Northcliffe Media has launched Local People, an ad-funded local community publishing platform that mixes area-specific business directories and social networking elements. Still in its pilot stage, 20 sites are live now and 30 more will be online by the end of the month — all are based in the south-west of England and focus on communities of between 10,000 and 50,000 people.
This is not your standard, tired “hyperlocal” newspaper project – it’s a network for people, not grassroots reporters. Local People sites have more in common with Twitter (“What’s happening in Bedminster?”), Ning (“Click below to see what Bedminster people are saying”) and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Groups than, say, rival Trinity Mirror’s GazetteLive journalism project. This is pretty refreshing.
I caught up with Northcliffe’s director of digital Mike Rowley at Thursday’s launch…
— How will it make money?: One of the project’s aims is to drive traffic to DMGT’s main classified sites such as Findaproperty. But as for its own revenue generation, Northcliffe wants to attract hard-to-reach local businesses that lack an online strategy and use behavioural targeting to guarantee them a better ROI from display and classified ads. Trustedplaces.com has offered its company listings platform on a white label basis — companies can pay to be listed and to broadcast their “news” items to the community. National brands may appear at some point but not in the pilot stage. Associated Northcliffe strategy director Roland Bryan said the company spoke to many SMEs and found that “at the moment they don’t feel they have a strong compelling place to advertise online to local communities”. He said many companies wanted an online ad plan but didn’t understand the CPC or CPA models or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Adwords.
— Not about news: It’s hyperlocal alright, but unlike DIY, semi-pro publishers who want to plug the gaping holes in their communities caused by the collapse of local newspapers (and publish more localised news that any newspaper can) — Local People is not necessarily about news and journalism. Answering a question from paidContent:UK, Bryan said: “We’re agnostic in terms of what local people people want to write; we’ve created a platform and if people want to write about the big news story that’s affecting them then that’s fine. But actually, people are interested in talking about what bands are playing their local pub on Friday and when the next cricket match is”.
— Community messageboards: The sites are closer to bulletin boards than blogs: the Clifton People site, for the Bristol neighbourhood, has a mixture of stories copied by users from the Bristol Evening Post, sports events announcements, some complaints about local shops. Local media training firm Mentor is an advertiser and features prominently in the newsfeed reserved for partners. Each user has their own a profile (example) — a feature developed with help from US developer ONEsite.
— Local partnerships?: The launch will be watched closely by journalist Christopher Brown, who last month launched his own independent news site Bristol247.com. Is there a chance Local People will partner with start-ups? Bryan said Northcliffe would be more than happy to explore opportunities to partner in some way with local sites.