News Inkubator: business help for hyperlocal news

Today, more than a month after we officially launched and longer than a week after being rejected by the primary organization we directed the proposal, we at Technically Philly introduced News Inkubator to our readers.

It’s a tweaked, matured and better-branded version of what I first introduced here in October. It’s a business services hub and collaborative newsroom for niche news sites in Philadelphia. It’s a pitch to create the mechanism that we believe would create the next generation of profitable, localized news coverage.

Over at Technically Philly, a news site for technology and innovation in Philadelphia that I helped launch in February, we do a lot of coverage of startups. In doing so, we’d speak to a lot of smart 20-somethings with business plans and ideas who were handed thousands of dollars, time, mentorship and space to foster ideas. We couldn’t see why, particularly at a time of turmoil, the same opportunity wouldn’t exist for media startups.

Of course, what’s a touch different about TP when compared to other Web-based startups is that, like others across the country, we’re trying to build positive revenue around the preposterous value proposition of community-focused news, ours being the rich community of technologists, innovators and entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.

Early on in our development of this site, we found others who were trying on their own to develop platforms from which they could generate revenue to cover the costs of covering communities.

We watched Dan Hirschorn hustle for his creation pa2010, which regularly contributes to the dialogue of Pennsylvania election news. We watched — and, full disclosure, one of us helped — Shannon McDonald grow NEast Philly, the city’s preeminent hyperlocal news site with incessant attention to Northeast Philadelphia. And, yes, we watched everyone’s favorite superhero Eric Smith enter his third year of leading Geekadelphia as the voice box for a young, hip, bright Web class of Philadelphians.

All of them smart 20-somethings with business plans, ideas and, yes, even existing audiences. These, we believe, are glimmers of how profitable, professional journalism can exist in the future, albeit with reduced overhead and serious help from our communities. We need more of them.

To welcome more, not only do we need to unite around the obvious — like a metro wide ad network — we need to share expenses over ad-sales, marketing, administration, libel and health insurance and so many other banalities of business.

What’s different than just creating an online newspaper is the step-first decision to create an editorially-decentralized product with distinct and individualized revenue plans. It’s as if your newspaper let the business section, city hall bureau and arts and entertainment desk run loose and sell to their targeted audiences.

Yes, the idea was formulated as a pitch for the Knight News Challenge. The folks at Knight let us know quite quickly that this project isn’t their ball of yarn at the moment, but we’re not done yet. There are more than a few dialogues we’re waiting on in early 2010, but — because we’re not holding out breath — we at Technically Philly are still working hard to develop our flagship and try to slowly, on our own, bootstrap toward News Inkubator.

What do you think about that?