Reflections on CUNY graduate school New Journalism Models Hyperlocal camp

Jarvis at Hypercamp edit

Author, blogger and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis begins his Hypercamp on Nov. 11, 2009 at the College University of New York's graduate school of journalism.

Highly localized news and its intersection with profitable, sustainable news is already starting to dominate conversations about the future of news in the United States.

The numbers and business plans, relationships with each other and with legacy news organizations and who will be written into history for leading the movement seemed trending themes of the  New Business Models for (Local) News Hypercamp summit at the modern, sleek and sexy (read: expensive looking) midtown Manhattan home of the College University of New York’s graduate school of journalism.

Held two weeks ago today, the invite-only affair was blasted the world over by way of social media, notably a wildly active Twitter hashtag, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth sharing my experience at the Nov. 11 event.

Outside of the impressive digs and killer eats (breakfast, lunch and open bar with great nibbles to close!), the Hypercamp, a brainchild of Buzzmachine blogger and CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis, was unsurprisingly packed with about 150 big name players in the news future conversation, admittedly with an East Coast bias — damn near half the staff of the New York Times and a heavy presence from the Washington Post, Baltimore and New Jersey news outlets (Chris Krewson of the Inquirer, a philly.com executive and humbly Technically Philly held it down for Philadelphia).

The morning was devoted mostly to Jarvis and students showing off updated versions of their New Business Models for News, underwritten by the Knight Foundation and chock full of enough detail, estimation and exploration to be both decidedly important and wildly baseless.

Those numbers focused on for-profit entities of somewhat varying sizes, though many seemed unfulfilled by what was available, including folks interested in nonprofit roles.

“It’s a flag in the ground,” Jarvis said. See his slides here, or watch his morning presentation below, and, yes, see my fat head and Phillies cap on my knee in the bottom left of the screen.

After the morning discussions of these models — and quibbling over the CUNY team’s numbers — and a lunch break, three tracks gave attendees nearly a dozen sessions stuffed with high-profile panelists.

See the full schedule here.

SELLING, WEST COAST VS EAST COAST

Perhaps my favorite session was was on selling for the hyperlocal news site. That afternoon session was hosted by Greg Swanson, a crunchy Portland, Oregon sales executive with Prism, and Mel Taylor, an independent Philadelphia sales consultant with the look, feel and sound of a power seller. It was delightful to see our country’s coastal stereotypes personified so clearly — the aggressive, big East Coast city chap, tall, with perfect hair and a thousand-dollar suit standing beside the more reserved, earth-tone, sweater-wearing father figure.

There wasn’t enough time for either to really finish his presentations fully, but their tempos were set. While I felt both were directing their thoughts far more for established brands launching sites or someone with the chance to launch their product fulltime to start — say, a former newspaper reporter with a severance package to spare — I found value in both.

Swanson left me with two powerful take aways:

  • Unique visitors‘ is a broken metric — I already have beef with the unreliability and variables with Web metrics, but Swanson made this bigger still by highlighting just how the cookies-based unique visitor count are always inflated by newspaper dot coms, devaluing monthly page views and wrongly suggesting the loyalty of online readers.
  • Localized coupons work — Using the example of Forkfly, Swanson caught the attention of others, by detailing how hyperlocal news sites could recoup business sponsorship support by using social media to push out coupons and other local business deals and bring value.

Taylor’s presentation, the slides from which can be seen below, was challengingly motivational to Swanson’s conversational.

Solid take aways from his truncated speech:

  • News has always been about enabling commerce
  • Talk in language your local businesses can understand when selling Web metrics
  • Sell video commercials on your front page
  • Sell 300 x 250 above scroll display ad
  • Sell cheaper-sounding weekly rates, rather than monthly figure
  • Host an advertiser seminar

OTHER PANELS AND CLOSE

Afterward, I dropped in on the Practicing Quality Journalism session, which was mostly just a conversation on new media best practices with innovative staffers from the New York Times, including David Carr. Interesting, but I remain confounded by anyone who seems to think that still notably international newspaper has any real business or precise lessons for bloggers, hyperlocal news sites or even traditional big metro dailies.

I also sat in on a Community Engagement and Marketing panel, hosted by Mary Ann Giodano, editor of New York Times Local news confab, and featuring one of her reporters, David Cohn of Spot.Us and Debbie Galant, the founder of baristanet.com — the kingpin of profitable, hyperlocal news site. I was interested in seeing Giodano, Galant and Cohn, the last of whom I was happy to have finally met in person, but found the subject matter mostly directed at those perhaps in a bit more of the beginning stages of promotion.

The final session was what Jarvis dubbed a ‘reverse panel,’ in which a handful of representatives from big-name news organizations listened to hand-wringing from bloggers about how they might better work together. What came out of it seemed that all agreed they should work together and communication was necessary, but both sides thought the other needed to do a better job of initiating that.

To close the day — before the open bar — Jarvis brought everyone back to CUNY’s newsroom to seek suggestions on what steps should be taken forward, what universities might build and how such events could be done better in the future.

I offered my interest in seeing more research in the world of metrics. I also would have liked to seen more dialogue about how hyperlocal startups — not backed by existing brands — can get from start to the rather optimistic numbers in traffic and profit that Jarvis’s group has estimated.

As this hyperlocal movement takes hold, we need serious education around the idea that more traffic doesn’t always mean more value for advertising, sponsorships and other partnerships.

That education will likely have to happen in a lot of ways, too, if news is to find foothold in profitable sustainability anytime soon.

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