retail owners and advertisers are quick to grasp Blimee's potential for attracting customers and new revenue opportunities.

Public tweets, movie tickets and tow trucks -- what does this all mean for local journalism? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Blimee provides three vital aspects local newspapers seemed to have lost over the years: Engagement, relevance and a viable business model. The audience remains as interested and as enthusiastic as ever. Now local journalists have a way to reach them again.

The extinction of the colonial town crier didn't mean people's appetite for local news diminished: It's just that the method and model became outdated. Local newspapers filled that role for centuries until their viability waned. Today, digital signs and billboards may the 21st century town crier, with Blimee leading the way.

October 07 2010

19:13

Examiner.com Execs Push for Quality, Refute 'Content Farm' Tag

Journalists love to categorize, generalize and put everything into easily digestible chunks of information. But in our quest to explain something in simple terms, we also can oversimplify things. That may have been the case with MediaShift's recent series, Beyond Content Farms, where we included Examiner.com in no less than three stories. Examiner.com does create massive amounts of content, with more than 3,000 new stories per day written by more than 55,000 "Examiners," or paid local contributors.

And while Examiner.com was fine with getting the coverage on MediaShift, they don't like being cast in the same light as Demand Media and Associated Content. I recently met with Rick Blair, CEO of Clarity Digital Group (which runs Examiner.com for billionaire Philip Anschutz) and Leonard Brody, president of Clarity Digital and former co-founder of NowPublic (bought by Clarity last year). They were clearly uncomfortable with the "content farm" tag for Examiner.com and tried to emphasize the vetting process for hiring Examiners, their training program, and community policing of their work.

blairbrody.jpg

"There's a philosophical difference between what we do and what Demand or Associated Content would do," Brody said. "Sometimes people will compare us because we have a volume of producing content so they think that we must fall into the 'content farm' bucket. But the philosophical difference is very simple: We don't start from the basis of content. We start from the basis of the Examiner. The Examiners are our core currency, that we build everything around -- our toolsets, the Examiner workflow -- we don't put the value on the content at the start. We're much more on the qualitative side, and have much more of a local focus and bent."

Yet, similarities to Demand Media do exist. Demand does pay for content that will show up in searches, and Examiner.com pays contributors based on a "black box" calculation that includes page views and traffic to the story. Rick Blair even touted a recent ad campaign on Examiner.com that was focused on helping boost the SEO (search engine optimization) for an advertiser because of the stories written by Examiners. Plus, there's the staggering numbers in content creation that all these sites produce. To wit:

> 55,000 Examiners in more than 200 cities in the U.S. and Canada, with a goal of getting more than 200,000 Examiners in two years.

> More than 3,000 stories posted per day, with an archive of 1.5 million stories.

> 20.8 million unique visitors to Examiner.com sites in July 2010, with 60.1 million page views served, according to Omniture figures cited by Clarity Digital.

These are impressive numbers for an operation that really only hit the ground running two years ago. Blair told me they are on the road to profitability, and have 100 staffers, remaining largely separate from the Examiner newspapers that Anschutz owns in San Francisco and Washington, DC. The following is an edited transcript of my recent interview with Blair and Brody, including some Flipcam video excerpts.

Q&A

Tell me how the integration with NowPublic has gone at Examiner.com?

Rick Blair: We purchased NowPublic about this time last year, and we've used their platform to launch our Drupal 7 platform, or Examiner 2.0, which is the largest consumer-facing Drupal platform in the United States. Everything's gone quite well. We have the normal slip-ups that you have with any technology platform where you're serving over 20 million readers a month, and 60 million page views a month. We just released a new publishing tool for our writers, and within a week, 75% of them are working with it and are happy with it.

Len, tell me how things have changed for you going from NowPublic to the world of the Examiners and Clarity Digital?

Leonard Brody: Well, now I have Rick yelling at me a lot instead of my board. [laughs] The big change for us was the paradigm in which we stored it, it was pure user-generated content. NowPublic was a free-for-all. You could sign up and contribute, and as long as you weren't doing anything illegal, your stuff was posted and the community sorted it out. The Examiner model is much more sophisticated... No one was doing pro-am very well, and the Examiner said, 'The time is right for someone to do a true pro-am model.' And they've owned that space very well from the way they heavily vet the people who apply to be an Examiner to writing samples to criminal checks (which is why Rick and I are not Examiners...). [Rick laughs]

The ecosystem of content has changed for us. We've filled out the whole picture, with NowPublic as pure UGC [user-generated content] with an unadulterated flow. That's been the big difference. Qualitatively you see a big step up in that respect.

Rick, what did you feel like you got out of NowPublic, outside of Len [Brody] himself?

Blair: Well, we looked at NowPublic for three things primarily. The management team was one of them, and Len's been a visionary and leader there... We were growing so fast at Examiner.com, that the wheels were coming off our platform. We needed an open source solution, and we found that with NowPublic. The third thing is that NowPublic had nearly 200,000 contributors, and we utilize NowPublic as a farm team for our Examiners, for the paid writers on Examiner.com.

Most of our Examiners come from referrals from other Examiners. There's some exponential math there that I can't do.

So there's a bit of an Amway angle to it?

Blair: A bit. We were looking at multi-level marketing when were first discussing the concept back in 2008 when we had six cities and 100 Examiners.

So if you referred someone who brought in a lot of traffic, you would get some kind of bonus for that?

Blair: We looked at and quite frankly, it was a bit complicated to explain to people, so we came up with a simpler way to do that, and a more successful way. Because now we have 55,000 Examiners in about two years' time, and we've grown from a million unique visitors to 20 million unique visitors a month. We produce about 3,000 stories a day and have an archive of 1.5 million stories.

The route we took to that was a good one. There are some multi-level marketing aspects to it because we've sent our Examiners to recruit other Examiners. What we find that is those Examiners find the best Examiners.

And if they can recruit for you, then they're doing your job for you?

Blair: It's one of the most expensive ways to recruit people, but over time, it's where we get the best people.

Blair explains how the editorial oversight and workflow operates at Examiner.com, including rigorous vetting up front, and allowing the community to fact-check:

Tell me more about your training program for Examiners.

Blair: We have 40 courses at "Examiner University" [an online set of tutorials for writers], and we teach them how to write headlines, how to tag stories, how to socially distribute their content. We also discuss how to use the AP Style Book, and make sure they don't creep over the line. We don't cover crime or politics, particularly, and we don't endorse politicians. Most of what we do is provide useful information for our passionate local insiders in the community.

How does it differ from what Demand Media does?

Blair: Demand Media, and even Associated Content, what they'll do is select a certain area, and even write the headline occasionally. They'll then submit that to their freelancers, have them write it and then they pay them a fee for that. We cover local, and in order to do that accurately, we have to cover areas that aren't as easily monetized as other stories. So we're not going to have 50 stories on gadgets in San Francisco. We have to cover the bar and restaurant scene as well. We're not about using an algorithm and telling people to write more about that topic.

Rick Blair explains how writers are compensated, but can't give all details because the exact system is a secret. Len Brody says they tell writers not to quit their day jobs:

So who do you see as competition? Is it hyper-local sites, local TV or newspapers, or alternative weeklies?

Brody: There are two answers to that question. Your competitors are the people competing for your revenue dollars. In that sense, everyone in the local broadcast area would be somewhat in that same pool. But in the content aspect, we are somewhat unique. When we started the company, we figured we would find lots of people in communities who were like-minded and passionate about similar things. But really there wasn't. So the model here was different, it was to create a reflection and recreation of America's town squares, and let people collect and discuss things they are passionate about -- not only in their communities, but geo-topically across other communities across the U.S.

Blair: In terms of scaling the business, we're a little different than others as well. We put a fence around North America, and said we're going to publish in 233 cities in the United States, 5 cities in Canada, and do two national editions -- one for the U.S. and one for Canada. And then we're going to get more hyper-local and grow that organically from local on up. In Los Angeles, for example, we have more than 2,000 Examiners today, but there's 800 neighborhoods, so we know we have a long way to go to be hyper-local, but we have a shorter trip than most.

We went through a local and hyper-local online boom before, with CitySearch and Microsoft Sidewalk and so many others, many of whom failed. Now we have Examiner.com and Patch and some others coming in. What do you think is different now?

Blair: Well, I was part of the Digital City team at AOL, and at that time, we weren't looking for individual contributors, we were looking to the local media. And it was online but not really the Internet, it was 1994, 1995. The tools didn't exist to have individual contributors such as Examiners. The tools for measurement of audience and advertisers and couponing online did not exist in 1995. We made our meal ticket at Digital City in classifieds. Today you'll see that someone else has capitalized on classifieds. I think he lives nearby. [A reference to Craig Newmark and Craigslist, based in San Francisco.]

We're focused on local sponsorships for as low as $29 a month. When I say sponsor, they can have their ad adjacent to relevant content. It's in a safe environment because we vetted all these people. We don't allow our Examiners to shill for advertising, and there's no direct compensation to them for [ad sales next to their content]. For distributing content over social media, we've created a product called Examiner Connect, which lets us combine social media content, SEO and paid Internet advertising to service the big brands.

Rick Blair explains how Examiner.com did a big campaign for Iams pet food about pet adoptions and helped them with SEO, and discusses how they separate Examiners from the advertising. Plus he describes the sales process for selling local ads:

Does Clarity Digital Group owner Philip Anschutz have input into what you're doing? How autonomous are you in what you do?

Blair: We're very autonomous. We get that question quite often because of the name that we use, Examiner.com, which is the same name as the Examiner newspapers. Phil has never asked us to slant our stories in any way, and we would never ask the Examiners to do that. He's a funder and a builder and he gives us business guidance. On our larger businesses decisions, since he's our sole investor, he has a lot of input. We meet with him directly about once a week. There's a large team, which in a public company might be called a board of advisors, and we have a group of Anschutz employees that are internal and work with his companies, and they really do help us.

What about the conflicts of interest for writers? If they don't have someone editing it, it might be easy to write something about a local business where you know the owner of the business. Seems like a lot of possible conflicts would come up.

Blair: We don't allow the Examiners to shill for folks. If we find out about it, then it's cause to take down the story, and if it continues to happen, we would cease our relationship with that Examiner. We do have a staff of about 100 employees, and most of them are on the content and recruiting side. And we have a team of five people who sit on top of the feeds. If they find something unusual, they'll delete them.

Brody: Since the early days of NowPublic, we found that statistically speaking, the level of errors and conflicts between traditional and non-traditional media is probably about the same. The difference is that in non-traditional media the transparency is so great... it's like the eBay phenomenon. If you care about your credibility in that community, you'll be very careful to do things that are not off-side. The community is very quick to police, and is very quick to ensure that people really are who they say they are. You get a faster self-policing there than you would in traditional media which is often a one-way broadcast.

Blair talks about future plans to expand to more than 200,000 Examiners in the next two years, plus adding mobile apps for Examiners so they can report on breaking news happening in their area:

*****

What do you think of the Examiner.com local model? Is compensation fair for the Examiners, and what about the quality of content? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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September 27 2010

19:01

Local News Needs 'Bottom Up' Structure to Survive

This week Orkney Today announced it was closing. The paper, which served the small islands of Orkney just off the Scottish coast, was -- like countless other local papers -- battling against declining circulation and disappearing ad revenues. "Orkney Media Group management and the newspaper's excellent staff have tried a number of initiatives to reverse the fortunes of the newspaper," the paper reported, "but to no avail."

If the news industry as a whole isn't exactly the picture of good health, local news is in the emergency room. News problems at a national level -- falls in circulation, and collapse in classified and advertising revenues -- are acute at a local level.

This has serious political implications, particularly in terms of who acts as the democratic watchdog, which is why this concerns not only news bosses but also politicians.

"We are concerned that ... the problems in the local media industry are leading to a scrutiny gap," read a report, Future for Local and Regional News, from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport.

Defining Local

The problem is, when thinking about what to do about it, how do you define local? For Orkney Today this was pretty easy. It served a clearly defined geographic area -- the Orkney isles -- that is run by the Orkney local council, and that has a long established sense of community. But what about places that aren't surrounded by sea, that don't have a single local authority, and may not have such a long established sense of community?

This isn't an academic question. In political -- i.e. public policy -- terms how you define local will determine what you do and how you do it. How can a government, for example, even consider direct or indirect subsidies, for example, without knowing who to give them to and what parameters to set?

Boil it down and you can probably define "local" in three different ways: Politically, economically, or socially. (I'm deliberately ignoring random geographic boundaries even though that's how regional broadcast news appears to be defined right now). The way you choose to define local then has fundamental implications for the type of journalism you end up with.

If you're in government you're probably most worried about the health of democracy and so it makes logical sense to define "local" in political terms -- i.e. at the ward level, or the local authority or county council boundary, or the constituency. This way you highlight the watchdog role of journalism. You make clear that, as a society, you believe in the idea of a "Fourth Estate" -- a section of society whose role it is to scrutinize local politics, uncover corruption, and tell truth to power.

The problem with this is that political boundaries don't necessarily make economic sense or correspond to what people think of as local. Take my ward in England, called "Kingham, Rollright and Enstone." I don't live in Kingham, Rollright or Enstone, I live just outside Chipping Norton. So a news service called The Kingham, Rollright and Enstone Times wouldn't seem very relevant to me. On top of which my ward is pretty spread out (it's rural) and there are only about 4,000 people in it in total. That's too few for most professional news organizations to bother with, unless they can get costs close to nil.

Because if you're a news organization then while you're thinking about local politics you're also thinking economics. You have to be if you're going to survive. You have to think about how many eyeballs you need to make enough revenue via circulation, subscriptions, classifieds, etc. You're making a calculation that, say, you need to sell 10,000 print copies a week to get by. With 10 percent penetration that means you need to serve an area of about 100,000 people. Multiply the numbers considerably for bigger publications or for broadcast. But the problem with an economic definition of local is that it's unlikely to match the public's perception.

If you're a member of the public then local probably means your street, your neighborhood, your town. What the news industry likes to call hyper-local. As a participant in a recent Birmingham focus group said, "If it's not within a 10 mile radius, it's not local news as far as I'm concerned ... it might as well be national." That quote comes from "Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities," a research report released this month by Media Trust. News at this level is great for building community cohesion and for making people feel a part of a bigger society, but it's hard to imagine anyone but volunteers and non-profits providing it in a sustainable way.

Recipe for Success

That's why it's so hard for a government, or a news organization, to know what to do. You can't create this sort of genuine hyper-local news service from the top down. Neither the government nor a news organization can direct the public to produce news about where they live. This sort of news has to be from the ground up. It has to be participatory. It has to be by and for the local community.

Which is why the local news organizations/co-operatives/forums most likely to work are those that start from the bottom, and that build participation, collaboration, mutualization, and partnerships into their DNA. This is very hard indeed for legacy news organizations to do. And it means that the best a government can do is to create a framework in which people are able to fill the vacuum being left by the disappearance of local news, rather than trying to subsidize the existing industry or provide top-down direct support.

September 17 2010

19:10

5 Mistakes That Make Local Blogs Fail

So you're thinking about starting a local blog. Maybe you're a reporter tired of office politics and lowest-common-denominator assignments. Maybe you're a neighborhood gadfly who wants to create a new place for locals to gather. Maybe you're a realtor who wants to generate new leads.

Either way, your local blog, like most new things, will probably fail.

It will fail to support you. 

It will fail to win an audience. 

It will fail to have real impact in your community.

I meet a lot of local bloggers and people thinking about starting local blogs who ask me for tips or for feedback.  After having several of these conversations, it seems useful to pull these conversations together in one place modeled after a great piece Paul Graham of YCombinator wrote back in 2006. He found 18 mistakes that kill startups. I think the mistakes that kill local blogs can be condensed down to five.

Let's break them down.

Five Mistakes

#1. You're doing it alone.

The first reason your local blog will fail is because you don't have the right people working on it. Notice I said "people." No, you will not succeed working on this alone.

As a solo local blog founder, you alone will be responsible for creating the content, editing it, distributing it, selling ads around it, promoting it, collecting payment, accounting for the money collected and spent, and then covering all your legal bases. That's an incredible amount of work. More importantly, any time spent on any one of these tasks is time NOT spent on the others. If you go it alone, your business will be single-threaded. Everything will have to run through you before it can happen and you can't always be available. In a single-threaded business, if the one agent needs to take a break, everything else grinds to a halt. 

As Graham puts it: "When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps binds them together in a way that seems to violate conservation laws. Each thinks "I can't let my friends down." This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it's missing when there's just one founder." If it's really just you, then your team is weak and your blog will fail.

#2. You don't know your market.

The next reason your blog will fail is because you didn't do your homework. In the case of the local reporter who's been covering her beat for a few years, yes, she knows her subject matter inside and out, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of necessary knowledge for building a business around it. For example, does she know:

a. How many people are actively looking for coverage of her beat?

b. The average incomes of those people?

c. How many of them have Internet access?

d. How much time they spend online?

e. What businesses or organizations would like to reach those people?

f. How much money they spend annually in doing so?

I could go on. My experience has been that very, very few local bloggers have answered any of these questions or have any intention of answering them in the course of working on their blog. And these are not tricky, obscure questions. These are questions that any business founder would need to answer in order to be taken seriously or stand a chance at success. If you don't know these things, then you didn't do your homework and your blog will fail.

#3. Your content is weak

The third reason your blog will fail is because your content stinks. It stinks because it lacks a point of view and it fails to address a real, general human problem.

Whether you're a trained journalist, a neighborhood gadfly, or a realtor, your content probably lacks a point of view. As a newspaper reporter, you were trained to be objective. As a gadfly, you have relationships around the community that you have to protect and worry about. As a realtor, you will never say anything bad about the community you cover and therefore will be a bore.

Your blog has to have a point of view and a voice because people only engage with things they can wrap their heads around and get familiar with. Your local blog will only succeed if it wins an audience. You win an audience by building relationships between your stories and readers. No one relates well to something they don't know and understand. Your blog has to have strong, easily remembered stances on local issues people actually care about or it will fail. Groupon is a company that sells deals, not local news per se, but they have a phenomenal grasp of the voice and point of view of their content. Read their style guide here.

Which brings us to the other reason your content is weak. It's weak because no one wants to read it. And no one wants to read it because it doesn't address any real, general human problem. For all the bluster about hyper-local coverage and blogging in the last five years, as someone who runs a city-specific social news site where people vote for the stories they actually are interested in, it seems pretty clear that most people don't give a fig about what's happening day in and day out in their local elected bodies. That stuff matters a great deal to other elected officials, people who do business with elected officials, and the political/news nerds in your community, but that's it. 

If your local blog is focused on covering local government, it should be a subscriber-only, paid newsletter that goes out to just those people. It should only be a public blog if there's mass interest in the subject matter, which there just isn't for a lot of the stories showing up on hyper-local blogs. If your content lacks a point of view and is centered around things that the general public isn't interested in, it will fail.

#4. You haven't thought through your business model

Let's assume you figured all this stuff out. Now how are you going to make money? Ads, you say? Okay, great. Have you answered these questions?

 -What kind of ads? Banners? Text links?  Sponsored posts? Real-time ads?  

 -Who's going to sell them?

 -How are they going to sell them?

 -What are you going to charge? 

 -Who are you going to sell them to? 

 -What's the value proposition of buying your ads over someone else's?

 -How many ads do you need to sell to cover your costs?

 -What the heck are your costs?

Until you answer these questions and more like them, your blog will make no money and it will fail.

#5. You have no distribution strategy

Finally, your local blog is going to fail because you can't distribute it to enough people. If your local blog is ad-supported, then your ads are your product and your content is a marketing tool created to bring people to look at your ads. In order for you to sell ads, you need to have people coming to look at them. You need eyeballs on your blog. How will you get them? 

Twitter and Facebook are good but not great answers here. Both can drive significant traffic but require a lot of work on your end. Also, their purposes are at odds with yours. Facebook and Twitter are your competitors. They sell ads to the same people you probably want to sell ads to. They would be perfectly happy if you didn't start a blog at all and just started a Twitter/Facebook account and posted your content there. If you are a local blogger, Facebook and Twitter, not your local paper, are your biggest threats. Why should someone visit your blog when they can read your headlines alongside other neighborhood headlines over there? They are useful but can't be your main tools.

Search could be a win for you, but have you devised a search engine optimization strategy?

Partnering with established sites could produce regular traffic and great visibility, but have you had formal conversations with other publishers about that? These things don't just happen.   Unless you have a formal, structured plan for how people are going to find you and see your ads on a regular basis, your local blog will fail.

Conclusion

In the end, the main mistake is looking at it wrong. You are not starting a blog, you are launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. You are both starting small, local businesses. You need to know something about blogging and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what it takes to run a small business. Instead of going to the local blogger meetups in your city, you should go to the local small business owner and entrepreneur meetups. Instead of following the latest social media news, you need to read up on the latest advertising, marketing, and search strategies showing results for actual media entrepreneurs in the field. This is the main mistake local bloggers make that dooms their efforts.

But if you can avoid this and the other five listed above, you'll have a chance to start something that will sustain you and have a real impact on your community. That's a special thing. 

There are opportunities out there for local blogs, they just need to be considered and approached with the right frame of mind. 

Thanks to @tracysamantha, @kiyoshimartinez, and @annatarkov for reading drafts of this.

September 15 2010

19:49

Public Media Corps Takes on Broadband Divide for Minorities

If there was a reality show about the Public Media Corps (PMC), the intro might sound something like this: "Here's the true story of how 15 fellows, five public media institutions, three high schools, three community organizations, a library and a museum collaborate to bridge the broadband divide."

Secretly, I wish there was a reality show about the project because I want to see how they're making it work. Many public media projects claim "community engagement" as a priority, but few make it the centerpiece of their work. For the Public Media Corps, that's never been an issue.


The PMC is a national service program that promotes and extends broadband adoption in underserved communities. It does so by placing technology, media production, and outreach fellows in residencies at underperforming high schools, public broadcast stations, and non-profit community organizations. The PMC evolved out of the New Media Institute, which was founded by National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) in 2006 to train media makers of color in new media technology.

Cool Spots

The NBPC launched the beta of Public Media Corps in Washington, D.C., this June. Since then, the group has worked steadily to collect information from the community to build projects based on the needs of people living in Anacostia (Ward 7 and 8) and in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Shaw (Ward 1) -- neighborhoods that are home to predominantly African American, Latino and immigrant communities.

"The fellows are working in teams and using survey tools to gather more quantitative information about the ways in which people use the Internet and social media and what issues and information sources are important to them," said Jacquie Jones, executive director of the National Black Programming Consortium.

Collecting such data can be challenging in a community where residents have limited Internet access. To encourage wider participation, the fellows created "Cool Spots."

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"Cool Spots are mobile Internet assessment hubs," said Jones. "The fellows set them up at block parties, festivals, and outdoor markets and events where the public uses netbooks onsite to complete the online surveys and learn more about the PMC. The Cool Spots are also 'hot spots' with free Wi-Fi to promote broadband use."

Starting this month, the PMC will begin using the data collected at Cool Spots to select three to four projects for the fellows and community partners to collaborate on and ultimately implement in communities for the final months of the D.C. beta.

Collaborating with a Cast of Dozens

Building trust and establishing communication channels are often the first challenges of any large-scale collaboration. With so many people, organizations and communities involved, I was curious to hear just how the PMC staff, fellows and partners were tackling it.

"PMC staff is in frequent communication with partners, stakeholders and the fellows through electronic means and meetings to discuss progress, performance, resources that can be shared and potential projects for the fall," said Kay Shaw, director of Public Media Corps. "The fellows prepare detailed weekly reports and meet as a cohort every Wednesday to discuss their activities, share insights and challenges, site needs, and how to build more collaboration between partners. The staff and the Fellows look forward to these meetings because of their vibrancy and the information and ideas that are shared."

The PMC experimented with several platforms for sharing information electronically. The two that stuck were Google Docs and Dropbox, a web-based file-hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files. The fellows use Google Docs to collaborate on writing projects. They post their weekly reports and media to Dropbox.

Ashley Mosley, a PMC fellow, video producer and community organizer, offered some perspective on the challenges and rewards of collaborating at this level.

"Collaborating with so many community groups has offered a broader perspective, because the personalities of the wards are so different," said Mosley. "The most challenging aspect of this project is building trust within my organization. However, the challenge has been rewarding. Community members have invited me into their personal circles, hangouts, and meetings and they now feel more comfortable discussing the disconnect that they feel with both public media and digital technology."

Measuring Success

Another hurdle collaborations face is measuring success. When working with multiple stakeholders and communities, priorities have a tendency to become malleable and impact ambiguous. To keep the focus on results, the PMC has placed a high priority on collecting data throughout the six-month beta.

"While there is no dearth of projects or project ideas, how many projects can we definitively say have been successful on a large scale in diverse communities?" said Shaw. "That's why we consciously decided to do the research and collect data first and let that inform the projects we would develop to ensure the best chance of gaining traction and making a significant impact in our focus communities."

20100809_jenein_brittany.jpg

The PMC is measuring levels of community engagement, use of public media resources, technological capacity of partner organizations and broadband adoption and patterns of use within the communities.

In addition to collecting community data, the PMC will seek feedback on the performance of its fellows from a team of technologists and public media stakeholders, who will conduct site visits and one-on-one meetings with the fellows.

"They will offer suggestions or adjustments to the project to improve impact and relevancy," said Jones. "American University's Center for Social Media is taking the lead in assessing the evaluation team's observations and recommendations, analyzing the data from the surveys, evaluating and assessing the impact of the projects, culling and documenting best practices, and producing a written report that will be distributed to the public in 2011."

Lessons Learned

In advance of the official 2011 report, I asked Jones and Shaw what they have learned so far from collaborating with the various community groups, fellows and the public on a project of this scale.

"On the one hand it is exciting and rewarding to work with organizations committed to and excited about the project and ready to learn how to expand their capacity to use and leverage public media assets," said Shaw. "On the other hand, because of the interest and need there are lots of demands on the project and we are constantly adjusting to accommodate new information to ensure relevancy and impact."

"One of the greatest challenges to innovation is the need to be constantly adaptive," said Shaw. "That's why we designed a process with maximum flexibility."


Jones' advice to organizations that want to increase collaboration and community engagement is succinct: "Be prepared to abandon your assumptions and what you think are your best ideas."

As for the fellows, they offered some advice of their own for future PMC participants.

"I would advise future fellows to make sure to engage not only their community organization, but also the surrounding communities," said Mosley. "It's important to establish trust. Oh... and of course, to have fun!"

Olivia Rubagumya, a PMC fellow working with PBS Interactive suggested that it's important to "be a good listener and observer. People's realities are often more complex than we can assume them to be, so remain open and attentive no matter the challenges -- the experience is a two-way street."

A public relations and social media consultant, Katie Kemple works with public media clients to build community, develop strategic partnerships, and create integrated public relations campaigns. Over the past ten years, she has held positions at WGBH, WETA, Capital News Connection, and Public Media's EconomyStory. You can find her every Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Twitter, as a co-host and organizer for #pubmedia chat.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 13 2010

19:16

NYC J-Schools Take Divergent Paths on Training, Hyper-Local

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Universities around the country have had to shift the approach of their journalism programs to accommodate a quickly changing media landscape. New York City's journalism schools, in particular, are working to rethink their offerings and adapt to the new world.

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"The challenge inherent to journalism programs today is like taking a bowling ball and trying to hit a fast-moving target," said Adam Penenberg, NYU faculty member and longtime online journalist. Penenberg is teaching a new undergraduate course for NYU this fall about the essentials of entrepreneurial journalism, with topics like managing analytics and using a Twitter account. "It's very difficult for curriculum to change quickly," he said.

As Jay Rosen told MediaShift editor Mark Glaser in the latest 4 Minute Roundup podcast, journalism schools had traditionally been very platform-specific, with students majoring in "broadcast" or "print."

Schools are trying though. The hacker-journalist and journo-entrepreneur are finding homes in programs like Columbia's Master of Science Program in Computer Science and Journalism or in CUNY's forthcoming entrepreneurial journalism graduate program. These cross-disciplinary degrees equip journalists with more than a background in a particular medium.

"Every student needs to grasp the entire puzzle of innovation," said Rosen. "Everything from business models and the nature of the web to involving the community and using multimedia."

Increasingly, universities are looking to project-based curriculum to teach students not only how journalism works now, but how it might survive in the future.

This year both the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute launched collaborations with the New York Times on two of its "The Local" hyper-local sites to explore the questions our news media must answer as it seeks to reboot itself and as journalism schools struggle to expose their students to the full puzzle of innovation. CUNY took over operation of The Local - Fort Greene in January and NYU's start-up The Local - East Village (LEV) goes live today.

NYU

"What I want students to do is look at the web as an opportunity to learn about journalism today by participating in it," said Rosen, who heads the Studio 20 program at NYU that has been planning the LEV for the last year. The model for the LEV site focuses on giving the community opportunities to contribute content to the site. Called the Virtual Assignment Desk, the site will have a feature that allows community members, such as NYU students and local residents, to pitch and contribute to story assignments.

"The idea is that anyone can cover the community," said Assignment Desk plug-in developer Daniel Bachhuber, a digital media manager at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

One of the challenges these types of partnerships in journalism face is ensuring that the student-produced media remains consistent with the standards of the participating news organization. That's where Rich Jones, editor of the LEV, comes in. "We'll obviously bring professional level standards to the treatment of those issues, being under the Times banner brings certain responsibilities," said Jones, a former New York Times writer. "We just want to give students the skills they were need to have a really successful career."

Another challenge NYU faces is making sure that the site remains consistent over the entire year, not just the school year. During the school year, NYU students in the Reporting New York graduate subject concentration will be responsible for the day-to-day content; during the summer the site will be run by a combination of undergraduate summer students and graduate interns in editorial leadership roles as part of the NYU Hyperlocal Newsroom Summer Academy.

"We wanted to make it available to students across the country," said Brooke Kroeger, director of the NYU Journalism Institute.

Undergraduates will be able to enroll in either of two six-week sessions; graduate students are eligible for paid editorial internships assisting with the professional staff of the LEV. "The summer program is integral to the ecosystem that supports the project," she said.

NYU also must deal with inherent conflicts in coverage of the East Village, given that the university is the neighborhood's largest land-owner. Community liaison Kim Davis will be coordinating outreach to the East Village blogosphere and will arrange any coverage pertaining to NYU itself.

"We're willing to work with anybody," said Jones. "We want to promote a real neighborhood-wide conversation, a forum for folks to write stories about themselves."

CUNY

The CUNY collaboration on The Local: Fort Greene is different from its NYU counterpart for a number of reasons. NYU is the largest land-owner in the area that the LEV is covering; CUNY is in a different borough than Fort Greene altogether. CUNY's graduate school of journalism is also relatively small, with approximately 100 students in its ranks. For these reasons, it makes sense that CUNY has taken a different tack with the overall direction for its Local.

"Our goal is to move beyond the idea that we create all the content for The Local," said Jarvis. "What we are concentrating heavily on is the encouragement of the ecosystem itself."

CUNY is taking its partnership with the NYT on The Local as an opportunity to let faculty leadership and student journalists experiment with not only different ways of telling stories, but different ways to pay for those stories, too. Through partnerships with companies like GrowthSpur Jarvis hopes that the site will encourage citizen salespeople to monetize their own start-ups.

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CUNY's Jarvis is also leading the creation of a four-semester entrepreneurial journalism graduate program that he hopes will see its students invent the future of journalism.

Through a focused entrepreneurial curriculum, research into alternative business models for news, and an incubator/investment fund for new business models for news, the program hopes to give students an option to start their own media company, according to Stephen Shepard, dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. "We feel we have to take some responsibility for the future of quality journalism," said Shepard.

"Students' most important job in journalism school is to learn journalism," said Jarvis, "but the benefit here is that they can test out their idea and get advice and help."

Columbia

Not everyone agrees with CUNY's approach, though. "There's a pretty clear finding on where universities can best contribute in a sector that is or should be going through an innovative period," said Nicolas Lemann, dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Research is where universities can really add value, said Lemann.

Last fall, the Graduate School of Journalism released a report titled the The Reconstruction of American Journalism. Watchdog publication The Columbia Journalism Review is also run by, though editorially separate from, the school.

"We're not best positioned to be a business incubator, and though we could do that, it's not where we we can make our best contribution," said Lemann.

Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism has partly responded to the changing media environment by launching its Master of Science Program in Computer Science and Journalism, and it also offers courses like a social media seminar taught by an all-star class of professional new media journalists, such as Vadim Lavrusik of Mashable, Zach Seward of the Wall Street Journal, and Jennifer Preston of the New York Times.

Columbia also encourages journalism students to contribute to class websites. "These sites don't last very long though, and therefore don't build very significant audiences," said Lemann. "One of the things I'd like to do next is build a site that lasts year-round."

Leman's number one goal is to have a contextual curriculum that prepares students to go out and do a story. "There's endless stuff going on at the school," he said. "The aggregate is that this has been a time of real opportunity for journalism schools in general and ours in particular."

Davis Shaver is MediaShift's editorial intern. He is also the founder and publisher of Onward State, an online news organization at Penn State. He studies history and the intersection of science, technology, and society.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 26 2010

18:05

10 Must-Read Sites for Hyper-Local Publishers

Here at NowSpots we're developing a new advertising platform that will let local publishers sell and publish real-time ads on their sites. In my last post here on MediaShift Idea Lab, I explained why real-time ads are a better business model for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers than AdSense or existing display ad solutions.

Since winning a 2010 Knight News Challenge award to kickstart development of our new platform, we've been busy meeting with publishers to learn more about their needs and problems. We've also been busy reading up on what's happening in the hyper-local publishing space. This week I'm going to share with you 10 sites I read on a regular basis for news, commentary, and context about business models for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers. At the end of the post are links to subscribe to them through RSS or to follow them on Twitter.

Top Ten

1. MediaGazer

MediaGazer is a semi-automated aggregator for media news. It's a dead-simple, one-page site that lists the day's top media headlines from around the web alongside links to related coverage. What's great about MediaGazer is that their algorithm makes sure they get just about everything interesting each day, while their editorial touch makes sure the front page is always interesting. Not every story on MediaGazer pertains to the local news game, but anything good that does will be there.

2. Nieman Journalism Lab

The Nieman Journalism Lab is a blog covering journalism's efforts to figure out its future. Moreso than any other blog on the web, they are squarely focused on introducing new examples of "the new news" and figuring out what they might lead to. My only complaint is that I wish they'd post more. Just about everything they run is in my wheelhouse as a news startup guy.

3. Lost Remote

Lost Remote is focused on "hyper-local news, neighborhood blogs, and local journalism startups." Originally started by MSNBC.com's Cory Bergman, it is now edited by Steve Safran. Anything interesting that happens in the local news space that could impact hyper-local bloggers shows up here. Lost Remote is the TechCrunch of hyper-local bloggers. A must read.

4. Local Onliner

Peter Krasilovsky's Local Onliner blog is a repository of analysis pieces on the future of local online publishing that he writes for the Kelsey Group blog. As a vice president at BIA/Kelsey, where he works on local online commerce, Krasilovsky's perspective on hyper-local news, geo-targeted advertising and the like is worth a look for anyone who wants to understand the business behind local publishing.

5. Mashable's local section

Uber-blog Mashable devotes a post or two each month to the local space, and its coverage is picking up with the rise of group-buying sites such as Groupon and location-based social networks such as Foursquare and GoWalla. I filter down to just posts tagged "local" to sidestep the never-ending onslaught of headlines about Twitter.

6. Local SEO Guide

Local SEO is a sharp blog from Andrew Shotland, an SEO consultant who specializes in local. Every hyper-local blogger needs to be aware of how findable their content is through search. Shotland's blog offers detailed rundowns of topics such as why sites like Yelp do so well in search that can help you better connect with readers through local search.

7. Hyperlocal Blogger

Matt McGee's Hyperlocal Blogger pulls together the latest news coverage of the hyper-local blogging space and publishes regular commentary on issues affecting neighborhood bloggers. For instance, McGee recently responded to the news that the city of Philadelphia is requiring city bloggers to buy a Business Privilege License for $300.

8. Chicago Art Magazine Transparency Pages

A bit of a hidden gem, this series of blog posts by Chicago Art Magazine's Kathryn Born covers a seven month period in late 2009 during which she launched a collection of websites focused on the Chicago art scene. In these posts, which carry a bit of a confessional tone, she discusses how hard it is to sell ads to local galleries, and her philosophy on creating quick content for the web. They're a great recounting of the trials and tribulations of starting a hyper-local web publication, and every hyper-local blogger should read them.

9. MediaShift Idea Lab

The blog you're reading right now has been a favorite of mine ever since I started Windy Citizen in 2008. I love the site for its great think-pieces about the future of news and updates from Knight News Challenge winners. We're excited to have a spot of our own now, and we still drop by regularly to see what's new. For hyper-local bloggers interested in new ideas about the space, this should be a regular stop.

10. eMedia Vitals

eMedia Vitals has an old-school name and takes an old-school approach to covering tactics and strategies for growing your digital business. Editor (and co-founder of TechicallyPhilly.com) Sean Blanda turned me onto the site at SXSW last year and I've since found their analysis to be relevant to people working in the local news space.

OPML File and Twitter List

These are the sites I'm reading on a regular basis to keep up with what's happening in the hyper-local space. I'm sure you may have a few favorites of your own that I omitted. If so, feel free to share them with me in the comments below or via Twitter (I'm @bradflora).

I've created an OPML file that you can import to add the feeds for all these sites to Google Reader. You can find it here.

And if you prefer reading your news through Twitter, I've created a list over on the NowSpots Twitter account that you can follow to add these folks to your Twitter feed. You can find it here.

Happy reading!

18:05

10 Must-Read Sites for Hyper-Local Publishers

Here at NowSpots we're developing a new advertising platform that will let local publishers sell and publish real-time ads on their sites. In my last post here on MediaShift Idea Lab, I explained why real-time ads are a better business model for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers than AdSense or existing display ad solutions.

Since winning a 2010 Knight News Challenge award to kickstart development of our new platform, we've been busy meeting with publishers to learn more about their needs and problems. We've also been busy reading up on what's happening in the hyper-local publishing space. This week I'm going to share with you 10 sites I read on a regular basis for news, commentary, and context about business models for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers. At the end of the post are links to subscribe to them through RSS or to follow them on Twitter.

Top Ten

1. MediaGazer

MediaGazer is a semi-automated aggregator for media news. It's a dead-simple, one-page site that lists the day's top media headlines from around the web alongside links to related coverage. What's great about MediaGazer is that their algorithm makes sure they get just about everything interesting each day, while their editorial touch makes sure the front page is always interesting. Not every story on MediaGazer pertains to the local news game, but anything good that does will be there.

2. Nieman Journalism Lab

The Nieman Journalism Lab is a blog covering journalism's efforts to figure out its future. Moreso than any other blog on the web, they are squarely focused on introducing new examples of "the new news" and figuring out what they might lead to. My only complaint is that I wish they'd post more. Just about everything they run is in my wheelhouse as a news startup guy.

3. Lost Remote

Lost Remote is focused on "hyper-local news, neighborhood blogs, and local journalism startups." Originally started by MSNBC.com's Cory Bergman, it is now edited by Steve Safran. Anything interesting that happens in the local news space that could impact hyper-local bloggers shows up here. Lost Remote is the TechCrunch of hyper-local bloggers. A must read.

4. Local Onliner

Peter Krasilovsky's Local Onliner blog is a repository of analysis pieces on the future of local online publishing that he writes for the Kelsey Group blog. As a vice president at BIA/Kelsey, where he works on local online commerce, Krasilovsky's perspective on hyper-local news, geo-targeted advertising and the like is worth a look for anyone who wants to understand the business behind local publishing.

5. Mashable's local section

Uber-blog Mashable devotes a post or two each month to the local space, and its coverage is picking up with the rise of group-buying sites such as Groupon and location-based social networks such as Foursquare and GoWalla. I filter down to just posts tagged "local" to sidestep the never-ending onslaught of headlines about Twitter.

6. Local SEO Guide

Local SEO is a sharp blog from Andrew Shotland, an SEO consultant who specializes in local. Every hyper-local blogger needs to be aware of how findable their content is through search. Shotland's blog offers detailed rundowns of topics such as why sites like Yelp do so well in search that can help you better connect with readers through local search.

7. Hyperlocal Blogger

Matt McGee's Hyperlocal Blogger pulls together the latest news coverage of the hyper-local blogging space and publishes regular commentary on issues affecting neighborhood bloggers. For instance, McGee recently responded to the news that the city of Philadelphia is requiring city bloggers to buy a Business Privilege License for $300.

8. Chicago Art Magazine Transparency Pages

A bit of a hidden gem, this series of blog posts by Chicago Art Magazine's Kathryn Born covers a seven month period in late 2009 during which she launched a collection of websites focused on the Chicago art scene. In these posts, which carry a bit of a confessional tone, she discusses how hard it is to sell ads to local galleries, and her philosophy on creating quick content for the web. They're a great recounting of the trials and tribulations of starting a hyper-local web publication, and every hyper-local blogger should read them.

9. MediaShift Idea Lab

The blog you're reading right now has been a favorite of mine ever since I started Windy Citizen in 2008. I love the site for its great think-pieces about the future of news and updates from Knight News Challenge winners. We're excited to have a spot of our own now, and we still drop by regularly to see what's new. For hyper-local bloggers interested in new ideas about the space, this should be a regular stop.

10. eMedia Vitals

eMedia Vitals has an old-school name and takes an old-school approach to covering tactics and strategies for growing your digital business. Editor (and co-founder of TechicallyPhilly.com) Sean Blanda turned me onto the site at SXSW last year and I've since found their analysis to be relevant to people working in the local news space.

OPML File and Twitter List

These are the sites I'm reading on a regular basis to keep up with what's happening in the hyper-local space. I'm sure you may have a few favorites of your own that I omitted. If so, feel free to share them with me in the comments below or via Twitter (I'm @bradflora).

I've created an OPML file that you can import to add the feeds for all these sites to Google Reader. You can find it here.

And if you prefer reading your news through Twitter, I've created a list over on the NowSpots Twitter account that you can follow to add these folks to your Twitter feed. You can find it here.

Happy reading!

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