Zohar Yardeni has served as CEO of the The Daily Voice — a hyperlocal news network of 52 sites in suburban New York and Connecticut and central Massachusetts formerly known as Main Street Connect — since November 2011. Previously, at Thomson Reuters, he led a team working to reinvent a multibillion-dollar platform of financial applications and websites. Earlier he founded radiusIM, a location-based instant messaging service, and CallStreet, an earnings call transcription service, which was subsequently sold to FactSet Research Systems.
Street Fight checked in with Yardeni recently to see how he and the Daily Voice were doing in their hotly competitive local digital space.
What have you learned about the hyperlocal business that’s most revealing – and instructive — since you’ve taken over as CEO?
I am learning how people feel about community news. I underestimated the role it plays in people’s lives. While the delivery mechanisms may have evolved radically in the last 5 to 10 years, professional local news content lives on. We believe that professional local news content will continue to survive. The real question is what business model will support the production of that local news.
Daily Voice was called Main Street Connect before you took over. Why the name change, and how is it playing out in your community – among both general users and businesses?
Reactions have been very positive. We previously had different names for our company and our news sites. Moving to one brand simply makes it easier for us to connect with readers and local businesses.
The Daily Voice’s hyperlocal model looks similar to Patch’s – basic hard news of the community, people-and-place features and business profiles, all done with a combination of one full-time reporter/editor per community plus freelancers to fill gaps. How does this differ from Patch’s model, which has been heavily criticized as unsustainably too costly? Is your editorial model sustainable?
I cannot speak for others, but our mission at the Daily Voice is very focused: we provide people with news they need about their towns. If we deliver what readers want and avoid getting distracted, we will continue to provide value to businesses that want to connect with local consumers. I don’t think there is one simple solution to sustainability in local news. Rather, success requires the ability to execute well on many fronts and react quickly to an evolving landscape. Our experience to date confirms that this business model is sustainable.
Is Daily Voice profitable?
We are not yet profitable, but believe we are far closer than any other large digital competitors.
Is Daily Voice’s revenue program still built around “annual visibility packages,” costing $5,000 to $6,000 for ads plus other exposure on the sites? If so, how successful are the AVP’s? What’s the total revenue from all 52 sites?
Our model has evolved quite a bit. We work with a variety of businesses of different sizes and goals, and have packages that cater to their needs. As a private company, we do not publish revenue numbers.
Journatic has been in the news with blowback over its outsourcing and distant reporting of stories, plus fake bylines and one instance of plagiarism. What do you think of the Journatic model?
I believe “boots on the ground” are required in order to produce engaging community news. The local news model will certainly need to evolve in order to survive, but I do not think outsourcing is the silver bullet. The Daily Voice will not be outsourcing its editorial.
Your company received a new round of funding – $7 million – when you took over. What are you doing with that money? Expanding, and, if so, to where?
We have recently raised more capital, bringing total funding to $18 million. The funds are used to execute on our strategy, which is to optimize and scale the business. We’ve added new towns, including Ridgefield, Conn., Yonkers, N.Y., Southborough, Mass. and others.
Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites built around how communities rate in livability. Local America was recently featured on Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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