A project of Democracy Fund

October 10, 2014

Local Fix: New Revenue Ideas, Fearing Facebook and Does Local Scale?

Welcome to the Local Fix – we are catching up on a few past issues – this is from the week of Oct 10. 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: Emoji the News. Both Boston.com and Bill Penn recently “translated” their state’s governor debates with emojis and had good user feedback and engagement. Could emoji’s be an on-ramp to other coverage and give users a chance for real-time feedback?

What is the Right Scale for Local News?

We often measure the success of an organization by how much – and how fast – it grows. But earlier this month Simon Owens asked “Why do we insist that local journalism has to scale?” For those of us on the ground working in local news, the question of scale is an important one. How big do we need to be to pay the bills, to stay in touch with our community, to cover the stories we want to cover? In an interview in Street Fight, Randy Bennett suggests that in some cases being small and targeted is perhaps more useful than being large and general. He argues that larger organizations have a harder time being “nimble and, with fewer resources, it is much more difficult to serve all communities.”But there is a lot of space between the huge scale of Patch and a hyperlocal one-person neighborhood site. Corner News Media has recently grown to a network of seven uniquely local sites in Brooklyn, reaching 250,000 readers each month. And in New Jersey, the Alternative Press has grown to 30 sites across the state. The NJ News Commons justposted an interview with the founder of the Alternative Press.

>>> Gatehouse Media has just completed a big readership study. Here is how they are adapting their strategy based on what they learned.

When Mobile First and Community First Converge

Paul Williams argues on Medium this week that “What the leaders in digital news understand is that success depends on the connection between mobile, social, design, workflow and CMS” suggesting that we can’t easily separate technology, community and content. “Publishers and editors who understand, on a fundamental level,” he writes, “how everything they do relates to the user’s experience will be the ones in the best position to succeed.”The team behind the analytics app Parse.ly released a free guide to help publishers think about how to develop strategy based on community feedback, arguing that “being reader-first in digital publishing is a game changer.” Allan Mutter reviewed the most recent data and argued the “mobile news consumption hits a tipping point” and offers 5 tips for newsrooms, the last of which is: “Make It Mobile – Or you may not make it all.” Two older pieces of research that complement these more recent debates are Bill Mitchell’s User-First report (PDF link) and Melanie Sill’s case for “Open Journalism.”

>>>At the Knight Digital Media Center Amy Gahran outlines how newsrooms can use text alerts for local community engagement.

Facebook: It’s Complicated

This week Facebook announced “local awareness ads” which, according to TechCrunch, will let local businesses target Facebook ads to “anyone who lives or was recently within a specific distance of their store.” On Twitter journalism professor Nikki Usher said the move was akin to Facebook “Killing local news softly.” However, creative newsrooms might be able to use these new ads to their advantage by using them for their own marketing. Other newsrooms offer social media ads as part of a bundle of ads on their own site.The announcement came amidst an ongoing debate about Facebook’s relationship to news organizations. This week David Higgerson, the Digital Publishing Director at the Trinity Mirror papers in the UK, said it was time for journalists to “get over” their fear of Facebook. If that is where our community is, Higgerson argues, then we need to be there too and need to figure out how to serve them as best as possible. At GigaOm, Mathew Ingram warned “Facebook isn’t your enemy, but it’s not your friend either” and Poynter says that is becoming increasingly clear that “Facebook is more important to news distribution than you think, and journalists are freaked out.

>>> Katherine Boehret of Re/Code actually got some answers from Facebook about how its algorithms assess your likes and clicks.

Weighing Your Options for Diversifying Revenue

I’ve written in the past about various lists of revenue models for news (see here and here). This week Frederic Filloux compiled another useful list and ranked the revenue strategies by their “estimated value for the media” and “potential and priority.” His coding is useful, but general, and each newsroom should test those assumptions against real feedback from your community. Over at Capital New York, Andrew Sullivan of The Dish talked about how he thinks about digital publishing, revenue streams and native ads. “I think the only future for journalism is reader revenue,” he said. Longtime Apple blogger John Gruber pushed back, saying reader revenue is great but we should want “a thousand non-pageview-driven revenue models [to] bloom.“For other examples of newsrooms testing new revenue streams check out the Investigative News Network’s new Journo.biz site where Luis Gomez profiles how nonprofit journalists are moving towards sustainability and how another news organization is using iBooks to publish its first collection.