[Roland Bryan, Director of Strategy, Associated Northcliffe Digital.Photo by Shel]
Richard Titus, a serial entrepreneur, was a co-founder of Razorfish, the legendary ad agency that introduced, for better or worse, interactive advertising to the internet. It got sold to Microsoft and Richard walked away quite comfortably.
A couple of years back he and I served on the board of directors for YourTrumanShow, a video blogging startup that didn't survive the current recession. Richard, a Californian living in London has been an executive at BBC for the past few years, until he recently got recruited away to become CEO of Associated Northcliffe Digital (AND), the online component of A&N Media, the UK's second largest media company in the UK.
A&N is best known as publisher of the Mail and Metro, but in all it has about 120 British tabloids, a significant number of radio stations and other holdings.
Richard has been in the US with Roland Bryan, AND's director of strategy and John Harmsworth [Lord Rothermere], who heads A&N. They were in the States so that Titus could introduce them to people they knew in the technology community, particularly where it could be useful to building online community platforms.
At dinner, I found myself sitting next to John who shared with me that he understands the dubious future of newspapers moving forward. He really needs not look much further than down the hall of his own home where neither of his two sons looks at newspapers. Instead, they spend their time on Facebook and MySpace. He said he doubted that these two possible heirs to this media empire would ever turn away from online spaces and onto newspaper pages.
Most of my conversation was with Roland who started LocalPeople a couple of months ago. It sounded to me to be a most promising implementation of hyperlocal journalism when we talked last night.
I just spent an hour with it and it seems to me even more promising now. When you look at it, you'll recognize the functionality from platforms you've probably seen such as Twitter, Yelp,Flickr and maybe a shade of Facebook. Video is coming soon and will have similarities, of course, with YouTube.
The key difference between LocalPeople and most hyperlocal efforts I've come across such as the New York Times special section covering the innards of two Brooklyn neighborhoods, is that the AND effort looks and sounds like local people talking to each other in a cafe or over a backyard fence. The Times looks and feels like, well, the Times.
LocalPeople reads and feels more like Twitter than it does a newspaper, but unlike Twitter it is organized into geographic, rather than global neighborhoods. Roland emphasized there is no news in LocalPeople. If real news broke in one of these communities, the media company would dispatch a tabloid reporter. But now, the color and nuance of the local story can be greatly enhanced by LocalPeople.
This of course gets me jumping up and down gleefully. This is a form a braided journalism, one of my personal passion spots. Braided Journalism is about traditional and citizen journalism coming together, intertwining and emerging into something new, superior and enduring from what we have today.
The "enduring" part has been elusive as I have looked around at various new media news activities. Roland understands that if you want to attract local merchants the language and complexities of CPMs and Clickthroughs needs to be abandoned.
Local ad deals are quite simple. AND asks merchants what measurable results they want to achieve over the next year, and then calculates what LocalPeople would have to do to achieve it. Then they charge it and the merchant can very simply measure results.
"All we really have to do is be more valuable than the Yellow Pages," he said.
I see enormous promise in LocalPeople. The platform allows a great deal of self management and self organization. I think local merchants will immediately "get" the desirability of moving into venues where their customers have already migrated.
I'm going to keep my eye on this one.