News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Events

December 29, 2009

Government 2.0: What’s in it for local news?

The fast-growing Government 2.0 movement could create opportunities for news orgs to get more local news and engagement without necessarily having to write more traditional stories.

(This is the fourth in a series of guest posts by Amy Gahran about how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age”. Read more articles in this series.)

By Amy Gahran

Local governments are the source of much local news—yet often they do a notoriously poor job of communicating with community members and news organizations. This is starting to change as more governments become open to experimenting with new tools for sharing info and engaging community members. image

Monitoring and getting involved with these experiments can yield new opportunities to for local news. This content could be more engaging and less labor-intensive than traditional reporting.

The key to making this cooperation work is connecting with people in government who are eager and able to try new approaches to public transparency and engagement. The Government 2.0 (Gov2.0) movement is a great place to find allies for strengthening communities and local news.

Recommendation 4 in the Knight Commission Report is:

“Require government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records, and make civic and social data available in standardized formats that support the productive public use of such data.”

The Knight report suggests some ways to approach this by strengthening and more fully implementing public information rules, open meeting rules, and open courtrooms. These are also passions of government employees and officials involved in Gov2.0.

Gov2.0 is a movement among government employees, as well as other interested people, to apply the strengths of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to all levels of government. The goal is to create systems for public transparency, participation, and collaboration. Although Gov2.0 first gained momentum among federal employees, it’s quickly spreading through many state and local governments.

In fact, in coming years local government may be where much of the Gov2.0 action is. Mark Drapeau, a leading Gov2.0 practitioner, recently listed “local governments as experiments” as the first of his top five Gov2.0 predictions for 2010-12. Gartner analyst Andrea DiMaio agrees and notes:

“Indeed we have seen and will see the best from local authorities. Not because they are necessarily smarter or bolder, but because they are—by their nature—much closer to ‘real’ communities. The issues they deal with are local in nature and touch citizens more directly: parks, waste collection, traffic, environment, safety.”


1. Go where they are. The Gov2.0 community has some important gathering places online. Joining these communities, finding participants and projects near you, and getting involved in their conversations and events can help you find mutually beneficial opportunities to experiment.

GovLoop is your first stop to connect with the Government 2.0 crowd. This community includes people from all levels of government, so search it to find groups, blogs, and members from your region (or who are discussing larger issues that have strong local angles for you). To find local GovLoop members, try searching for your city and state in this format: Oakland, CA. Selectively friending local GovLoop members and asking about their current Government 2.0 projects or interests can be a good way to break the ice. This guide to searching GovLoop can help you find other useful info in GovLoop.

Also, GovFresh features the best of US Gov 2.0 news, TV, ideas, and live feeds of government social media activity.

2. Attend Gov2.0 events in person or online. CityCamp is a participant-organized “unconference” about practicing Gov 2.0 at the local level. It will be held Jan 23-24, 2010 in Chicago. Someone attending from a news org might volunteer to run a session on how local media can complement local Gov2.0 efforts. For discussion, this group has a forum/mailing list, in-progress agenda, Facebook Group, and GovLoop group. Also, on Twitter, you can follow @CityCamp or watch the hashtag #citycamp.

Similarly, Gov2.0 Expo 2010 will be held May 25-27 in Washington, DC. This is part of O’Reilly Media’s high-profile Gov2.0 Summit event series. This will probably have a heavy federal government focus, so it might be most appropriate for national or major metro daily news orgs to attend.

3. Build on existing efforts. Most people involved in Government 2.0 already have projects in mind or in progress: data or documents they’d like to improve access to, easier channels for public participation, etc. In general, it’s probably easiest to work with what they’re already doing, rather than invent projects from scratch.

Once you assess which Government 2.0 projects are already in the works in your region, consider opportunities where using your news site and/or social media presence as a platform could enhance these efforts—while also providing relevant newsworthy content, and building community loyalty to your brand.

Possible results. Cooperating on Gov2.0 projects might be as simple as selectively retweeting local government Twitter items, or periodically excerpting content from their Facebook fan page or group onto yours.

Or imagine a local government decides to set up a site like Manor Labs where community members can submit ideas, rate them, and be rewarded for innovation. A local news organization might run a regular feature highlighting the best-rated submissions—thus increasing participation by reaching more of the community, and spurring constructive local discussion. A more automated approach might be to embed on the news site a widget that provides some of the civic site’s functionality.

You’ll only really start to see the possibilities for collaborating with more open, engaged, online-savvy governments once you start talking with the Gov2.0 community. These are creative, friendly people, eager to engage. And in many cases, the prospect of cooperation with or support from local media could tip Gov2.0 projects from ideas into reality.


Community info building blocks: What do you already have?

Teamwork: Collaborating to build a community dashboard

Civic topic pages: Boost local traffic, democracy

February 27, 2010

LIVEBLOG Mar 1-2: Community foundations, media/tech experts explore local info needs

Community foundations are a growing source of funding for local news and media. By learning how community foundations work, what they want, and how to work with them, journalists can get help launching or grow local news startups.

On Mar. 1-2, 2010, Amy Gahran will liveblog a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation “Media Learning Seminar” where community and place-based foundation leaders will meet with journalism and technology experts to explore community information needs.

Here’s our liveblog…

Presenter list

Twitter: Monitor the hashtag #infoneeds

More on the Knight Foundation’s community foundation efforts:

April 22, 2010

Three conferences beyond the news biz that newsies should check out

Too often, news professionals only attend conferences about journalism or about their beats. However, if you or your news organization is trying to expand your vision, network, and opportunities, it makes sense to start hanging out with some new crowds. Here are three conferences coming up soon that could help you make that leap…

1. ReadWriteWeb Mobile Summit: May 7, Mountain View, CA. Sooner than you think, mobile devices (such as cell phones, iPod Touches, and iPads) will overtake computers as the main way North Americans access digital media. This event has development and business tracks. Key themes include geolocation services; commerce and marketing; content, publishing, and recommendations; mobile social networking; using sensor and RFID data; augmented reality, and native app vs. browser-based development. Register online: $595.

Background reading: Top 10 mobile trends of 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

2. Gov 2.0 Expo 2010, May 25-27, Washington DC. This O’Reilly Media event draws the leading minds in open, user-friendly government. If you’re thinking about doing more with civic engagements or government datasets, this is a good opportunity to make top-level connections with leaders in the Government 2.0 movement. Register online by May 5 for discount. See discounted non-government (“private sector”) pricing. Topic tracks:

  • Open data and web services
  • Social networks and collaboration
  • Agile government
  • Cloud computing and security
  • Emerging technology

3. Personal Democracy Forum, June 3-4, New York City. This popular, high-energy conference explores technology’s impact on politics. This year, speakers include Craig Newmark, Arianna Huffington, Howard Rheingold, Ethan Zuckerman, and other leading creative thinkers. Register online: $595.

October 21, 2010

First-ever mobile hackathon for news, engagement

If going web-first means “fighting the last war” (as’s Steve Buttry says), then who will build the innovative mobile tools we’ll need to push journalism, news, and community engagement forward in the coming decades?

Several of these mobile pioneers gathered in Chicago on Oct. 9-10 for the first-ever Independent Media Mobile Hackathon. In 29 hours, a group of more than 50 journalists and programmers built six prototype mobile apps that combined news, interactivity, fun, and community-building…

By Amy Gahran

“The point of this event was to do a collaborative experiment, not just talk,” said Tracy Van Slyke, director of The Media Consortium, which co-organized the mobile hackathon with Hacks & Hackers.

“We wanted to go beyond creating a mobile app for your news organization,” she continued. “But one of our barriers has been: How do we start jumping in on mobile? Different communities have different needs and capacity levels, especially when it comes to mobile. It made sense to bring together journalists and programmers, because these groups don’t really know how to find each other.”

At the start of the hackathon, 12 ideas were pitched. These were boiled down to six project concepts, each of which got worked on by a small team of journalists and programmers. BigDoor Media (a Seattle company that powers game mechanics for mobile applications) provided the teams with its toolset for increasing user engagement and loyalty via points, badges, levels, leaderboards, and other popular techniques.

On Sunday, the grand prize went to a mobile app called RiotStartr—which enables users to organize their own events, track attendance via an GPS-powered mashup, and report on what happened. This team walked away with $1000 and Xbox 360 gaming consoles.

“There was some pushback on the name, ‘RiotStartr,’ but the judges liked it. It’s catchy,” said Van Slyke.

The RiotStartr team describes this service: “A participant (‘riot starter’) can plan an event, then push it out to those in their social networks on Twitter, Facebook, and via other contacts. Those who want to join can just say ‘I’m in!’ Then, up to two hours before the event, GPS-enabled devices allow for real-time tracking of other ‘rioters,’ which can help reporters better estimate crowd size. Rioters can see each other converging on a location for the event. A reward system encourages rioters to invite more rioters and make the event bigger. Eventually, the app will allow for rioters to ‘report’ on the event by integrating tweets tagged with an event ID and ‘reporters’ will also earn badges.”

The hackathon runners-up were:

  • “Sound bites for sound arguments.” This mobile-friendly tool provides on-the-spot one-line rebuttals to misinformation. “All zin.grs are sourced by reporting and news content. In addition, the community would be able to vote ‘zings’ up and down, comment on their quality, and earn rewards for participation.”
  • BeatBox. Developed with help from students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, this SMS text messaging-based “switchboard” enables people to easily report public safety issues in their communities. “Community members can text public safety issues to a neighborhood moderator, who can then forward valid reports to the rest of the community—and local beat reporters.”

Other mobile prototypes from this event included iBreakNews, “a hands-on tool for citizen journalists to break and share news using augmented reality”; and I Can Has Newz?, which merges news photography and the language of the popular site LOLcats to engage users in the news cycle via parody (á la The Daily Show).

All code developed at the mobile hackathon has been open sourced.

According to Van Slyke, the value of the hackathon approach is that it’s a fast way to create tools that you can experiment with and grow. “You don’t hire a bunch of developers to spend six months trying to develop the perfect mobile offering in isolation,” she said.

There’s a lot of creativity and energy at hackathons, spurred by friendly competition. It helps to have really good judges, and prizes—but the prizes don’t have to be big or expensive to be valuable. In addition to the cash prized for this mobile hackathon, other prizes included XKCD comic books and O’Reilly technical books.

Sponsor participation was key to this event, which was co-sponsored by the Knight News Challenge, the Chicago Instructional Telecommunications Foundation, BigDoor Media, O’Reilly Media, and the Illinois Technology Association.

Van Slyke strongly urges news organizations to sponsor mobile hackthon events in their communities. “This is a great way to build relationships. Your people will get the best kind of experience working closely and intensely with programmers. It’s creatively stimulating. Best of all, there’s no room for dithering. You have to knuckle down and build something.”

In addition to sponsorship, another big way news organizations can help is to offer space, internet access, and refreshments. “You need enough room where teams can work, really good wifi, and people need to be able to stay there overnight. Some of the best work happens in the wee hours. Provide meals, soft drinks, and snacks.”

May 05, 2011

Relying on Facebook for engagement: Risky for news organizations and journalists?

Last week I attended an event for journalists at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters featuring a panel of journalists discussing how they use Facebook. Founding editor Scott Rosenberg also was there, and this week he wrote a blog post exploring whether journalists and news organizations should be wary about depending too heavily on Facebook for their public engagement…

By Amy Gahran

In his post, Why journalists should think twice about Facebook, Rosenberg noted that many journalists and news orgs are engaging with their audiences, or at least have a presence on, Facebook.

According to Rosenberg: “Everything that journalists are doing on Facebook today… is stuff they could just as easily do on their own websites. So why are they doing it on Facebook? One answer is obvious: That’s where the people are!

“But there are other answers to the question, too. Many publications find that their interactions with their readers on Facebook are more civil and valuable than those that take place on their own websites. That, they typically believe, is because Facebook makes users log in with their real names and identities. Finally, individual journalists increasingly find it valuable to build their social-media networks as a hedge against the collapse of the institutions they work for.”

So what’s the problem?

Rosenberg continued: “Today Facebook is a private company that is almost certainly going to sell stock to the public before long. ...For the moment it appears to be trying hard to operate as a neutral and open public platform.

“...That won’t last forever. There are plenty of people waiting to cash in on Facebook’s success, ...They will expect the company to fulfill its inevitable destiny—and ‘monetize’ the hell out of all the relationship-building we’re doing on its pages. This is the landscape onto which today’s journalists are blithely dancing.

“By moving so much of the conversation away from their own websites and out to Facebook, media companies are basically saying, ‘We did a lousy job of engaging readers under our own roof, so we’re going to encourage it to happen on someone else’s turf.’”

With the exploding and near-universal popularity of social media services, news organizations can no longer afford to appear uninterested in engagement. Having some sort of social media presence has become a benchmark of credibility.

For that reason, I do think news orgs should have a strong presence in the social media that are popular with their communities. But don’t make this an excuse to slack off on adapting your own tools, culture, and systems to engage more effectively on your own digital “turf.”

As Rosenberg noted in a response to a comment: “To the extent that news organizations invest in making their own websites great environments for their journalists and users to interact, they are adding value to their sites… To the extent that news organizations invest in turning Facebook into the place where they connect with their readers, they are adding value to Facebook.”

Other possible Facebook risks

The architecture of Facebook is also still mostly a “walled garden”—much of the content and interaction is not easily or universally findable or linkable. This is appropriate for interpersonal social networking, but it makes less sense from a publisher’s perspective. It can make valuable content associated with your brand harder to find, track, and keep.

Also, as Peter Evans-Greenwood commented on Rosenberg’s article: “At what point will Facebook decide that anyone ‘doing business’ on Facebook should pay, and not just the people transacting? One day you might wake up (probably not long after Facebook goes public) and find that you need a ‘Professional Account’ if you, as a professional journalist, want to continue interacting your community. And remember, Facebook gets to define what ‘professional journalist’ means.”

...Which means that the issue of who “owns” a journalist’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other social media connections isn’t necessarily just a matter of agreements between news orgs and their staff (another contentious issue which arose that evening). Facebook, Twitter, and other services could change those rules as well.

Pulling Facebook into your site

Some news organizations are using Facebook in a different way: Replacing their own commenting systems with the Facebook Comments plugin. This may improve the user experience. But this approach means all comments now “live” on Facebook’s servers—where that content may or may not be archived and indexed effectively.

Also, Facebook can modify its distributed commenting experience at any time—by, say, inserting its own ads into the comment streams that appear on news sites.

Six months ago, Facebook commenting was fully implemented on three San Francisco Bay Area papers owned by MediaNews Group:,, and (See their Reader FAQ and Commenting tools and tips.)

George Kelly, online coordinator for the Contra Costa Times, notes that the switch to Facebook comments on those sites hasn’t yielded a huge overall improvement in the quality of public discourse.

“It’s surprising,” said Kelly. “I’d thought that using Facebook comments would make people less likely to pop off, provide less incentive to say rude or cruel things. And quality has gone up slightly on some stories, ones that give people more pause. But on higher-traffic stories (like crime briefs and sports or politics and government) quality’s wobbly.”

He did notice one intriguing change with the switch to Facebook comments: Grieving friends and relatives are now speaking up more often in the comments to news stories about deaths or crime.

“They’re less inclined to share their feelings with reporters, but they’ll show up there to post their wishes or sentiments—or hit back at people speaking off-the-cuff,” said Kelly. “They did this before we switched to Facebook comments, but it feels different now. It’s part of a space where people feel more comfortable being social, sharing more of themselves publicly.”

If Facebook were to start inserting its own ads into comment threads on news sites, “Our marketing and editorial staff would want to talk about it—but I don’t know that there’d be a rush to switch away to another third-party commenting tool like Disqus or Topix,” said Kelly.

Switching third-party commenting services also poses a risk: You might lose comments that were made via the original service. “That would be something to figure out, a hurdle to leap,” said Kelly. “You don’t want to just wipe the slate clean.”

Keep your engagement options open

In general, social media is a valuable complement to news sites, and it can even make sense to integrate that experience directly into your site. The trick is to not rely too heavily on any one social media service to provide, or host, most of your online engagement for you.

Expect that public tastes in social media will evolve, as will individual social media services. Fostering useful engagement directly on your own site is a good way to hedge against possible future vagaries in social media trends.

After all, it’s still possible that Facebook and Twitter might someday go the route of Friendster.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

February 10, 2012

From news publisher to convener: Making the shift to build community in Iowa

By Amy Gahran

A regional economic development initiative in Iowa has captured the imagination of Chuck Peters, longtime head of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Getting directly involved meant facing a quandary: How could a news organization consistently support this initiative without becoming a crusader for it? The answer: become a convener of the public discussion…

A stretch of East-Central Iowa (around Iowa City and Cedar Rapids) has long been home to a unique convergence of business, technology, higher education, science, and the arts. All these forces recently banded together under the Iowa’s Creative Corridor initiative to work to enhance the region’s collective competitiveness.

Chuck Peters, president and CEO of The Gazette Co. (which publishes the daily Cedar Rapids Gazette and runs the local ABC TV affiliate station KCRG), decided to get his company involved. For about two decades he’d been discussing “systems thinking” and community development with Les Garner, former president of Cornell College and current president of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. And he’d also been working with John Lohman of the local Corridor Business Journal.

“Then we had that big flood here. Everybody was focused on cleaning up their own mess. John and I said we seemed to be the primary ones who cared about future of the region as a region. So we decided to join forces and try to promote the region.”

So the two media companies began a quasi-formal relationship with the Corridor Business Alliance, and formedCorridor2020—highlighting the alliance of 13 local economic development groups. Peters and Lohman began attending meetings and providing some money and in-kind support for the alliance’s efforts. Peters also summarized a major report advising the region on branding and development opportunities, and wrote an internal guidance document for Source Media Group (the trade name for the combined news and sales operations of the Gazette and KCRG). Lohman wrote an FAQ about the ICC initiative.

...Those are a lot of dense, weighty documents flying around, mostly talking about how to brand the region. But branding is no trivial matter.

“I’ve spent most of the last week explaining to people, if you think of branding as meaning a logo and advertising, that won’t help us much,” said Peters. “In the big picture, we actually need to develop regional capabilities for being collaborative and innovative. We can’t accomplish that without a shared vision of what that means.”

Defining what role a news company could or should play in moving the ICC initiative forward was a challenge. “How could we actively work to foster regional collaboration and innovation? As opposed to what we had been doing, which was to be a coconspirator in a culture of passivity,” said Peters.

“We had to change some basic things about the way we do our work. We’ve always been distanced observers lobbing articles into the community, often framing issues as contention of horserace. That just discourages people from engaging.”

The Gazette Co. decided to become a convener of public discussion around topics related to regional collaboration and development. This means planning and participating in public forums and other events, and producing new kinds of content.

“The news industry is so locked into the format of articles and video clips, but those are such incredibly ineffective tools when you’re trying to help a community understand an issue and come to consensus,” he said.

The newspaper and TV station are beginning to experiment with techniques used by the Khan Academy, such as using mindmaps as a way to illuminate connections between various issues and perspectives—and also to probe not just what people in the region want, but why they want it.

“It’s amazing to have these conversations with our community,” said Peters. “Like if we’re discussing education: Someone will say ‘we must have great schools.’ OK, why? What do we want great schools to do for us? Unfold the potential of each child. Again, why? Is it because it’s morally correct, or because we want to have a kick-ass competitive economy? Well, we want both—but now that we’re clear on why we want great schools, that makes it easier to think creatively about how to achieve that goal.”

The thinking of Peters and others involved in the ICC initiative was spurred in part by Collaborate: Leading Regional Innovation Clusters, a 2010 report by the U.S. Council on Competitiveness. While this report says little about the role of media organizations in regional development, there is a clear business motive for media companies to get involved. The report observes that “broadcast and media markets rely on a regional marketplace.”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 10, 2012

Mobile for building the ethnic/community news business

By Amy Gahran

Next week the Knight Digital Media Center at USC is partnering with the City University of New York to offer a two-day workshop on mobile strategies and opportunities for ethnic and community media organizations in the New York City area.

One of our instructors, Arturo Duran of Digital First Media, will be explaining how mobile can enhance the business model and community engagement efforts of these news outlets. Here’s a preview of his advice…

Arturo Duran is the Chief Innovation Officer for Digital First Media—a spinoff from Journal Register Co. which last year took over operations management for all MediaNews Group and JRC newspapers. He also was a 2010-11 fellow in the Knight-McCormick Leadership Institute at KDMC. In the upcoming workshop, he’ll discuss the business considerations and opportunities for community and ethnic news outlets that embrace mobile.

Duran has considerable experience on this front. He was part of the team that created AOL Latino in U.S., and also served as CEO of Intermedia Digital (the largest Spanish-language newspaper company in the U.S.). He’s also led digital and mobile initiatives for small and large news outlets, and has even experimented with early augmented reality efforts.

Most ethnic and community news outlets are fairly small and local, but some (such as Little India magazine and China Daily) are quite large—spanning several states, or the nation, or the globe. Outlets from all points alone this spectrum will be represented among the workshop’s participants. What should they keep in mind about mobile?

“We need to stop thinking of what we—people in the media business—want, and listen to what our users are doing,” said Duran. He noted that in the U.S., African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups tend to be especially advanced in their use of mobile devices.

For instance, recent Nielsen Co. research found that U.S. Hispanics are 28% more likely to own a smartphone than non-Hispanic whites, and they also consume more mobile data than all ethnic groups. U.S. Hispanics also are three times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have internet access via a mobile device, but not have internet at home. And their average mobile bill is 8% higher than the overall U.S. average.

Similarly, as of last summer Nielsen found that 33% of all African Americans own a smartphone, significantly higher than the national average. Also, 44% of all new mobile phone purchased by African Americans were smartphones—and among younger people in this group, that was over 50%.

And least year research from Rebtel (an internet telephony provider) showed that tablet computers are especially popular in several immigrant communities in the U.S.

“Ethic communities are more advanced not just in terms of how they use text messaging and smartphone apps, but also the mobile web,” said Duran. “For many ethnic groups, their mobile devices are the primary way they access the web. Since they’re using that platform, we should be giving them news and information that suits the platform they use. That makes what we offer more valuable, because it’s easier for them to find and use.”

What emerging business opportunities can mobile yield for ethnic and community news sites?

“Mobile delivers better data about your users, which helps you become even more relevant to them,” said Duran. “First of all, analytics for your mobile traffic can deliver more accurate info on where your users are. You also learn more about who they are. Unlike computers, a mobile device tends to be used by only one person. The more relevant you can be, the more engaging you can be—and so can your advertisers. Advertisers pay more to reach more engaged audiences.”

Mobile-optimized advertising is the natural place to start when looking to earn revenue from mobile offerings, said Duran. This includes ads that run on a mobile-optimized website or app, which can be served directly by the news venue or from a digital ad network. In fact, some ad networks offer tools to make it easy for news venues to create ad-supported apps.

“Using an ad network will help you get some initial information about your mobile audience,” Duran said. “They’ll give your statistics on your clickthroughs, engagement, etc. So you know what your mobile audience is doing. They can’t give you as much data as you’ll probably get from measuring your regular website traffic, but that’s still a lot of very useful information.”

And then: “Once you gain more experience with mobile and get more data about your mobile users, you can actually start segmenting your mobile audience and creating more tailored offerings that can be sold directly,” said Duran. “So if you’re already serving a niche market like a specific ethnic community, you might have even more of an edge in the mobile market.”

Duran recommends offering options in all mobile channels—from text alerts and mobile-optimized e-mail to the mobile web and apps. But strategy and moderation are crucial.

“You don’t want to overuse these tools. Especially with texts and e-mail,” he said. “You want to drive people from text or e-mail alerts to your mobile site. So don’t sent them lots of alerts; send them a few and show them where to click to learn more on their phone.”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 15, 2012

Ad rates, events, and crowdfunding: Community news sites get innovative about revenue

By Amy Gahran

Community news is a challenging business; which is why making money is a key theme at next month’s Block by Block Community New Summit. And there’s growing room for optimism: as Groupon’s business model crumbles, more local advertisers may now be smarter and more willing to work with community news venues.

Here’s a roundup of some ways that community news publishers have diversified their revenue streams beyond display ads and grants…

Recently on the Block by Block resource network website, Sally Duros discussed how hyperlocal sites are rethinking their approach to local online advertising.

According to Duros, some hyperlocal sites are changing how they price and position online ads.

For instance, David Boraks, founder and editor of two hyperlocal sites in North Carolina, discussed how his sites simplified their ad value proposition and pricing by selling all ads across the entire site. Previously they’d offered separate rates for section-specific runs such as ads on the front page, the inside page, the health and fitness page, etc.

“We had four dozen ad slots across the site and about as many prices. It just got so complicated,” Boraks told Duros. “Most advertisers wanted to be on the front page.”

Now and its sister site sell ads by size and page position, not by section. According to their media kit, “Ads run on every page of the site and will rotate within like ad slots. A minimum of 30,000 impressions guaranteed per month.”

Boraks said their ad are prices are determined by working backward from how much revenue the site needs to earn each month, in order to meet operational expenses. “If we sell 60% of ads on the site then we are at break even. Everything above that is profit and below that we are in the red a little bit,” he told Duros.

Duros also discussed how the Connecticut-based site CTNewsJunkie is taking a different approach, by offering advertisers more premium options—including site takeover, a “big block” 300600 banner slot, geotargeted ads, and exclusive advertising in their e-mail blasts. But like, they also sell ads on a run-of-site basis.

Meanwhile, Nieman Journalism Lab recently covered how Technically Philly (a news startup covering the Philadelphia tech and startup scene) is earning substantial revenue from events and other elements in a diverse revenue strategy:

Technically Philly’s flagship event is Philly Tech Week, an eight-day conference that’s free for tech companies to participate, and for attendees. According to Nieman Journalism Lab, all revenue comes from event sponsors. In April 2012, the second Philly Tech Week drew more than 10,000 attendees—more than double the inaugural 2011 conference.

Technically Philly cofounder Brian Kirk told Nieman that he estimates this year about 40% of their revenue pie will come from events. Consulting will supply a further 40%. And advertising and grants will supply only about 10% each. In contrast, in 2011 events delivered only about 12% of Technically Philly’s revenue.

Technically Philly also partners with local institutions and organizations for this conference, such as Temple University’s new Center for Public Interest Journalism, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Science Center (which provides lab and office space for local businesses). Several partners provided venues for conference events and other services, in addition to funding.

Technically Philly is a niche site with a geographic slant, which may position it better than more typical hyperlocal community news sites in terms of running events. However, community news publishers might consider partnering with local niche news sites on events. In most cases there’s probably enough common interests and potential mutual benefits to make it worth trying.

Crowdfunding for specific hyperlocal coverage has received mixed results, but it can be a revenue stream worth pursuing. For example, Charlottesville Tomorrow recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign which slightly exceeded its goal to raise $7000 to fund development of 3D online models to help local residents understand the implications and impact of a planned major highway project.

But crowdfunding isn’t easy. Homicide Watch DC is a community news site that decided to turn to Kickstarter to fund a one-year student reporting lab. Editor Laura Amico recently explained on the Block-by-Block Facebook page what this sort of effort requires:

“It took us about six weeks to get from ‘let’s pitch on Kickstarter’ to having a pitch up. I think it’s a much longer, more involved process than many people realize,” she said. “It took us several rounds of edits (on rewards and the video) to get approval. We tried a Kickstarter campaign to fund our year-in-review package but couldn’t get approval for it, so I went ahead and did the package without funding.

“In short, my advice is this: plan early, plan often, submit early and be prepared to revise. We launched our new campaign at 6:30 p.m. last night and so far have raised $7,581, which is 18% of our goal.”

Mobile: the next revenue frontier. So far few community news sites have experimented with revenue from mobile ads or services, beyond running ads on their mobile sites or apps supplied by networks such as AdMob. There’s ample potential for community publishers to capitalize on the mobile market, and I am currently researching that topic to for my session on mobile monetization in at Block by Block 2012 next month. If you have ideas or examples of mobile revenue options for community publishers, please e-mail me.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud