A project of Democracy Fund

September 10, 2014

Local Fix: Wrestling Algorithms, Spinning Beats and Digging Data


Subscribe to get the Local Fix delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea…

One good idea: Throw Your Site a Birthday Party. Jersey Bites, a New Jersey based food blog used the site’s seventh anniversary as a great marketing and outreach opportunity that creatively brought together local businesses and local readers on Facebook. Find out how.

Spinning Off Beats as Single Issue Sites – How and Why?

Across the country, local newsrooms are going deep on single topics and at times even spinning off separate sites to attract a national audience to a story with deep local roots. The Boston Globe this week launched Crux, a site devoted to deep coverage of “all things Catholic.” The site is outside the Globe’s paywall and, for now, will rely on online ads. But local media scholar Dan Kennedy argues it is well positioned to spin off as a separate print product too. In Denver, the Post has just launched The Cannabist, a stand-alone site for their coverage of the emerging marijuana culture and industry in Colorado. With a focus on everything from legal analysis to “pot-rooted recipes” the site aims to pull in a global audience. Finally, The Cleveland Plain Dealer made news this week when it announced the staff of what has been called the “LeBron James Beat” covering the Cavaliers. As more and more daily papers develop single-issue sites like this it presents a challenge and an opportunity for local online start-ups, some of whom have built their sites around deep niche reporting. These new sites could be competitors, or could be a unique opportunity for collaboration.

>>> For more on the growth and development of single issue news sites be sure to follow this research coming out of Columbia University’s Tow Center, led by Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan.

71 Revenue Models for Local News – Now What?

Screenshot 2014-09-05 16.09.47On Twitter this week David Plotz, the editor at large of Slate, outlined 71 revenue sources for news organizations. While not every idea is relevant to every newsroom, the list is useful as a reminder of the vast array of experiments and opportunities that exist. It helps push us to think outside the box and gives a kind of menu of new ideas to test. Back in 2009 NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen compiled his own list of “subsidies” for news which adds more details but fewer examples than the Twitter list above. Both are worth studying. Both of these lists could be expanded on with examples, advice and lessons about each revenue strategy, put together in a database for people to search and learn from or network with those who have tried them out. If you have great examples of any of these revenue models send them my way.

>>>For a deep dive into two ideas be sure to check out the American Press Institute’s Q&A with Local News Now on “making local sponsored content work” and Journalism.co.uk’s profile of Europe’s “iTunes for news” which has reached 100,000 users.

Who’s Afraid of Analytics Dashboards? Tips for Digging Into the Data.

How do we know how well our local news site is doing? Many local news sites have ad kits full of numbers and statistics about their traffic and engagement, but a lot of that data is kept in a silo and it is hard to compare across sites. The Knight Digital Media Center recently reported about a prototype tool being developed at Northwestern University that “allows publishers to log in and benchmark their performance compared to their peers: other local independent news publishers from around the country.” For small newsrooms who don’t have someone on staff who loves to dive into the data, understanding and using analytics can be intimidating. Source has a useful primer on newsroom analytics and I appreciated this overview of how NPR built their own analytics tool. The questions they asked and their focus on simplicity and usefulness were helpful. Google offers an “Analytics Academy” with lots of video tutorials and a “Solutions Gallery” with useful feedback from users.

>>> Just out this week, Stijn Debrouwere’s new post on “Turning questions into metrics” is terrific. Go read it now

Wrestling with Algorithms: Tracking Changes in Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization isn’t dead, it has just changed dramatically in the last ten years, argues Eric Schiffer, the CEO of DigitalMarketing.com. His June post at Re/Code outlines 5 ways SEO has changed and offers some useful guidelines and trends for local publishers to be aware of. In July Google changed it’s local search algorithm, and Search Engine Land asked experts what they thought it might mean. Looking at the trends of what is working and what’s not may help local sites decide on strategic investments in the future regarding site designs and features. One of those investments might be in video. Street Fight recently looked at how publishers can use video to improve local search rankings. And just this week The Next Web compiled a list of 21 free SEO tools to “instantly” improve your search ranking.

>>> What’s more important for journalism, social or search? This conversation with Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab and Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land from earlier this year is a must read.