Can Tech Innovations Bring Revenue for Hyperlocal Publishers?

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What innovations can help startup news sites earn money? How should hyperlocal publishers decide what technology to use? These are constant questions at the Journalism Accelerator, a website focused on crowdsourcing knowledge to help journalism find new, sustainable financial models. I asked David Hirschman, co-founder of Street Fight, and Michael Meyer, a Columbia Journalism Review staff writer who also runs CJR’s Guide to Online News Startups, to weigh in on these and other questions in a conversation about innovation and revenue in publishing.

David and Michael are both steeped in the hyperlocal space, but they have different expertise. David brought up Walmart’s creation last fall of Facebook pages for individual stores as an example of companies going straight to consumers, skipping the intermediate step of advertising, in print or online. “There are certain kinds of business that work particularly well in publishing and work particularly well next to local content,” he said, “but there are a lot of ways to reach consumers.” As Michael noted, that’s the crux of the shifting industry. He is finding that as hyperlocal news sites mature, they’re building credibility as institutions that may counter some of the direct company/consumer relationships that technology allows.

The potential of that direct relationship seems to push so much innovation. In the interview, I asked how much energy in tech development is focused on earning revenue by aiding local commerce and how much is aiming to serve local news publishers. Granted, that’s probably not possible to quantify, but David cited the warpspeed development of the daily deals industry as one major driver in innovation around commerce platforms recently. With a lot of shakeout in that field, he suspects the innovation pendulum may swing elsewhere next.

But even now, many publishers are overwhelmed with new tech tools, said CJR’s Michael Meyer. “I think some sites make the mistake of trying to get ahead of the curve because that’s something we prize in journalism these days,” he said. But going slow might pay off more. “They’ve got to remember that the audience and advertisers have to be with them step by step.”

You can read or hear the full interview on the JA blog, or skim highlights with links back to the audio.

Emily Harris is editorial director of Journalism Accelerator, a forum about innovation in journalism.