When Eric and I first started California Local, we were informed as much by our constraints as by our aspirations.
Eric has been in the local news business for decades, ever since he founded the Missoula Independent back in Montana. He's friends with a lot of local publishers and keenly aware of the difficult economic environment afflicting local journalism, compounded now by the effects of the pandemic.
A major constraint became apparent: Don’t compete with local newsrooms.
Don’t compete for products, stories, sources, ad dollars, people, freelancers, whatever.
So we reframed it as an aspiration to support local journalism and incorporated it into our product design and business strategy:
By this we mean direct our efforts into areas not already covered by local newsrooms. Thus we’ve concentrated on building our directories of local community groups and government entities, publishing a comprehensive calendar of local government meetings, and focusing our journalism on long form explainers about how things work in the community.
Digital ad revenue is part of our funding strategy. To avoid competition for local “brick and mortar” advertising, we’ll be working for advertising and sponsored content revenue at the regional and national level.
Digital ad revenue is part of the funding strategy of many local newsrooms, and we have tons of what’s known in the biz as “inventory,” i.e. pageviews. We built our advertising engine around the notion that local newsrooms can publish their local “brick and mortar” ads in our system to expand their reach and increase their local ad revenue in return.
Removing competition has been something of a blessing, because it's caused us to build the promotion of local newsrooms into our product design. It presented us with an opportunity to make collaboration a product.
In addition to his other duties, our publisher Mike now has the enviable task of reaching out to local publishers and newsrooms to connect and find out how we can help them. As the director of product development, it’s my job to understand how we can build our systems around not only the needs of our newsroom but the newsrooms in communities across the state.
When Eric and I first started California Local, I thought we were building a better local newspaper. Over time it became clear we were actually building a collaboration machine.
Not a bad pivot, as they say in the startups world.