(I’ve also posted this on the AIM Group’s new site, where I’m also blogging. I’ll be cross-posting some items as appropriate, and will note when that’s the case.)
Gatehouse Media has a fascinating experiment going on in Batavia, N.Y., to see what an online-only local news service might look like.
So far it looks like a blog, where each article is a blog entry, and people can add comments, and the whole thing is a long scrolling page. But The Batavian has a lot more going on. There are links to headlines from other local media, job postings, for-sale listings, photo galleries. There are many postings every day. There’s a two-person staff dedicated to the site, one for news and one for sports. Howard Owens, a Gatehouse exec who also is a prolific blogger (when the spam doesn’t wear him down) is acting as the site’s publisher. Philip Anselmo is news editor and Brian Hillabush is sports editor.
Gatehouse’s newspapers all have websites, and some are very advanced in both audience strategies and business strategies. This is Gatehouse’s first freestanding site, and it’s going up against the existing paper in Batavia, The Daily News.
Hillabush’s first day on the job was yesterday. He’s eager to get the community engaged in helping shape the site. “The really innovative thing we’re doing (with sports) is getting the coaches involved in writing their own blogs,” he said by phone today. “You kind of lose something when a coach calls the newspaper after a game and a reporter writes the story… I really think this is going to take off.”
The new guy knows what he’s talking about. He was a sports writer at The Daily News for eight years and in local radio in Batavia before that. He knows every coach in the area. He plans cover 3-4 games a week, writing stories and shooting photos and video. Plus recruiting those coaches.
Why jump from the daily newspaper to a startup like The Batavian? “Howard’s a big reason why I took this job,” Hillabush said.
Owens is a vocal (and controversial) proponent of just-do-it news video and community engagement. And The Batavian gives him a live testbed. Owens covered two fires with simple video cameras, one in Corfu and a fatal fire in Batavia. Heck, just today (9/11/08), he posted five news items.
“We picked Batavia because it’s a neat, vibrant town,” Owens says in his blog. “It’s close to our home office; and the daily newspaper there was doing nothing on the web.” Note: “doing nothing on the web” these days often is code for “not doing much on the web.” Here the phrase is literal. The Daily News site is more like a postcard than a brochure, and the copyright says 2003. Which will make Batavia all the more interesting to watch. Will the Daily News step up? Will The Batavian draw its audience? Or create a new audience?
For all The Batavian’s ambition, there isn’t much sense of an equally ambitious business model, no doubt a combination of the current bloggish design and the priority to build a viable audience. That could be an even tougher experiment: if there’s a new model for engaging a community’s residents, could there also be a new model for engaging its businesses?
Howard Owens posted a very appropriate told-you-so blog entry the other day — “Cheap camera video journalism going mainstream” Howard has been beating the drum on the topic of newspaper reporters shooting lots of good-enough video clips with cheap cameras — very much against the institutional tide. Sounds like the good-enough crowd is winning, and hurray for that. Experimentation and volume — and cheap failure — are the only ways to figure out what’s going to work.
Meanwhile I’ve been developing an article for the next Classified Intelligence Reports on similar work in video advertising, and I have something startling to report: there ain’t any.
There ain’t any on mainstream media sites, that is. There’s lots of interesting work being done in online video advertising. It’s just not happening where you might expect it. I was shocked at the number of sites with aggressive editorial video efforts, and no — repeat no — effort to figure out how to create a satisfying advertising environment around it. The real shockers are local TV sites, where you’ll see lots of clips from broadcast but no — repeat no — effort to deliver advertising, aside from traditional sitewide banners.
I hope I’m wrong. Maybe I just happened to troll through the sites that aren’t fully engaged in the video business. I did find a very few, and I’d be delighted to see more, so comment away.
What’s that? You’re a reporter or photographer or videographer, and you find advertising a necessry evil? Please, find another job and free up your spot for someone who cares. If you’re in the local media business, advertising pays your salary. You have to get involved in figuring out how to bring local advertisers into your site, and video could be perfect for many.
The scary thing in most local media businesses — both broadcast and print — is that the people who are just now “getting” video, thanks to people like Howard, are the farthest away from the ad side. Worse, the traditional media culture prevents them from engaging with the ad side, even if they wanted to. As a result, you’ll find some good video ad models on media sites, like walk-throughs of homes for sale — but they’re safely sequestered in pure-advertising sections like classifieds.
Here’s the challenge for the creatives in local media: create engaging “editorial” video content that also includes engaging advertising. The folks in TV and radio managed to do it a whole generation ago. Were they that much smarter than you?