We got an invitation to speak to the founder of the Sacramento Press a couple of weeks ago, and since few hyper-local publishers have the desire or financial means to do any PR these days, we were curious to hear what Ben Ilfeld (right) had to say.
Ilfeld is a 29-year-old entrepreneur who has created a different approach to community journalism. He has no journalism background, and that’s probably a virtue, because Sacramento Press is unencumbered by preconceptions about how publishing should be done. It is also experimenting with a diversified business model in which advertising is only a piece of the revenue picture. That’s an idea we’ve been advocating for some time.
Anybody can contribute to Sacramento Press and about 1,200 people have. About 65% of the content is generated by the community and managed by a full-time editorial staff of five people. The underlying principle, though, is what is sometimes called a “Folksonomy.” In other words, the community organizes the site.
Ilfeld and co-founder Geoff Samek created Sacramento Press’ content management system from scratch in Java. It incorporates a new navigation concept called a “story line.” Everyone who registers is asked to create one.
A story line links together all the work an author has done on a particular topic, providing a sort of background narrative. The site also relies heavily upon tags to give members the means to self-organize its content. “You can create a tag like ‘Marshall School Park’ and apply that tag to any other content,” Ilfeld said. “We then give you a URL and that creates your own front page.” The site also employs a traditional section taxonomy and its default front pages are laid out by human editors.
Members are urged along through a system of merit badges that rewards them for accomplishments like covering the fire department beat or participating in one of the many free workshops the company offers on topics like “writing for readers” and “interviewing techniques.” Basically, the more you contribute, the more recognition you get. This rewards system is a staple of user-generated content sites like Yelp and Kaboodle.
Sacramento Press’ greatest innovation, however, may be its business model. The company created a local vertical advertising network called Sacramento Local Online Advertising Network (SLOAN) that gives advertisers and independent online publishers a chance to participate in national and regional ad campaigns. SLOAN takes care of negotiating deals and each publisher shares in the revenue. The network now represents over 50 sites and brings in over $10,000 a month.
But it goes beyond advertising. “The number one thing we do as an organization is provide marketing services,” Ilfeld says. “If building a Flickr account will help a client’s business, we’ll do that for them.” Advertising now comprises less than 50% of revenue. “Most of our sales are coming from social media work, events and services,” he says.
Sacramento Press isn’t profitable yet, but that doesn’t worry its founder. “Every time we approach profitability, we reinvest in the business,” Ilfeld says. With 90,000 unique monthly visitors and a 10% to 15% monthly growth rate, Sacramento Press is quickly becoming a significant force in the local media scene. Its ad network is also raising a barrier to entry for others.
Sacramento Press is demonstrating that a hyperlocal news model can work if publishers discard assumptions and think of new ways to generate revenue. Local media organizations are ideally positioned to provide marketing services to small businesses that lack the resources to manage their own campaigns. By diversifying their businesses, publishers can insulate themselves from disasters like the current collapse in advertising rates and position themselves as essential partners to local businesses.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 at 6:00 am and is filed under Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Local news, NewMedia, OnlineMedia, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.