Advertising on a Hyperlocal Level: What Modes Do You Value Most?

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With November finally upon us, the Business/Revenue team is nearing the completion of the first draft of our “cookbook,” the “how to” guide that we hope will change the way local news publishers approach making money.

This coming week, in putting together the final components, we are conducting second-round interviews with local advertisers in the Evanston market to learn more about what forms of advertising they value most. As we will recommend in our final version of the “cookbook,” knowing the market you’re operating in requires multiple levels of research and interviews by itself. Prior to this batch of interactions with Evanston businesses, we conducted a brief survey with a focused group of local business to learn about how they measure success when it comes to advertising. This time we are exploring which forms of adverting (online banner ads, print ads, direct mailing, outdoor, etc.) they value most.

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Getting Ready for the Stretch Run

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There’s a little over a month left before our project is completed and ready to be presented, and I’m excited about the direction we’re taking with the mockup website that our programmers have conceptualized.

The main thing we’ve noticed, as we’ve done our audience research and usability testing, is that people want to engage with something. Long gone are the days where the public reads the news, and then are unable to express their feelings or thoughts immediately in a comments section or the like. Sure, a letter to the editorial would suffice but what guarantee was there that he or she would read it, let alone reply or post it on a newspaper?

None.

Now? Interactivity on a news platform is seen as a necessity. And I think with the mockup website that our team has put together, we can offer something that allows people to engage not only with each other but with the reporters that are publishing the story. I think that’s cool, and it allows for a real-time news stream. Getting news up-to-the-minute is something that nearly everyone has an appetite for.

The hope, at the end of the day, is that we provide a fresh take on hyperlocal news and efficiently disseminate information to a community of readers. In this day and age, it’s all about efficiency. That’s one aspect of a business model that is essential for a site like ours to survive and grow.

Paying It Forward

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I’m finding the word community increasingly confusing, especially when navigating the world of hyperlocal publishing.  When someone says community, do they mean community like the city of Evanston, or the city’s West Side neighborhood, or a block club or church. Or, do they mean the community of users of a particular site? When do these groups intersect, when are they too disparate?  The 2010 Knight News Challenge goes as far as defining a specific Community category for entries:

Community: Seeks groundbreaking technologies that support news and
information specifically within defined geographic areas. This is designed to
jump-start work on technologies and approaches that haven’t arrived yet.
Unlike the first three categories, sub-
missions in this area must be tested in a geographically designated community.

But, in a Sept. 20 post announcing the 2010 challenge, the poster wrote “I think of this as our io9 category,” referring to a Gawker Media-run science-fiction and popular culture site.  Perhaps the poster was referring to the future-focused voice of the site, but it also surfaces the possibility that people may increasingly identify with communities and person-to-person interactions that aren’t geographically bound. Read more »

Looking Ahead to the Final Weeks

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As we reached the midpoint of our quarter this week we began taking steps to organize the final stretch of the project. It feels like our December presentation is quite a ways off, but with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching and the time we’ll need in the final days of class to prepare and finalize the report and presentation, we’ve realized that we only have about three or four weeks left to develop, test, and research our product.

This means that starting today, we’ll be taking a more structured approach to coordinating our different teams’ work by assigning schedules and deadlines on a master calendar. Until now, we’ve done well with informal deadlines and meetings, but as 0ur individual team schedules have been getting busier, it seems that it’s becoming more difficult for each group to feel that they have a good sense of what other teams are doing. We particularly felt that having our tech team’s timeline of deliverables up on the master calendar would help everyone feel more informed about their  progress, even on those days where their coding work takes them to Medill’s Loop newsroom instead of our normal Evanston classroom. Read more »

Communities and Journalists Singing Kumbaya?

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For definitely as long as I can remember, and certainly for years long before, journalists have been carrying the weight of delivering timely, comprehensive, well-reported news to local communities. The evolving news ecosystem changes that expectation.

Now community members can play a huge role in helping report and even writing the news, which takes a huge load off the back of journalists who may be spread too thin in their communities.

Legitimate sites are starting to sprout up that are helping to ease the reporting process. OpenFile is a new site that allows community members to open a file and describe a topic of concern. OpenFile then assigns a reporter to the subject and the story gets written–everyone ends up happy. As OpenFile puts it, “We see the news as a discussion, not a monologue. And listening is only half of the conversation.” Read more »

Would You Like That Packaged or À La Carte?

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As we’ve said before in our previous research we found that many of these legacy businesses want something simple when it comes to advertising.

Something uncomplicated and easy to choose from would be offering packages. The question is, which packages will they choose? And how should we put together these packages? What will go in them?

We have listed numerous ways for monetization—Twitter posts, Facebook blasts, business spotlights, videos, sponsorships and more—all of which we believe to be advantages for these businesses. Another problem is some of these businesses might not understand them or just are not interested.

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Advertising Opportunities with Local Restaurants

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Reviewing the responses from the initial round of interviews, it’s fairly evident that the presence of national chain brands in the hyperlocal business environment definitely creates a tough competition for the local mom ‘n pop shops.

It’s actually unsurprising to find that the majority of the respondents, when it comes to retail stores, simply choose recognizable brands as opposed to trying the local brands. This is largely in part because many don’t do heavy shopping in Evanston (especially when you can go to Chicago for that) and local consumption is limited to basic necessities like grocery. And when it comes to something as basic as grocery, the local brands cannot really offer something special that the national brands like Jewel Osco or Whole Foods can. In fact, to the contrary, I would argue that the national brands are able to offer a wider selection of items when it comes to basic necessities.

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Q&A: Evanston Patch Editor Jessica Rudis

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For almost two months, Jessica Rudis has been patrolling the streets — and events — of Evanston. She’s recently been named the editor of Evanston Patch, a community news site that’s linked into what will soon be a national media network.

An AOL Corp. product, Patch is one of the few media entities that this year has been growing. AOL’s corporate site now boasts that it has hundreds of local websites.

So we took a few minutes this week to ask Rudis about her coverage goals, interaction with Evanstonians and relationship with AOL.

Local Fourth: Could you give me the background on Evanston Patch — when did it start and how did you get involved?

Jessica Rudis: Evanston Patch launched on Sept. 3, but I’ve been working at Patch since late June. Before our sites launch each editor spends a few weeks building a large directory of every business and organization in town. I personally got involved with Patch because I had been living on the east coast for a while, but I wanted to move back to the Chicago area and was keeping an eye on new journalism opportunities out here. I love hyperlocal journalism and I had heard a lot of great things about Patch, so I was thrilled when I got the job.

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A Prelude to an Interview

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We’re about halfway through the quarter, and people are starting to take interest in Local Fourth and our community innovation project. This week, both Jason and I are being interviewed by a Medill alum who is writing an article about Asst. Professor Rachel Davis Mersey and Medill’s commitment to audience research.

It’s rare that I find myself in the interviewee’s chair  — I’m typically the one asking the questions. To help her prep for the interview, the alum asked for copies of our initial audience research findings and data. She sounds really intrigued by our project, and I look forward to telling her more about our process: what worked well, what worked not so well, successes and struggles, etc.

Though I’ve always been interested in audience research, my fascination was peaked when I was a student in Rachel’s class. It’s exciting to learn skills  and techniques in a classroom setting, but having the opportunity to actually implement them in a real project has been doubling rewarding.

Stay tuned for next week’s follow-up, where I’ll talk about how the big interview went!

Addressing the Problem of Commenting

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Usability testing can yield insights into concrete problems, like a poorly explained feature or a misplaced link, but it can also highlight the perennial questions that news organizations and audiences alike are struggling with online.

This week, our tests revealed that users are as aware of the problems fundamental to online commenting as publishers are. As we tested a model that would allow community members and journalists to interact over important topics through a question-and-answer format, our test group repeatedly brought up the desire for an experience that would make this different from a standard comment thread. Testers said that they didn’t want a “bathroom wall,” or a space where facts risked becoming muddled with random opinions. This has helped us focus our short-term goals on addressing issues of moderation and attribution in our design.

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