Introducing Neighborhood Pages
Nine finalists will present their ideas for new ventures at the We Media NYC conference on April 6, 2011. A panel of judges will select two winners – and each will receive $25,000 and access to a network of mentors to help them launch. Neighborhood Pages is one of the finalists. To register for the conference, click here.
Susan Mernit, Founder, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maiki Interi, Developer, email@example.com
Kwan Booth, Community lead, firstname.lastname@example.org
(prototype: Oakland Local, http://oaklandlocal.com)
concept: House of Local: http://www.houseoflocal.org/2011/03/22/neighborhood-p…l-site-succeed/
Susan Mernit, Founder, Oakland Local, also Circuit Rider, Knight Community Information Challenge, Core facilitator, media entrepreneurship programs, Knight Digital Media Center/ Annenberg School of Journalism/USC, Los Angeles, CA.
maiki interi, lead developer, Oakland Local/House of Local, principal, interi.org, The developer of Oakland Local and lead tech for numerous other civic media community sites around the country. maiki interi is both a skilled drupal developer and a tech innovator with a strong interest in, and experience with, scalable back end systems and how they can be built with open source CMS tools.
Kwan Booth, Co-founder, Oakland Local, lead, House of Local. Kwan is a journalist, media consultant and winner of a 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award. He has held editorial positions at organizations including Broadband Network 3, NotforTourists.com and 10best.com. He has led workshops on online media strategy, journalism diversity and creative writing for organizations including the Knight Digital Media Center, Journalism That Matters, the Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism and Netsquared.
What’s the elevator Pitch?
Want to build a hyper-local news & community site without reinventing the wheel? Neighborhood Pages is a fast, affordable solution to get your site up and running—and get the training and support that will accelerate your success. Already have a local news & community site? Join us for training, resources, & a network.
Executive summary: Neighborhood Pages
What problem is it solving?
As newspapers and print media continue implode, the need and interest in local coverage for critical issues and events continues to expand. Driven by journalistic layoffs, a new understanding by civic organizations of the value of community engagement to economic health and even job development, and a perceived lack of barriers to entry in launching news sites, more and more community organizations and individuals are getting into local news—but making them work financially is very challenging and many go under by year 2.
Sadly, many of the challenges these individual sites around the country face are highly repetitive and predictable—difficulties in choosing and maintain a tech platform, a lack of business acumen in budgeting for sustainability & planning revenue models, inexperience in operating a community news site. In face, given the high bar that continuing to publish seems to entail for independent local news & community sites, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine that in many areas of the country so-called independent local news could actually become a monopoly run by big corporate entities such as AOL/ Huffington Post Media Group’s Patch, which has launched 800 local sites in its first 15 months of operation.
But is this what we want the standard for local news & community media to be? Towns and neighborhoods whose coverage is provided by staffers all hired by one centralized corporate entity whose priorities could change tomorrow?
Speaking truth to power and making a variety of local voices heard both seem antithetical to such a monolithic approach. And yet, if we don’t find better ways to launch and maintain local news projects, these new corporate entities will be our only default choice.
How is your idea a useful solution to the problem?
Neighborhood Pages gives folks who want to build, launch, and operate a hyper-local news site a new, easy way to not only launch and maintain a web site, but an effective means to get hands-on training and support in making their project successful. By offering pre-configured custom software installs and high-quality affordable tech support for hyper-local news sites, we address some of the biggest problems in getting these projects started. Even more critically, our network membership and pricing model ensures that site operates have access to tested online learning modules, webinars, and learning circles on critical aspects of site operation, assessment and sustainability that can reduce problems and accelerate their success.
By providing some pre-configured models for local news and community sites, along with reliable, quality site maintenance and support, we address and remove a major pain point for many would-be community site operators around the country, who lack both the technical knowledge and the contacts to make the best choices around building their sites.
By combining the use of open-source technology with quality development and support resources, we streamline what for many has been a very difficult process.
Even better, the training workshops, materials and practitioners’ network we plan to offer gives site operators access to critical things they have to know to be successful. The array of online learning tools, virtual courses, individualized consultations and circles of interest we will offer, all based on what we have learned and taught over the past 3 years, will help thousands of independent local news and community sites achieve success.
Topics such as
• Setting up the workflow for news assignment, production and publishing
• Understanding how to manage ROI using Google Analytics
• Using social marketing for engagement and promotion, and
• Evaluating revenue strategies: where’s the low-hanging fruit?
Will help site operators improve what they are doing in a way that is not currently possible today.
What’s the big innovation?
The big innovation in Neighborhood Pages is that we have developed the means to easily and inexpensively build and launch open-source hyper-local news sites, and we’re experienced enough as site operators and consultants to provide a critical missing link—the resources and knowledge that will help each of these new local sites from making the same expensive mistakes over and over. Our product—which is both a software as services tool and a training and community network—will make it possible for local communities, big and small, to launch and maintain independent local media sites—without having to leave the field to the big corporate entities who will suck the local dollars back to their centers.
How did you come up with the idea?
For the past 2.5 years, this team has been hard at work creating and maintaining Oakland Local, a news and community site for Oakland, CA, that will served over 1.8 million pages to more than 70,000 monthly visitors this year. Run by a team that is all local to Oakland and that is 75% people of color, 70% women, Oakland Local has quickly become the largest and most engaging independent non-profit news site in the East Bay of California. OL has received support from J-Lab, The California Endowment and The Harnisch Foundation, among others, and has sold more than $15,000 in training and advertising services during the past six months.
At the same time that we have been working on Oakland Local, our team has also been working with grantees from the Community Information Challenge Program of the John and James L Knight Foundation, which supports community foundations that wish to start civic engagement projects in specific geographic communities and participants in KDMC Media entrepreneurship seminars who wish to start local news sites around the country, as well as participating in seminars and programs such as The Knight/McCormick/Patterson Foundation funded Block by Block 2010, a conference in Chicago for 175 local site operators (this conference will recur again in Fall 2011).
Understanding how many of the same questions—and problems—came up as obstacles over and over got us thinking about how we might remove some of the challenges and help more people who are operating local sites achieve success.
As we looked around, we realized that there was nothing that was comparable—although many non-profit entities and academic institutions have created white papers and online tutorials, they didn’t address all the technical issues and they didn’t cover all the operational questions, either.
Can you pull this off? What background, skills, network are you bringing to the project?
Our team is well poised to pull this off. Founder Susan Mernit is a long time media entrepreneur who successfully built and launched services for media companies including AOL, Yahoo!, and Advance Internet, as well as launching Oakland Local in 2009 with $25,000 in seed money from J-Lab’s New Voices competition. A former Senior Director of Product Development for Yahoo!, Mernit’s former start-up, People’s Software (with Lisa Williams), was selected as a Tech Star’s incubator company in 2008; although she shut that company down, she learned an amazing amount that has gone into Oakland Local and will go into Neighborhood Pages. Mernit’s 5,000-plus friends on Linked-In and Facebook and deep ties in tech and media innovation attest to her network connections.
Developer maiki interi is involved in the free and open source movement, using the open tools and standards to assist non-profit and community organizations to communicate and spread awareness about their missions. In the last six years maiki has used Drupal and WordPress to build flexible, low-cost community sites, such as Oakland Local. Co-founder Kwan Booth is a skilled trainer and curriculum developer who has taught workshops for Knight Digital Media Center/USC, for Oakland Local, and for numerous other organizations, including Netroots Nation.
The rest of our team is strong as well–and experienced in the areas we need.
What’s the current status – have you raised any funding, is there a prototype, have any partnerships, developers, designers or other team members been recruited; etc.
Investment—In the past 2 years, we have raised $105,000 in grants for Oakland Local’s launch, mobile development and training programs. The House of Local team has not yet asked investors for funding for Neighborhood Pages, though we have received expressions of interest from some experienced angels. Oakland Local is the prototype for our large-scale install; we are building a prototype for a smaller-scale project as well (URL to come.)
We are currently self-funding, but we are talking to some potential funders; the award would help move us forward n terms of both much-needed immediate cash and credibility.
Potential partnerships-We are currently reaching out to potential partners and additional team members on both the back-end site hosting and software infrastructure sides, and in terms of media and content partners.
Team development: Our potential team members have experience at companies including America Online, Hearst, and Rackspace,. We are creating an advisory board of experienced media and technology entrepreneurs and investors.
In the next three months, we can put the on the ground team together, launch our back-end prototype, build our demo and business plan and add 1-2 reference clients as we build our advisory board, finalize our business and financial plan and seek investment.
Press: Oakland Local has received tremendous press—we want the chance to scale and share what we have learned and accomplished.
• NEW: Oakland Local profiled as one of the 50 news sites from the Columbia Journalism Review
• OL featured in The Future of Social Media in Journalism, Mashable, Sept. 16, 2010
• Oakland Local featured in panel on Content & Community Engagement at Block by Block Conference, Chicago, Sept. 23-24, 2010
• New: Co-founder Kwan Booth’s series on The Bay Areas Toxic Tour; West Oakland, funded by Newsdesk and Spot.us; wins 2009 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Journalism.
• New: Oakland Local co-founder Susan Mernit named one of the top 25 women to watch in tech by Always On
• Oakland Local highlighted as a success story in the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, annual State of the News Media report in March 2010.
• Oakland Local recognized in Mashable’s New Media Trends for 2010, Dec. 23, 2009. According to the article, “With many traditional and regional news organization’s facing cutbacks in staff and in some cases closures, local and community-based models and startups will look to fill the gap in content.”
How will it earn money/be sustained?
Neighborhood pages has a revenue model with 7 defined components:
a) Software services: fees for installs, maintenance, trouble-shooting
b) Training and support/the network: Membership model with pricing for additional training and materials
c) Percentage of revenue for secondary services: fees collected for ad network sells, content exchanges, buying-coops for web services
d) Events and event tracks at conferences
e) Consulting/expert advice
f) Web destination: ads and advice targeted at site operators (conversion funnel)
g) Books, merchandise & collateral materials
Our early spreadsheets show that we can hit profitability by Q 6 and accelerate revenue to where it looks really good by Q8.
Market overview, competitive analysis
There really isn’t much out there at this time that combines open-source software installs with training and support for local news & community sites. There are over 2,000 WordPress developers in the United States who are capable of using pre-defined themes to create local news sites, and there are problem several hundred who could build news sites in Drupal, but their availability, their reliability, their skill level and their cost structure are all random.
At the same time there are high-quality solutions that have a more general focus, such as Drupal Acquia ((http://acquia.com/products-services/acquia-drupal), but they do not address the critical training, support, and networking aspects that Neighborhood Pages brings to the table.
A number of non-profit and academic organizations have gotten involved in developing and publishing materials designed to assist site operators with achieving sustainability, including The City University of New York under Jeff Jarvis’ direction, J-Lab’s Learning Network, the Knight Foundation’s examination of sustainability at 8 major—and very well-funded local news sites.
In addition, The Knight Digital Media Center at The Annenberg School of Journalism, USC publishes and makes available most of the materials used in their media entrepreneurship seminars, along with videotapes of many of the sessions. And the Block by Block 2010 gathering led to the development of a locally-focused wiki, and a series of ad hoc phone calls and twitter chats for some of the participants in that event.
However, there is really nothing out there on the market that combines an understanding of what practitioners need to know at the various stages their project goes through and offers options to quickly gain that knowledge through best practices and expert and peer advice with an easy to install, easy to maintain technology solution.
Neighborhood Pages has a strong model for generating revenue from multiple streams, including software as services, tech services, training and support, events , collateral materials and subscription fees.
If you win the challenge, how will you use the $25,000 to help you go further?
We can do a lot with this money. We will use the $25,000 to build out two prototypes and spec the back end, and to create a full business plan and live demo of some of the critical tools and resources we will offer.
Final words: How will this investment impact the project?
The investment will give us seed money to get this project into gear and on its way toward launch!
This project has the potential to be a game-changer for local community news–and something we’re well=poised to do. Stay with us, share your ideas, and wish us luck at Pitch It! If you’re interested in being involved somehow, email email@example.com