By paulgillin | October 20, 2010 - 6:00 am - Posted in Fake News

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.

Merit Rewards

Sacramento Press merit badgesMembers 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 the 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 Fake News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. October 21, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    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.

    That works fine until you realize that most companies, the clients of such media companies, would sell absolute crap with snake oil” claims to make a dollar.

    As the economy sputters along and runs down to a halt in certain sectors and in certain places, average persons with average IQs and average modicums of civility are being taxed to the limit of their ethical boundaries.

    Caveat Emptor needs an informed populace. It is not in the interest of business to have an informed populace.

    The glory days of 1:N communication (the megaphone rented to Global Village idiots,) are over and
    now that the internet is here, all of those people on both sides of the buyer/seller barrier are struggling.

    One side just needs the old megaphone. The needs of business are for P.R., buzz and a carefully controlled message. In this way, opening up the ownership of websites to commercial enterprises in 1995 (not even ten years ago!) was the most pro-business event that has ever occurred.

    The other side’s needs are far more complex. Caveat emptor needs an informed populace and it needs all kinds of information. It needs N:M communications, which the internet can provide at a low enough cost that any individual can have it.

    However, that individual and businesses (and government, NGO, military etc.) are not on equal footing as they both compete for P.R. and buzz.

    Business has had almost a century of dealing with P.R. firms, who themselves have had almost a century of honing their well paid craft of information prestidigitation to make horse shit into rose food.

    Businesses also have a far larger budget.

    Basically, between the changes happening in congress (of whom, for whom and for how much?) regarding the supposed right to free speech of businesses, which will shortly fill your senses with the P.R. that businesses can and will pay for and the dismantling of the news reportage organizations silencing whatever voices existed, I fear for free speech. (Free [as in libre] isn’t free [as in inexpensive] anymore.)

    Posted by msbpodcast
  2. October 25, 2010 @ 6:58 am

    To further obliterate the usefulness of the paper based media comes this NY Times article: Pitching Movies or Filming Shows, Hollywood Is Hooked on iPads.

    It clearly shows how a connected media device, such as the iPad, as opposed to a merely interactive one, is superior by virtue of being able to update and to receive updated content, without involving time consuming arboricide.

    Imagine a news paper without the paper waste. Imagine an iPad (or iPad like device.) Same thing really.. I have seen the future and it works.

    Apps on an iPad, or iPad like device, and subscription to content using the internet (not the Web) for delivery is an inevitable consequence of the advancement of technology.

    I could go on about why this novel application of technology came from Apple customers, the creative types who are always playing with devices for their cool factor, and could not (and did not,) come from Microsoft’s traditional customer base, (which had access to this kind of device for years prior to the iPad,) because businesses have specific needs and don’t need or want anything else done on their platforms, but why bother?

    Posted by msbpodcast
  3. November 7, 2010 @ 7:58 am

    Disagree with you on this. Speech is freer than ever today. It’s a cacophony, but that’s a consequence of freedom.

    If 50 people trash your business on Yelp or TripAdvisor, you’re screwed, no matter how much money you spend on marketing. That wasn’t so five years ago. Informed consumers force businesses to be better because the customers can talk directly to each other. Doesn’t matter how much you spend on PR or marketing.

    One of the reasons we’re in a deep recession right now is that a lot of inefficiency is being wrung out of the economy as businesses stop spending money on expensive things like marketing and local sourcing and spend much less on customer engagement and offshore sourcing. Efficiency hurts in the short term. In the long term, we’re better off, but we’re in a painful transition point right now.

    Posted by paulgillin
  4. November 9, 2010 @ 7:52 am

    […] couple of weeks ago, we profiled Sacramento Press, a bootstrapped startup that appears to be doing a lot of things right, including adopting a […]

  5. January 26, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    Newspapers are not going anywhere anytime soon. They certainly are not on their deathbed. People in business and people in general will always have the inborn need to know WIGO, What is going on (with apologies to the Coro Leadership Center).
    We are curious beings and want to know what affects us in our daily lives, such as the weather, the markets, our favorite sports team. Does anyone really believe that people will log on to 5 or 10 different Web sites to get this information for free? i do not. There is the matter of convenience for the consumer of getting all they want to know in one place at one time and then start their day. This may evolve into a different form in the next generation, but the need to know will not.
    As a former daily newspaper reporter, I know that other factors play a role. Young reporters feel and believe they are doing a great service to the community and perhaps the country by doing their job. How else would newspapers get away with paying reporters so little? They are and remain believers and thank God they do because without them and their tenacity and persistence, who would investigate their owners or the government when it breaks the law?

    Moreover, we are watching the world be transformed by communications technology. Will the 5 billion people who cannot afford a computer and want to know what is going on want a cheap alternative? Is that not what a newspaper provides the developing world. No, we are not seeing the death of the newspaper, we are witnessing its rebirth and evolution. If only we would step out of our little slice of America and look at the scope of change in the world, we would see this.

    Besides, what is Google News going to use as a source for its stories if there are no more newspapers!


    P.S. thank you to Steve Rensberry for providing this very useful and informative source of information. It truly is a great service and he deserves kudos for doing it.

    Posted by Jim Grandone
  6. January 5, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    […] inventing some creative new ways to report the news. We continue to like the business model of Sacramento Press, which positions itself as an integrated marketing partner rather than an advertising outlet. […]