Blog Networks Try One More Time to Turn Local Journalism Into Cash

Can building a network of local bloggers help turn online journalism into a money-making proposition? Two new media ventures are hoping that it can, and have partnered with a startup called GrowthSpur to try and make that hope become a reality. One of the ventures is another startup, a Washington-based outlet called TBD that is being run by Jim Brady, the former online editor at the Washington Post. The other is a traditional media entity that is trying to remake itself online: the Journal Register Co., which publishes a number of daily and weekly newspapers in Philadelphia, Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey. Journal Register’s new CEO, John Paton, has been aggressively launching new-media related ventures at the company, including a community journalism lab aimed at training local bloggers.

GrowthSpur will be working with the bloggers who are part of both networks to help them sell advertising on their blogs, both by training them in ad sales and by aggregating them into an ad network that can carry advertising across all of the blogs in the group. The company, which was founded last year, is run by media-industry veteran Mark Potts and has another industry guru — journalism professor and consultant Jeff Jarvis — on its advisory board.

TBD.com, which has been in development for the past year or so and is expected to launch this summer, is being financed by Allbritton Communications, which also owns the online political site Politico. TBD editor general manager Jim Brady has said that the new venture is designed to be hyper-local and community-oriented, and the blog network is at the core of that idea (the Washington Post also partners with a network of local blogs). The company says it has built up a core of almost 100 local bloggers who cover the Washington area from a number of different perspectives, and content from these blogs will appear alongside news and opinion writing from TBD staff:

When you come to TBD’s home page or one of our topical pages, you will see content from across the region from a variety of sources. We will present the biggest stories that we think will be important and interesting to people throughout the metro area. And we will sort news by location, offering you news that’s important to you because it’s close to where you live, work, play or shop. When you click the links, some headlines will take you into the TBD site to content produced by our staff. Other links will take you away to content from our network members or other news sources in the community.

Local journalism-based blog networks have been tried in the past, but not always with great success. One of those efforts, Backfence.com (which closed down in 2007) was founded and run by Potts, who is now running GrowthSpur. (Potts talked to Mark Glaser of PBS MediaShift about the lessons he learned from Backfence.) Some hyper-local blog networks and blog aggregators have prospered, however, including BaristaNet — which recently took over a local news venture that was originally started by the New York Times. Two of the newer entrants in this race are AOL’s Patch.com, which the company is aggressively expanding into a number of U.S. markets with $50 million in funding, and a venture-backed startup called MainStreetConnect.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain also recently introduced a plugin for WordPress blogs that allows them to republish content from the newspaper (provided they include advertising from the company along with the news stories), and there has been some speculation that the paper is planning to use this feature as a way of assembling a blog network of its own, which would syndicate blog content into the Guardian and also redistribute Guardian content (and advertising) through the blog network.

Despite the entrance of heavyweights such as Patch.com into the market, however, it’s still not clear whether hyper-local blogging and journalism in general can generate enough revenue to make them viable as businesses in their own right. Anyone with a stake in that market will undoubtedly be watching TBD and Journal Register’s attempts closely.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): What We Can Learn From the Guardian’s Open Platform

Post and thumbnails courtesy of Flickr user MrTopf

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