May 17th, 2010 @ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The future of local media according to Technically Philly

I’ve been busy the past few months. Honest.

Brian James Kirk, Christopher Wink and I have been hard at work trying to do our part in making our ideas and best guesses about local media into a reality (with different rates of success, I’ll add).

I figured I’d shed a little bit of light about what we’ve been thinking and what we’ve been up to. Here is a very broad idea of where we see this whole local media thing heading. I welcome your thoughts and criticisms.

A citywide advertising network

The first generation of news startups are largely by people with an editorial background. It is only after a few months of working for free that most people begin to consider revenue streams.

However, just like newsrooms saw cuts during the recent recession, so did many sales staffs across the business world. Technically Philly thinks that the two sides can come together to help editorially minded news sites pull in some income that is sold by a sales staff with preexisting contacts in the local business world.

We think that an advertising network of high-quality blogs and news websites can offer an appealing option for large of national clients to purchase across an entire city, while the individual verticals can better chase advertisements that are relative to their niche. For example, our buds at Geekadelphia and Technically Philly have very similar audiences so, within our Philly network, we could have a tech vertical.

By neighborhood and by niche

Blogs that cover a neighborhood are nothing new, and monetization efforts expand all the time. Mainstream publications are also increasingly looking to these neighborhood sites to cover the nitty-gritty subject areas to free larger papers up to cover more broad topics. For example consider my good friend Shannon McDonald’s partnership with the Philadelphia Metro’s northeast edition. I worry, however, that traditionally underserved communities will remain underserved as tech savvy areas make the most sense for neighborhood news websites.

We also think that there’s room for local niche sites like Technically Philly that cover a certain vertical refined to a local area. This enables more revenue to be made from events as 95 percent of your readers are within a 20 miles radius and in the same industry. Making connections and building sources are also much easier when refined to one city. We also think that if you own an industry locally, national advertisers and vendors will begin looking your way.

Sharing back end services

It simply doesn’t make sense for each site to have their own lawyer, salespeople, accountants etc. We proposed a solution to this problem with News Inkubator. We didn’t win the Knight News Challenge, but we still think it will be absolutely crucial to build a sustainable local news ecosystem. We need to enable content creators to do what they do best, while pooling our collective knowledge to help flush out best business practices.

J-Lab surmised as much in its report about Philadelphia:

Any Networked Journalism collaboration must respect the fierce independence of these startups while validating their strengths and shoring up their weakness with a business support system, which could include business plans, legal help, tech support, even employee benefits.

Business services

News websites are great at building authentic communities but not so great at working on business models. Large businesses are great at making money but are struggling to build communities on the web. There is a natural overlap here.

Breaking silos

I swear I wrote this before Ryan Sholin’s excellent piece on skills media folks should have to be valuable (a must read on its own). But the silos I refer to are the silos within your town and your community. Local online news can be a meeting ground for people that naturally self-segregate. With Technically Philly we’ve seen the startup community, the video game community, the venture capital community (to name a few) all show up to low key meetups we’ve hosted. We think there’s room to grow, but its a good example of people that could benefit being in the same room, but may often need an extra nudge to make it happen.

Local media can be that nudge.

Partnerships with traditional outlets

Like Shannon’s partnership with the Metro, TP has partnerships with Philadelphia Magazine, Philly.com and several local blogs. Several newspapers have taken to building content networks with local blogs and maybe are exploring ways of sharing advertising revenue. These relationships will mature and evolve as the parties try different models.

A short road map, but I hope you can see where we are going here. Local media needs to be part of a larger ecosystem of other businesses, publications and its readers. I’d love to hear your thoughts about our plan.

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