Can You Make Money With Local News?

MediaShift Idea Lab posted a great article by David Sasaki last week titled: Can the Knight Legacy Lead to Sustainability? David’s final thought/question in the piece was this:

But is it Sustainable?

The Knight Foundation is single-handedly making citizen media both more serious and more respected by giving financial support to some of the field’s most innovative thinkers.

But is this a sustainable model for the transformation of media? What happens when the News Challenge’s five-year funding period concludes?

All of the News Challenge grantee projects are impressive, innovative, and important, but not a single one is turning a profit, nor do they seem poised to any time soon.

There is a fundamental truth that we are fast approaching — all media should be free. This includes, news, entertainment, public records, etc. Just look at what’s happening in the music industry. The signs are all over the wall…

Subsequently, this belief in freeing the information is driving the traditional news industry into the ground. Controlling the information has always been the key (I think of the classic Redford movie, Sneakers). But the old ways of controlling and distributing the news are falling apart.

The info on the web is so disseminated, that I can get news from pretty much anywhere… so what drives me to get it from any place in particular? At risk of sounding like the corporate-driven, cube-infested, dilbertesque workplace that spawned me — it’s the value-adds.

If I can get news any time, any way, and from any location I want AND (and, folks, that’s a big “and”) also access services (from local businesses) that make my day-to-day life easier, why would I go anywhere else?

The key here is relevance and location. News that matters to me, services that help me around the house, and an online network that makes my life easier right where I live in the real world — these are the exact things that just recently were so explicitly illustrated by Newspaper Next’s news report from the American Press Institute. It was best stated as such:

“The place I go to be part of the fabric of life here [where I live].”

eNeighbors wants to help us get there. The icing on the cake is, yes, we are profitable, and our plan is to continue to be so in greater proportions. That is exactly why we have applied to the Knight News Challenge. We believe our goals and community-oriented nature are in perfect alignment with the Knight Foundation’s vision.

So, to answer David’s question, eNeighbors hopes to break that non-profitablility mold and help lead the way for the next level of online journalism and real-world community.

Short End of the Ad Stick

My take on Eric Picard’s article on local advertising over on ClickZ:

1. Display advertising (i.e., print ads) in the local newspaper is still the best ad/marketing vehicle for a small business to reach its audience.

Article quote:

I’m fairly certain the numbers used by J.P. Morgan’s analysts include classified ad revenue. Classifieds have been decimated in local ad spend, but display ads in local newspapers are probably just as strong as they have ever been, despite shrinking circulation. This is mainly because there are no alternatives for local businesses, including local affiliates of national brands (e.g., local auto dealers, quick-service restaurant franchises, national retailer locations, etc.), to reach their local audiences. Much of this has to do with creative production and the lack of online inventory that can be targeted locally.

2. Online audience targeting is still not good enough for small businesses to shift their ad dollars online.

Article quote:

Local newspaper ad spend on display ads is very unlikely to move online for the next few years. The reason is similar to why television didn’t drop for some time despite shrinking audiences. There just isn’t an alternative to reach the target audience that a small local business, even a local affiliate of a national brand, can take advantage of.

3. Still no infrastructure for small businesses to get “true” local service positioning.

Article quote:

Local search has mainly solidified around mapping, which is great at taking advantage of people searching for a product in a local area but not for driving awareness of a sale or trying to create demand. And without a sales force and creative production resources to serve the local markets, it’s highly unlikely that much of the local inventory available within the online space will ever get sold to local businesses. The infrastructure is really set up for supporting national advertisers with localized creative.


Greg Sterling also comments.

Big Brother Is Bigger Than Ever

With the growth of online social networks, electronic data, and increasing broadband adoption across the globe, there has been a parallel increase in the risk of your personal information being exposed to whoever wants to take a look.

The websites you visit, what you buy online, the communities and discussions you contribute to — all of these pieces of information are part of the ever-growing mountain of data that advertisers and corporations are dying to get their hands on.

Recently, Facebook has come under a lot of criticism for its feature called “Beacon” that tracks what you buy online outside of Facebook, and then tells your friends about it. Now, I do understand the concept Facebook is trying to accomplish — if I like a product enough to pay for it, then that’s the ultimate recommendation. Adding Radiohead as a “friend” on my profile is one thing, but shelling out $80 for a box set of their latest music speaks volumes.

The catch here is that we don’t like the feeling of being watched. If I want to tell my friends about the products and services that I like, I want to do it in my own way. Not have an automated feed of my buying habits revealed to my family and co-workers on a daily basis.

Privacy is important to everyone. Feeling safe when you are online and feeling like your personal information is secure is crucial for anyone to engage in online social networks.

We found this to be the primary concern for the neighborhoods that we began to set up over three years ago. Privacy was number one. Residents of a community wanted to be sure that their information was secure. It’s one thing to create a profile on MySpace or Facebook where the majority of your interaction is virtual, but users of eNeighbors interact with the people that literally live right across the street.

That’s why we take privacy and security very seriously at eNeighbors. You can be sure that we don’t expose your information to anyone, and you are in complete control of how you choose to participate online. Our ability to grow and promote local community revolves directly around the level of trust the members of that community have with us. We want people to open up and interact with their neighbors. In the end, everyone wins if we all feel safe — especially in our own homes.

Fatdoor Funding

Some good progress being made over at Fatdoor today. Sounds like they got a new CEO as well as some investment funding. It’s great to see social networking initiatives in the local neighborhood space getting recognition and traction.

This just further proves that the space is viable and relevant. With the never-ending supply of social networking options these days, it’s getting really tough to focus on the right networks and web apps that give a postive return to the user both online and offline.

Greg Sterling and TechCrunch both comment as well.

eBay Neighborhoods

The recent release of “Neighborhoods” from eBay sort of confused me at first. Initially, I thought it was geo-specific way of finding eBay items for sale in your area (or neighborhood). This is the sort of thing that eNeighbors has been doing on a limited scale with our current online neighborhood classifieds.

However, the eBay neighborhoods are in reality nothing more than groups that share a common interest. Here’s one for the Nintendo Wii. I’m not sure why they called it “neighborhoods,” but once you get past the label, the concept is a very interesting way to connect like-minded individuals who are buying and selling a specific set of products. The local commerce space has recently been making great strides online, and I’m glad to see eBay contributing to the cause.

You can keep up on the latest at the eBay Neighborhood blog.

Local Search: The Future of eCommerce

How much do you buy online? Depending on your social situation (single, married, kids, etc.), the amount of actual online purchasing can vary greatly. But how often do you research a purchase online regardless of whether you are planning to purchase online or offline?

When it comes to local search, Greg Sterling has some great comments on SEL today. Greg’s comment in his opening statement are of particular interest to me as it relates to eNeighbors. Since our target audience is homeowners in a managed community, the home services are a perfect fit for us to be able to recommend and advertise to our users, but Greg’s comment about products (which I assume to mean pretty much anything) tell me that every transaction whether on or offline starts at the local level since that’s where we all live.

In other words, we all live in a local community no matter where we are. This local community which houses our friends and family is the largest influence on our buying habits. Our local habitat dictates our entertainment options, our habits, hobbies, etc. You get the idea.

I think the real insight here is this — to sell a product (any product) how much more effective would that sales process be if it were approached from a local level? Obviously, it would be exponetially more effective. It would be like a door-to-door salesman for the entire world. In the past, this approach has not been very cost-effective for obvious reasons, but with the recent adoption of the web’s social networking features, this type of sales approach is now possible.

So, once again I’m advocating the use of a bottom-up approach to local search. In this case, as it directly relates to local commerce. Ironically, the internet may be the vehicle to bring back the feeling of community and localness.

eNeighbors & The Knight News Challenge

eNeighbors has applied to the Knight News Challenge in the “New Business Ventures” category. Our goal is to align with a funding resource that shares our vision and focus for neighborhood-level communication in actual geographical communities.

Additionally, we strive to achieve social responsibility in our business model as it directly affects communities and their residents. The Knight Foundation shares much of these same principles and beliefs. We believe in what the Knight Foundation is trying to achieve through this program and would love to be a part of it.

Last year, the Knight Foundation awarded funding to a diverse collection of 25 individuals, private and public entities, ranging from MIT to MTV. The Foundation plans to invest at least $25 million over five years in the search for bold community news experiments.

Visit the Knight Foundation to learn more.

Visit eNeighbors to learn how to get your neighborhood online.