Community Spirit: Associated Northcliffe Digital Pilots Community Websites
To fill the void left by the decline in regional newspaper sales, publisher Associated Northcliffe Digital has launched a pilot scheme of local community websites. New Media Knowledge met the man behind the project.
Associated Northcliffe Digital (AND) is the digital consumer division of DMGT (Daily Mail and General Trust). The group has launched a pilot scheme, the ‘Local People Network’, a series of community websites in the south-west of England. The initial 23 sites cover areas that are not currently served by a dedicated online news site, the company says.
AND wants to encourage the local community to interact with each other via these ‘hyperlocal sites’ and report on what’s happening in their specific neighbourhood, effectively providing content. Bideford, Falmouth and Clifton are among the websites launched during the first phase this summer.
Roland Bryan is strategic director at Associated Northcliffe Digital. NMK quizzed him on the launch of the Local People Network.
Why was the south-west of England chosen for the pilot scheme?
We selected the south-west for the pilot scheme based upon where Northcliffe Media already has a strong traditional media presence across the region. At the same time, we selected the initial 23 local community websites in the south-west where there are relatively high volumes of inhabitants, between 10,000 and 50,000 and that typically do not have a dedicated local online proposition today that covers what’s important in their specific neighbourhood.
How will you be measuring the success or failure of the scheme?
At the moment, we are still in the development phase of the project and it is early days to review success. In the medium term, we will be looking at usage figures, how the sites are used and by whom. At the next stage, we will also be looking at the commercial opportunities for local businesses.
When do you want to be able to decide if you can ‘go national’?
We will review the pilot stage activity towards the end of the year, when we will decide the most appropriate places for the next stage of local roll out.
Why do you think this approach can ‘save’ local media?
This is not about saving local media. However, we are always looking at ways to better serve local communities, whether this is through the network of ‘thisis’ websites, Northcliffe Media’s print publications and now with the launch of our Local People Network.
These Local People websites are dedicated to hyperlocal issues and will encourage people to interact with each other and report on what’s important in their neighbourhood. Our strategy and intention is for these web sites to be complementary to the existing regional and local media.
Our Local People Network is based upon a bottom-up approach where the content is being driven by the community. This is a different model to existing forms of local media and we want to empower people to add even more depth and detail than regional and local newspapers could ever do. The hyperlocal websites are a complement to the regional media and we will continue to invest in our regional businesses.
What are your revenue streams from this?
The pilot launch will allow us to identify business opportunities. We expect that these sites will provide a valuable opportunity for businesses to engage with consumers on a very local level. This would predominantly be through the business directory, where local businesses can claim their profile and add detail to the site, or potentially through sponsorship of relevant groups or sections on the site, or through more traditional display advertising.
However, our primary goal within this pilot phase is to satisfy the needs of the local community by allowing people to communicate with each other and share information specific to their neighbourhood. We would hope that all local businesses will take advantage of the opportunity to talk directly to this audience in the future.
In terms of advertising opportunities, these hyperlocal sites will enhance our digital offering with the local business community that do not currently advertise in the traditional media.
What kind of social networking elements are you incorporating?
Each user will be able to create a profile, link to other users, use the micro-blogging application and become a member of different interest groups. Users will also be able to interact with one another on what is happening in their neighbourhood by creating discussion groups and commenting on other people’s posts. In the future, we would consider adding even more interactive elements to engage and drive local usage.
Do you see other news companies following this model?
There are some other models out there, but we believe that our approach is unique due to the fact that it is bottom-up, complements the available local media sources and is for and about local people and communities. Associated Northcliffe Digital has been working on this pilot for several months and has been able to leverage its internal resources and technology platforms to develop and launch this Local People Network.