Street Fight Summit: Old-School, Investigative Journalism Leads to Hyperlocal Sales

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Three hyperlocal news startups on the East Coast have one thing in common: they are not yet profitable. Publishers and editors from GoLocal24.com, DailyVoice.com and DNAInfo.com said Jan. 15 at Street Fight Summit in New York City that cranking out quality investigative journalism leads to audience, which translates into sales.

Lisa Skube, director of Journalism Accelerator, moderates a discussion on hyperlocal publishing models, with Joshua Fenton, founder of GoLocal24; Zohar Yardeni, CEO of Daily Voice; and Leela de Kretser, publisher and editorial director of DNA Info. Photo by Tim Sohn.

Leela De Kretser, publisher and editorial director of DNAInfo.com, which is funded by a “very large investment,” said her site launched in 2009 covering neighborhoods in Manhattan. Now, the site also covers Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island in New York. It has also launched a site in Chicago.

“Launches are like having a baby, and I’ve done both,” said De Kretser, who added that market penetration and trust by the community are key. “Penetration will be incredibly important. The people in the neighborhoods and the towns you are covering actually know who you are; they rely on you for information, that is the only way you’re ever going to get advertisers. There’s no other way.”

De Kretser also explained that publishers have to focus on acquiring a high market penetration and a loyal audience. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to sell advertising,” she said, elaborating that DNAInfo is on track with its business plan, and if it stays on track, will be profitable going forward.

Zohar Yardeni, CEO of DailyVoice.com, said his site began as Main Street Connect in 2009, and it covers 50 towns in Westchester County, N.Y.; Fairfield County, Conn.; and Massachusetts. Daily Voice has raised $18 million to date by investors. Yardeni emphasized the important of being relevant in the community you’re covering.

“We are not profitable. I think we’re on our way there. We have some places we are relevant. We have some places we are not as relevant,” he said.

Joshua Fenton, founder of GoLocal24, said his site has launched sites in Rhode Island (GoLocalProv.com) and Massachusetts (GoLocalWorcester.com), and focuses on investigative, enterprise journalism and engagement on social media. It had early seed investors and a co-founder. Fenton said both investigative journalism and engagement on social media platforms are critical – its content saw 110 million impressions on Facebook over the last year. Daily Voice and DNAInfo also gets the most social impact from Facebook.

“So, there is a lot of engagement, and you break a big story, it has a big impact. It has a big impact on public policy. There are three federal investigations going on in Providence … but all three of those federal investigations began, pivoted off of journalism that we broke, significant pieces, real live sort of old-school hard work journalism,” said Fenton, adding that focusing on mobile and video is also important.

In addition, GoLocal24 has partnerships with Clear Channel, the local NBC affiliate, and its sports editors host a sports show. Content has been picked up by The New York Times, Associated Press, ESPN, and NBC Sports.

Fenton believes that hyperlocal sites can fill a niche left open by dramatic cutbacks at newspapers.

“If you go by the truism that sort of 70 to 80 percent of all fact-based journalism starts with newspapers, and they’re cutting back by leaps and bounds, we think that there’s an opportunity, and the experience now we’ve had in two markets is, if you do it, you will bring the smart reader. If you bring the smart reader, the advertiser must follow,” he said, adding that his company is likely to become profitable, but isn’t there yet.

In terms of advertising in Providence, according to Fenton, GoLoca24 was able to sign on some mid-size advertisers, including banks and hospitals. Now, it is focusing on putting together a variety of advertising campaigns, including sponsored content, both mobile-driven and dashboard-driven. He explained that advertising is going well in its market in Massachusetts, which is a no-TV station market.

“We’ve built everything onto one ad manager structure to be able to turn knobs across on-site, pre-roll on site, on mobile pre-roll, and our e-blast that goes out every morning. So, across those different ways we can really turn up and down ad campaigns for different campaigns in a pretty interesting and unique way,” he said.

De Kretser explained that people do care about neighborhood news.

“This is about content, having great content that attracts great audience, and what we’ve found is, we’re in the most saturated media market in the world, New York City, and people don’t know what the hell is going on in their neighborhood, and they actually really care.”

De Kretser also said she thinks investigative journalism gets a bad name because it is expensive, “but the reality is investigative journalism has been cheaper than it’s ever been.”

Tim Sohn is a freelance writer and editor focusing on social media and technology. Follow him on Twitter @editortim.

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