By Geoff Hing
One aspect of spending so much time working on this project in Evanston is eating at a lot of Evanston restaurants. Today, the project coders went to Bat 17, which has become one of my favorite places for lunch in Evanston. Just after lunch, we had some tough conversations about how a site built on the platform we’re developing might be sustainable and why, if we’re able to drive content to local publishers sites, we don’t charge them for that privilege. One example of how another local business (one big takeaway from the Block by Block conference was that online local news sites need to convey that they’re small local businesses too) leveraged free stuff to get more business was right there, digesting away in my stomach.
Bat 17 has free coffee, not just for people stopping to eat, but for anyone who wants to stop in. Their reasoning is that people may come for the free coffee and decide to stay for lunch, or appreciating the service, come by after work or class for a few drinks. I don’t have the numbers, but it seems like a smart move because the restaurant has been full the couple of times that I’ve been there. The restaurant also makes a big deal about sourcing ingredients from other local businesses like Bennison’s Bakery. Rather than competing in the Evanston food space, the two businesses have a relationship that is mutually beneficial. Sourcing from Bennison’s gives Bat 17 local credibility (according to the Bat 17 website, Bennison’s has been around since the 1930s) and also drives business to Bennison’s. If local news organizations want to compete with the emerging Paneras of local news, they need to find platforms for mutual benefit in the same way that Bennison’s and Bat 17 have used sandwiches. I want to think that we’re imagining such a platform.
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By Eddy Rivera
It’s been an exciting time for Local Fourth, as our project is starting to pick up steam and — as told in our YouTube videos — we’re beginning the process of prototyping an online product that, we hope, can bring us closer to sharing hyperlocal news with the public in a more interactive manner than they’re accustomed to.
For the immediate future, we’re going to test-drive this vehicle to see what type of capabilities it has and what additional tools we’d like to implement. In technology, this is called ‘beta testing’ and that’s what our group of students (all 15 of us) will do for now. It’s an exciting time, without a doubt.
There will be bumps in the road, no question, and the next few weeks are going to be intensive, but I’m interested to see how it goes. By the end of the 10 weeks or so, the hope is that we can offer something different to the table when it comes to sharing news with a community.
I like to think that compiling and sharing news, at least with our product, will become a more collaborative effort. Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, do a great job of offering an interactive medium by which people can interact with other people in real-time.
Why not do that with a hyperlocal platform? Not just by leaving comments, mind you, but by asking specific questions pertaining to a specific story and having the reporter (and other people) give you an answer. That would be cool, right?
We’ll see if we’re right.
By Emily Dresslar
What does sustainability mean to you?
Some large media organizations – think AOL’s Patch – are betting that localized online news and information sites will be profitable in a not-too-distant future. But many micro-publishers struggle right now to build bigger audiences and create revenue sources.
“We believe it is too much for these sites, with only microfunding, to build a website, populate it with content launch it, trigger community impact and attract major support to be fully sustainable after only two years,” reports the Knight Foundation in a recent release, “New Voices: What Works.”
Which got us thinking, what constitutes “sustainability” when it comes to a hyperlocal news site? Is it a community forum that has attracted the attention of non-profit funders? Or is it the online publisher tapping a small but steady stream of local advertisers. Is sustainability synonymous with profitability or quality or community outreach?
Maybe sustainability is better described as achieved when a site is ready to hand off to the next publisher – even if that means a scramble to the finish to make up operating deficiencies. In other words, if you stopped working on your news and information site, would others be able to step in and push the mission forward or would it wither on the vine?
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By Jason Shough
Once Jordan, the audience team and I read through the in-depth interview questionnaires, we started to segment our potential audience pool into reader ‘archetypes’.
Budding publications typically choose one ideal reader ‘persona’ to make the development phase much easier, including design, content, advertising and promotion. It also helps differentiate a publication and its content from the ever-growing list of niche periodicals on the market, which translates to more sales.
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By Kevin Shalvey
Jason Shough, a leader of the Local Fourth Audience Research team, has an update on how the research and technology teams have started working together.
For about two weeks, these two teams worked exclusively. And during last week they started the process of informing each other and working toward creating a product that will service everyone’s needs.
See more third-week YouTube updates here.
By Elizabeth Bahm
We started this week out by closing in on our final concept for an online product that can help facilitate our goals of bringing local news and the communities it serves closer together.
That means it was also the first major week for the content and design team, led by myself and Andrew Paley. With a five-week plan for bringing the web component of our project together, we decided with the tech team to spend this first week getting the most fundamental elements in place.
On the design side, that means the beginnings of a front end. Instead of starting with a mockup of something that might resemble or become a final index page or user landing page, we decided to start by building something that likely won’t appear on the end product, but which pulls together some of the most basic interactions and ideas of the site on to one page: contextualization of ongoing news topics, and the ability to engage with these ongoing stories by voicing questions and concerns.
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By Spencer Rinkus
Since this is my inaugural post here on Local Fourth, I’d like to package up some random musings from the last few weeks to get us up to speed.
It was about midway through last quarter when rumors began to circulate regarding the nature of the innovation projects. Worried conversations hinted that the two capstone courses here at Northwestern might be of the non-traditional variety. We knew one project had something to do with the iPad (You know, that thing that makes it really easy to read on the go? No, no–not a paperback book–don’t be silly.) and the other was concerned with hyperlocal news websites.
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By Kevin Shalvey
Let’s talk about the Big Board in Gawker’s offices. It tracks stories. It shows the top read of the last hour. It’s a reward for writers who can drive traffic.
Nick Denton, who is behind the Gawker media empire, has used analytics to improve content (if you judge great content by the number of clicks it pulls in.) He’s installed a visual, ever-refreshing view into who the best content producers are. Denton has been quoted in The New York Times and The New Yorker as saying, “Sometimes one sees writers just standing before it like early hominids in front of a monolith.” Allusions to Kubrick aside, there’s something to be said for the importance of creating visibility — read: accountability — for each writer’s traffic.
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By Lori Bernardino
Four weeks have gone by, although we don’t have a finished product, we obviously have a wealth of research. Doesn’t mean we can’t start on the final report now. I’ve already started a few drafts for the front cover and the header for the inside pages. That should be done by next week for the class to vote on.
Everything else? Still to come.
Each team has a deadline for next week to submit some of its findings. I want the report to be visually appealing. No one page with blocks of text, they will be broken up with graphs, bullet points, pull-out quotes, screenshots, word clouds and more.
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By Jesse Young
For our team of 15 people, here are the online tools that we use:
- Google Document to record ideas
- Google Form to collect in-class information
- Survey Monkey to create surveys
- Google Spreadsheet to store interview and
- Facebook to advertise
- Google Calendar for scheduling events
- Gmail for communication
- WordPress for our blog
- Flickr for images
- YouTube for video hosting
- Github for code
- Basecamp for project management
It was oddly comforting this afternoon when we decided to write on the chalkboard during our brainstorming session. (But then someone took a photo of the board with a smartphone and put it online.)
I often wonder how people used to get stuff done before the Internet?