Wanted digital cockroaches. A guide to resilient hyperlocal publishers


GONE were days where venture strategists were in the hunting mode over prospective unicorn startups.

Many strategists now stop their unending search for such startup to finance. Unicorn startups, which require valuation of over $1 billion each with game-changer innovation and mammoth budget for business growth, have been replaced by a hybrid of digital startups which have proven to be surviving all storms and calamities. They are small, agile, super frugal yet profitable and effective. Meet the digital cockroaches.

Some hyperlocal new sites around have been experiencing the pinch resulting from the global digital revolution as the traditional mainstream media. The disruptive technology advancements have exacerbated nagging problems, ranging from resource constraint to absence of innovation tech support. New ways and comprehensive strategies need to be sought after in order to give a new lifeline for the ailing hyperlocal newsrooms across the capital and retain their vital contributions to the building of the civil society, democracy and informed communities.
"Everything is about resiliency now to weather the storm. Unicorn, it's a mythical beast, whereas a cockroach, it can survive a nuclear war.”
--Tim McSweeney, Restoration Partners
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
By definition, the hyperlocal publishers produce news pertaining to neighborhood or mayoralty that is geographically smaller than that covered by traditional regional/city newspapers. The news comes in different sizes and forms: professional, citizen run, hybrid, aggregated. Sometimes, the publishers are referred as ultra-local or community media.

Hyperlocal/community publishers have common characteristics, among other things, having more localized, both in terms of geography and types of content. They often seek to fill gaps - demography, interests. Audiences are seen as underserved by mainstream media. In order to survive, they often rely on diverse source of funding: advertising, subscription, grants from public and private and in-kind funding from volunteers. No wonder, they may be too small for commercial operators to merit ROI.

On such backdrop, they inherit some weaknesses, such as the glaring lack of digital skills, including web optimization, SEO, SEM. They are also in dire need of alternative funding resources on the backdrop of dwindling advertising revenue. Business-wise, they also find it difficult to differentiate themselves from mainstream media due to the pressure from tighter competition to get top ranks on search engines. Not to mention that most of them operate in secluded ways and therefore are not exposed to new state-of-the-art innovations.

However, some opportunities are still there. The cost of running a digital publishing house can be reduced and automated thanks to many digital innovations, especially in the field of big data and cloud service business. Pool of talents, including digital natives and millennials, are abundant and cheaper. Many have also have a luxury, privilege and environment to perform a series of experiments.

Learning from best practices around the world, here are some action plans need to be done by hyperlocal publishers to excel in the competition.
  • Focus on original reporting. Start with identification of relevant and unique community news.
  • Add more video reports to cater the need of lucrative ad videos
  • Build network and partnership with other hyperlocals and regional news websites for breaking news
  • Better use of social media analytics to support smart newsroom strategy (Crowdtangle, Bloom.li and social audit dashboards aside from better use of Google Analytics)
  • SEO, SEM, geotagging stories)
  • Partnership with other touchpoints
Browsers
  • Telco notifications
  • Running text/Flash news
  • RSS reader, apps: Flipboard (Zite), Feedly, Google Currents (now Newstand), Pocket
Unleashing the power of new socials
  • Facebook Open Group and Closed Group, Fanpage
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus
  • WhatsApp
  • Line
  • Radio streaming
  • Website optimization
  • Explore the planet of the apps
Challenges
  • Discoverability. Local doesn’t scale
  • Fragmented and silo operations: socials, apps, touch points, web
  • There are not big enough stories affecting many people,
  • Funding and making it pay
  • Resources (mostly working in small team or even one person)
  • Isolation and opportunities to learn from others
  • Audience perception of quality compared to mainstream media

Opportunities
  • More partnerships between big traditional media, Patch..access to resources..go local to go global
  • Cost of production continues to decline
  • Sector starting to develop cross links
  • Big society —more volunteers
  • Diversity and broadening the talent pool..journalism schools in Patch initiatives
  • hire locals
  • Treating news as a conversation and discussion. story and story about the story.
Content Diversification
  • More experiment on video, big data and data visualisation
  • Try to go back and put texture and perspective to breaking news
Experiment on new business model other than display ad
  • Preroll video ad
  • Sponsored content
  • Community activation/forum
  • Community trust fund
  • Community donation
  • Partnership with local administration
Digital ecosystem to grow
  • *editorial supports
  • *financial supports
  • *tech supports
Other measures
  • Collaboration and cooperation with local administrations
  • Partnership with sponsors and advertisers, community stakeholders
  • In-house trainings to support newsroom overhaul, especially in multimedia storytelling and mobile journalism
  • Better use of social media networks for engagement
  • Learning from other hyperlocal news in Indonesia and overseas

by Damar Harsanto