The following guest post is by the founder of a new online local news company called GoLocal, Josh Fenton. If you’d like to tell us how your startup is going to take over the world, we’d love to have you do so. Please send us the article!
In Providence, Rhode Island, the new model for local news and high-value content integration is emerging–GoLocalProv.com.
My company, GoLocalProv.com, launched in May of 2010 aiming to deliver high-quality local content that would engage the consumer and directly compete with the state’s historic, dominant print presence; A.H. Belo’s Providence Journal. GoLocalProv’s goal was to break the biggest stories, showcase lifestyle, report on trends in education – immerse the entire community in a more vibrant, more relevant way than any other news outlet.
The timing was right. The dearth of local content, the shift in consumer behaviour to digital platforms and the strong sense of community set the ideal stage to challenge the weak incumbent. For decades, newspapers had dominated both local news coverage and advertising spending. But the reality was that these entities were dying; in some markets, newspapers had lost as much as 50% of their circulation in recent years. For most consumers under the age of 45, newspapers were already dead – not relevant to their daily lives and not a part of it. The financial performance and gutting of local content further broadened this gap between news source and community.
The impact of this change has been profound. The lion’s share of advertising dollars captured by newspapers was suddenly up for grabs… by the billions. While many of these dollars were already shifting to digital platforms, many in media and technology were trying to figure out the “secret sauce”–how to create fact-based local news content within a price structure that was sustainable and ultimately, wildly profitable.
Who is Going to Replace the Newspaper Model?
Local news and information providers who truly focus on serving the user and the community are the answer to the void left by newspapers. Within a year of launching, GoLocalProv has demonstrated the dire need for high-quality content by becoming the “go-to” source in the market. In the first year, more than 410,000 absolute unique visitors visited the site (the total market number of Rhode Islanders online is just over 778,000 and the state’s population is just over 1 million)
For decades, newspaper newsrooms drove the local news cycle; radio announcers read their headlines and for the most part, local TV news followed with video colour commentary of the recycled headlines. These outlets were focused on telling the user what was important. As the newspaper industry consolidated and profitability lagged, media groups slashed their newsrooms to become more profitable. They filled the gap with wire stories and the decline accelerated. Rarely in business do you win your customers’ loyalty by increasing your price and decreasing your quality.
For GoLocal the focus has been on content – as it is truly king. By breaking the biggest investigative pieces, covering core elements of the community, and integrating these stories into social media, GoLocalProv has been able to set the news cycle ahead of other news organisations over and over again. Most importantly, GoLocal listens to the community and its user base and reacts to these needs directly through its content.
Unlike other new models for media, GoLocal doesn’t use third-party content aggregators or other news organisations like Associated Press to scrape stories. To date, over 8,500 original stories and high-quality videos have spawned the dramatic growth at GoLocal.
The site’s users have rewarded this dedication and focus on content and quality with loyalty to the GoLocal experience.
In just the past four months, traffic has grown by over 100%. In April alone, the site was visited by 126,000 unique visitors and delivered more than 408,000 page views. What has fuelled this growth has been a strategy of engagement, leveraging digital tools, and responding to user requests via their time spent on the site. The user is not shy; they will tell you what they want more or less of. The critical differentiator seems to be whether media outlets are willing to listen to this feedback.
Proving the Business Model
While the primary focus was producing true engagement for its user base, the GoLocal model is monetizing effectively. With key advertisers ranging from major regional financial services and banks to local automotive dealers, GoLocal’s ability to integrate advertisers into the content experience and placing them where consumers live is proving profitable for GoLocal and cost-effective and effective for advertisers.
The projections for local digital advertising growth is bullish. According to IA/Kelsey, local digital advertising continues to climb from the estimated $21.7 billion in 2010 to $42.5 billion by 2015, a CAGR of 14.4%.
Advertisers become part of the experience, which makes engaging users in a local conversation more natural. In the first six months of operation, GoLocalProv became profitable and never looked back. Despite Rhode Island’s economy being among the weakest in America, the business model is proving to be highly scalable. The core editorial staff and a vast network of contributors has been extremely efficient and empowers writers to pour their passion and expertise into each piece. This has resulted in GoLocal stories appearing 24-36 hours before the newspaper is able to even write and print the piece. This has been a force in the local news production process. The other sources have been forced to accelerate their process or lose traction on developing news.
Social Media, an Engine for Experience
The GoLocal model is about “sharing” content – allowing many people to engage in the community dialogue about a play opening, a governor challenging a legislator or a local sports team winning in OT. GoLocal’s content is experienced and shared via thousands in market. Amazingly, 20% of unique visitors derive from Facebook alone, which has become the second referral source after Google search. Nearly every piece of content is shared 40 times and regularly stories and videos go viral and are commented on, “Liked” and shared in excess of 200 to 300 times in just hours. A truly viral experience.
For many Americans, the water cooler conversation of the past was driven by what story appeared above the fold on the local newspaper. Now it takes place via Facebook or a Tweet and is fuelled by online content. But, not just any content. A superior product is necessary, as the user base is very fickle. The better the content, the more valuable the conversation.
The GoLocal model is the philosophical and executional opposite of the newspaper industry’s new strategy of paywall. Our goal is to have our content be widely experienced, valued and discussed.
Replicating the Model
Soon, you will see new GoLocal markets emerging – providing fresh and engaging content in these communities. The scalable design and architecture empowers GoLocal to establish operations in new markets and maintain its quality and consistency.
As Providence is the 41st largest media market in the United States, the GoLocalProv initiative has proven that consumers seek local information now more than ever before–they want to quickly engage high-quality, local content, and they want it on a digital platform.
GoLocal is proving that content is in fact king – delivered the way the consumer demands it and in a context that allows all to experience. If the content is quality, then readers will seek it out and share it. And, if readers are on the site, then advertisers will value the opportunity to join the conversation with consumers. For once, content, user and advertiser can align around relevance.
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