Local News Isn’t Local Enough for Meporter’s Andy Leff

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Andy Leff, founder of Meporter Meporter, a citizen journalism platform for mobile phones that was launched in May, combines the check-in function of Foursquare with crowdsourcing and  old-fashioned reporting. Using the app, journalists of all stripes can check in to a location or an event and then share their on-the-fly news report with the world at large.

Street Fight recently caught up with Andy Leff, founder and CEO of Meporter, over email to find out more about his company’s platform, and how it plans to filter through the noise to bring users relevant hyperlocal news.

What does “hyperlocal” mean to Meporter?
To really be able to get ingrained with people on the grassroots level. There’s not a lot of ways out there that you can touch and make a difference in peoples’ daily lives. Hyperlocal content is one of them. It’s a great place to be to find out what is going on.

What distinguishes the way Meporter does hyperlocal to find out what is going on?
One of the things where we want to set a mark is in what type of news is reported. Right now, local news isn’t necessarily local or hyperlocal; it’s covering national news locally. [Because we require users to check-in to a place or an event] we talk about what is important to them and those local communities — it might be a food festival or a little league game. Right now local publications aren’t even that local.

Newspapers have dropped the ball to a degree. Many people read local papers and they’re not getting the news they want. They read their paper or watch their local TV news and they’re spending time covering national stories. I don’t know that people want the whole experience of the news covered there. They need some place to go to know just what is going on on the local level. It doesn’t necessarily have to be professionally produced.

And how do you intend to monetize the app?
We see three different revenue streams to start:

  1. Sponsorships. Advertisers can sponsor a category of news in a region.
  2. Opportunities to deliver hyperlocal ads through the site and app.
  3. Sponsored content. Sponsors can promote news in an area — you can post a story, than push it to top of results page. It’s kind of like paid search on Google.

We’re also exploring syndication — license a feed [to a national publisher] in certain categories in certain regions to repurpose. We see a lot of opportunity here. There are a lot of national players who are getting into the local space. The market is shifting in that way — national getting into local news and covering it nationally.

Newspapers have dropped the ball to a degree. Many people read local papers and they’re not getting the news they want. They read their paper or watch their local TV news and they’re spending time covering national stories.

Are there features you tested that didn’t make it into the final product?
There wasn’t anything we tried that ever really failed, per se… What we heard loud and clear, and what we avoided, is that “the current platforms out there don’t allow me to tell whole story.” So we avoided anything that set character limitations, or the media you could add to posts. We modeled that in. We allow people to posts as much text as the wish and as many pictures, video, et cetera.

One of the concerns about citizen journalism is that most of it is unreadable or uninteresting and users ignore the flood of news. How are you working to mitigate this affect?
It’s a difficult task to limit what news is to someone. How do you know what data is important to people? If someone is reporting on a local little league, I don’t have kids, so that is not important to me. To them and someone else that is extremely important. We’re working on filters will allow you to filter out the noise. As people let us know what they’re more interested in, we can do more to push to the right news to them on a local level. This is all stuff we’re working on.

Journalists are already using Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to crowdsource coverage. Do you have plans to evangelize Meporter to news organizations and individual journalists as another tool to report this way?
Now that we’re live, we can aggressively go after users like this. I got an email from someone saying “Hey, I am at a j-school and this is a great way to teach students early on how to report news on a local level. Can we work together to get something going?” Anyone interested in consuming local news, and reporting it can do just that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.