The panel just before lunch at Tuesday’s Street Fight Summit, a two-day conference dedicated to all things hyperlocal, was on hyperlocal “publishing models that work.” But by “work,” organizers seemed to mean models that “have yet to fail”; none of the sites represented by panelists are making money yet.
“We are not profitable; we’re on our way there,” one of the speakers, Zohar Yardeni, the CEO of Daily Voice (formerly Main Street Connect), a network of town-based sites in the New York metro area, told moderator Lisa Skube of Journalism Accelerator.
In addition to Yardeni, speakers included Leela de Kretser, publisher of the New York City neighborhood-based DNAinfo.com; and Josh Fenton, co-founder of GoLocal24, with sites based in Providence, RI, and central Massachusetts.
DNAinfo is privately owned by billionaire Joe Ricketts, so de Kretser said that financial disclosure was beyond her job description, though a piece in Capital New York last summer suggested the company was on its way toward profitability.
And GoLocal24’s Fenton said that they are “on plan to go profitable.”
In the absence of financial metrics, “successful” in the world of hyperlocal news startups, Skube suggested, means growing—both audience and ad base, a continuing challenge for companies that, by design, cover finite domains.
“It’s about penetration,” de Kretser said. “A loyal audience is going to act on what you tell them.” DNAinfo works to achieve this, she said, by hiring good reporters that intimately know their neighborhoods. “You’ve got to give me good content,” she said. “And what we found is, in large media markets, there had been really great daily papers that were delivering fantastic, relevant content and, over time, a lot of them stood still.”
Fenton said that his properties gain audience share by partnering with other local media. GoLocal24 reporters, he said, appear on area television stations. Panelists also agreed that social media are important tools for getting their content before audiences. Yardeni said that 20 percent of Daily Voice traffic is referred from Facebook, though Fenton cautioned—directly echoing Branch’s Josh Miller, who interviewed his teenage sister recently about her Internet habits—that future users are passing on Facebook in favor of other sites, notably Tumblr.
On the money end of the equation, panelists said they capture ad dollars both by growing their audiences through quality content and by going beyond banner ads—holding events, running sponsored content, and focusing on mobile ad strategies.
Here’s a Storify that gives a good overview of the panel: