7 Habits of Profitable, Hyper Local News

Still no sustainable business model for online news? That’s crazy talk.

We love reading about online editorial success and greater activity in the hyper-local space. Yet most of these reports feature vague remarks about revenue plans still being explored and the perplexing challenge of finding a way to pay the newsroom bills.

CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, NYU’s Jay Rosen & other veteran journos have been trying to crack the business model code for quite some time now. These entrepreneurial endeavors are well intentioned as they seek  to support the emerging legion of news sites that may one day replace traditional newspapers. Seasoned educators like Jeff and Jay used their editorial credentials to wake up many online newsrooms. But that’s not going to move the needle enough.

Now it’s time for seasoned sellers and revenue focused execs to step up and take the lead here. Maybe we need those with actual sales and revenue experience….. to tackle this sales and revenue issue?

Since 1998, we’ve been tracking and field-testing the leading revenue and sales models used by leading online operations. This research identified a robust collection of revenue models that are currently thriving in the local marketplace.

So why are most hyper-local sites still swimming in red ink, or looking for financial bailouts? With plenty of proven and active revenue models available for adoption…..are these models being intentionally ignored, or just mistakenly dismissed?

Here’s a summary of findings we submitted to CUNY’s New Business Models for News project:

7 Habits of Profitable, Local News Sites

1) Lead by revenue-first executive (just like traditional media business)

  • Profitability first, then operations, followed by editorial/content
  • Run site as a start-up business
  • Think like an entrepreneur…NOT just a manager or journalist
  • Borrow tactics from online revenue leaders

2) Running extra-lean & efficient w/content & platforms

  • Open source platforms, software & applications
  • Outsource content via feeds, blogs, indie-journalism
  • Aggregation & curation. Do what you do best, point to the rest
  • Aggressively strip out & reduce hard costs/expenses
  • 24/7 news cycle; Twitter = first responder journalism
  • Hard news & data as commodity loss-leader
  • Monetizable soft news & activity, subsidizes hard news
  • Data as content

3) Advertiser & sponsor friendly

  • Enabling local commerce is priority #1
  • Advertising as content
  • High impact ad units & sponsorships
  • Removal of GAN’s; garbage ad networks
  • Feet on the street-sales efforts
  • Local business education via Web 101 workshops
  • Self-serve & outbound tele-sales
  • Ability to show quantifiable ROI
  • Local & regional advertising networks

4) Non-traditional revenue streams

  • Rev-share, transaction fees & e-commerce
  • Free-miums & up-sells
  • Offline initiatives & live events
  • Marketing services for local business

5) Training, management & compensation

  • Regular training of all staff (especially top management)
  • Performance based compensation
  • Mandatory budgets with bonus & penalty
  • Managers lead by example, not from behind desk

6) Seed, syndicate, socialize & mobilize

  • More than just a destination site strategy
  • Leverage & monetize content anywhere & everywhere
  • Enable formation and leveraging of affinity groups

7) Database mining & video adoption

  • Sales and editorial appreciation of well-defined databases
  • Sales-based uses of video; online infomercials & ad-vertorial

Mega Conference Recap 2011

Inlander April 2011 Mel Taylor

Revenue: Online Community Journalism

TCU in Fort Worth recently played host to an excellent journalism workshop focused on helping community newspapers turn a profit with their websites.

I was invited to speak to this gathering of highly engaged newspaper execs. The 30 participants in this 3 day workshop represented a variety of local newspapers throughout Texas. They were all  committed to building sustainable business models for their digital news efforts.

Tommy Thomason; program director of TCU’s Texas Center for Community Journalism, is doing an amazing job with this series of workshops. With funding from the Texas Newspaper Foundation, attendees get intensive, non-stop training and development that really stands out amongst state news organizations.

WOW. No tuition, room or food charges during these workshops on the TCU campus in beautiful Fort Worth. In the past, workshop topics have included photojournalism, writing and editing, advertising sales, management, page design, developing an effective Web edition, sportswriting, and circulation.

Tommy Thomason was the founding director of the TCU Schieffer School of Journalism. He left that position to become the founding director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism. Thomason began his career in journalism in the early 1970s with the Associated Press, working as a sportswriter in Arkadelphia and Little Rock.

Dr. Thomason has taught journalism at five universities and has been at TCU since 84. In 1987, he was one of the winners of a national teaching award in Journalism Ethics from the Poynter Institute of Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.