Follow the Money, Locally
Forall the interest in keeping it local, involving individual members ofthe community, and mixing that with professional journalists, as italways does, it’s really about money, and experts believe there is alot of money to be made at the local level. It only makes sense thatads at the local level have a strong influence on viewers because theyare about businesses audience members are likely to frequent, somethinga strip of generic Google ads can’t do.
Johnson believes he canuse the tools he is building for his site to help build targeted adsthat will eventually help his business profit. He says, "There is amassive shift toward local advertising moving online that is alreadyunderway, and one of the projections is that $50 billion in localadvertising will go online in the next 5 years. What we are trying todo is to learn as much as possible and build [as many] advanced toolsas possible to deal with this local level." He adds, "Everything we aredoing with content is something that can also be applied to ads. Justas we can target all stories written about Park Slope [N.Y.], we cantarget ads to Park Slope as well." Today’s web technology, he explains,can sniff an IP address and get you in the metro area, but the web isnot designed to put you inside a specific ZIP code, but his site can.
Grotkesays his site started as a labor of love and an extension of hiscompany’s website design business. Yet as the popularity has grown, andit has taken more and more of the founder’s time, he and LePage need tofocus more on making the iBrattle-boro.com venture profitable. "Ibelieve in local ads really strongly. For the first few years [we]couldn’t sell them because the audience wasn’t there. But now we knowthe numbers are there, and it’s still growing, and the audience isthere. Why wouldn’t you do it? You can target people who live in thearea, who like to shop around here." What’s more he says, he showsadvertisers how they can track how many visitors have been clickingtheir ads in order to measure more accurately how effective the ad is—something that’s difficult to do with more conventional media.
Astoday’s tools put the power to publish in the hands of individuals, itis up to traditional media to find ways to incorporate the audienceinto the news production process. It seems clear that the trend istoward local advertising dollars, and if you can find a way to involveyour audience in the media process, you not only will produce a richerproduct, you may make money in the process—money that’s flowing awayfrom traditional media today. As Heaton says, in the 20th-century viewof journalism, Walter Lipmann (considered the father of 20th centuryjournalism) had faith in the elite, whereas Heaton has faith in thepeople. Perhaps both can work together and produce an entirely new wayof looking at journalism as we move forward.
The Dallas Morning News Gives Hyperlocal News a Go
TheDallasMorning News (DMN) traces its origins back to 1842—old media byanystandards—but it recognizes the need to adapt to the changingmediamarketplace. That’s why it teamed up Small World Labs in April2007 tolaunch Neighborsgo.com, its hyperlocal source for news, producedalmostentirely by community members.
Michael Wilson, CEO of SmallWorldLabs, says the site evolved from print and humble online origins."Theyoriginally had a print edition of the [neighborhood news] thatwent outwith the regular Dallas Morning News edition. They made thefirst moveto bring that online a couple of years ago and they wereessentiallyjust PDF-ing the neighbors newspaper and sticking it up onthe site.They also made some requests for submissions and let peopleknow theywere interested in taking articles."
Eventually thisevolved intoNeighborsgo.com. Small World Labs began to work with DMNabout the"whole concept of introducing Web 2.0 and using onlinecommunity … toharness readership and to turn some readers into citizenjournalistswithin a framework," he says. Wilson adds that building acommunity wasan essential component of this strategy, and DMN decidedup front notonly to give the technology tools to its audience but alsoto stayactively engaged with them.
As it turns out, says TommyCummings,synergy editor at The Dallas Morning News who has beeninvolved in theNeighborsgo.com project, getting an active base of userswasn’t allthat difficult. "We knew there was a big community thatwanted to dothis so it wasn’t that hard to get several thousand peopleinvolved.The main thing now is to build on that," he says. Wilsonbelieves thathaving the DMN brand gives the project a leg up overconventionalsocial networks, particularly on the local level wherepeople get whathe calls "ego capital" for posting and seeing their workin print.
Amongthe ideas people have come up with are regularcolumns, such as TheHelpless House Wife, a video series in which ayoung wife and motherasks for tips; another column is The FootballChick; and a third isChallenge the Editor, in which the writer goes outand performsdifferent challenges from readers.
Cummings says theproject isultimately about finding new ways to generate revenue. Evenbefore ithad a web component, "Neighborsgo was developed as a nicheproduct as away to identify in the coming months where the changes arein themarketplace in terms of revenue. We are one of the niche productsthathas stepped in to fill the void caused by declining revenue andads,"he says.
Wilson believes that hyperlocal ads are a good dealforthe reader and the advertiser. "The greater you are able to tailoradsto each user based on taste and geographical location, the morevalueto [the] reader and to the advertiser." According toCummings,Neighborsgo.com is the opposite of what he calls "the oldstodgy modelwhere editors determined what’s news." In the new world,users createthe news and they decide what’s newsworthy and what’s not.It’s a modelthat DMN is embracing in hopes of bringing back decliningrevenue fromits conventional media properties.
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