Patterson will sweeten LION dues for local independent online news publishers


Founding members of LION at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Community News Summit.

LIONPublishers, the new trade association for local independent online news publishers, will be getting a start-up sweetener from The Patterson Foundation.

Patterson will offer a subsidy to encourage local indie publishers to join LION, the formation of which  was reported last week by the Columbia Journalism Review. LION has been under development for more than a year since organizing efforts began in  earnest at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Community news summit in Chicago.

“Patterson will subsidize a significant portion of the dues of the early members for the first couple of years,” said Dylan Smith, LION chairman. “They will be paying a slice of people’s dues.”

The precise mechanism and dollar amounts have not yet been hammered out.

Cash strapped, bootstrapped indie publishers

“We recognize that every news site that is doing this is just as cash strapped as we are,” Smith said, so the dues subsidy early on will be welcome. But in the long term, “We want to make  LION a valuable enough organization that it will repay itself to become a member.”

Many prospective members of LION will be one or two person local indie publishers running newsrooms for a community or region. Other associations targeting online newsrooms focus on the needs of legacy media going online or larger newsrooms reporting on national issues.

But LION alone will focus on local indie publishers serving a specific community. The organizing members come from communities as large as Tucson — Smith is editor and publisher of the Tucson Sentinel — to areas of large cities, such as Brooklyn neighborhood, Sheepshead Bay, which is covered by local indie publisher Sheepshead Bites.

Key word is independent

But the most important aspect of the profile of the LION publisher is that word “independent.”

“The technology isn’t the magic bullet,” Smith said. “It takes  show leather, working the community news side and working the revenue side.”

“We are getting back to the roots of what reporting was for so much  of the 19th and 20centuries.  It was local publishers reporting local news for the community. It wasn’t these huge bureaucratic chains so removed from the communities,” Smith said.

“We really want to support what we think is the future of local news and make that better.  We think start-up organizations will make local news work again and provide the news that helps us all make life decisions.”

Ruffin Prevost, editor of YellowstoneGate, which reports on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and its surrounding communities, said he is definitely interested in joining.

“I would expect this to follow a volunteer/bootstrap model, and imagine that members would donate skills, talents and resources to move it forward, so my hope is that dues aren’t cost-prohibitive for small start-ups like me,” Prevost wrote in an email.  “If dues were in line with monthly fees for web hosting or similar monthly subscription-based services — something like $25 per month — that’s something I could swing.”

“Likewise, I would be willing to contribute time or labor to help with the grunt work involved in running the operation,” Prevost said.

On its website LION says its mission is to:

Foster the viability and excellence of locally focused independent online news organizations and cultivate their connections to their communities through education and action.

Smith said one of LION’s main goals is to build a good news site for local publishers, editors and reporters that will provide a better platform for sharing information. It will include a searchable forum and also be the host site for webinars, conference calls and other educational programs.

As a trade association, LION will be able to better leverage health insurance, liability insurance and other benefits that mom and pop news shops need but often cannot afford, Smith said.  It will also put energy into discovering new factors in the sustainability equation for community news.

Establishing a new virtual trade association is a lot of work for small newsrooms already busy covering their communities. To help that work along, The Patterson Foundation  is also providing the services of a consultant who is helping the steering committee iron out organizational and operational details of the new 501© 3, which can currently accept funds with the assistance of a fiscal sponsor.

Another top LION priority will be to find a way to sustain some version of the BlockbyBlock Community News Summit.

“The BlockbyBlock conference has been an amazing networking resource for us,” Smith said. “If not for that face-to-face time we probably would not be doing this. “

The high quality of information and the sense of community at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Summit are what sold YellowstoneGate’s Prevost on the benefits of  joining an organization like LION.

“It’s obvious to me that I have a lot to learn from the other publishers, and they’ve gone through a lot of the same phases of development that I’ll be facing in the months ahead,” he said. “The odds are that if I run into a specific problem or issue, someone in that group has already faced it and either found a solution or made moves that didn’t work out that I can learn from.”

The Block-By-Block community news summit is an annual gathering of local independent online news publishers. First held in 2010, the summit is entering its third and final year under a commitment from The Patterson Foundation.

The 2012 summit will be September 13-15 in Chicago. Publishers and staff members of local independent online news sites -—up to two people per organization can attend free of charge.

You can follow the progress of LION on its website or on Twitter. Or join the conversation on the LION Facebook page.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on Google+ and on twitter at saduros.

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Crowdfunding attracts the hyperlocal news crowd

On August 10, hyperlocal news publisher Charlottesville Tomorrow successfully met its goal for its July Kickstarter campaign while Homicide Watch  Aug. 14  launched  a  Kickstarter campaign to keep open Homicide Watch DC.

Hyperlocal sites are having mixed results with their crowdfunding efforts, despite the abundance of crowdfunding sites to choose from  including IndieGogo, Razoo and long-established journalism specialist site

Charlotteseville Tomorrow successfully raised $7,094 with its kickstarter campaign for a very well stated project: “Help Cville Tomorrow build 3D models of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass and see the plans in a way we can all understand!

Check out CVille Tomorrow’s great video.

On Aug. 14, Homicide Watch founder Laura Amico launched a Kickstarter campaign to keep the Homicide Watch D.C.  project operating  while she attends Harvard as a Nieman fellow.  As of Aug.  20, the project had raised $13,497 of  its $40,000 goal.

“It took us about six weeks to get from “let’s pitch on Kickstarter” to having a pitch up. I think it’s a much longer, more involved process than many people realize.”

Amico said on the BlockbyBlockCommunity Resource Facebook page.

“In short, my advice is this: plan early, plan often, submit early and be prepared to revise.”

Amico had wanted to launch a  Kickstarter campaign  to fund a year-in-review package. When she couldn’t get approval for the campaign, she did the package without funding.

Kickstarter currently shows 7 journalism projects.  It also lists three journalism related projects that were funded successfully at more than $80,00o and three projects that were successfully funded at less than $5,000.

Because of the diversity of creative projects offered, Kickstarter has a large pool of potential investors watching., which was created to serve the journalism niche has a smaller audience.

Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is an all or nothing approach

While Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is an all or nothing approach, is not. If you don’t reach your goal – it is up to the reporter to decide whether to go ahead with the project or not. reporters have historically been able to keep the funds raised whether they reached their goal or not.

Each of the sites fits a particular audience, said Tom Stites, who is currently using to fund his co-op The Banayan Project.  Stites recommends TribecaFilm‘s site for a nifty how-to for Kickstarter neophytes. He said:

Razoo makes things easy for nonprofits, which have to jump through hoops to make donations to Kickstarter tax-deductible. [While] is itself a 501(c)(3), set up in a clever way to make donations to freelance reporting projects tax-deductible, which is an advantage it has over other sites.

Stites also said on the BxB Facebook page.

Other interesting crowdfunding sites include Indiegogo and StartSomeGood, a new venture started by Ashoka people. With Kickstarter you get zero unless your campaign meets or exceeds your goal; with Indiegogo, you get whatever you raise; StartSomeGood is a hybrid of the two.

The secret is that all the platforms are essentially passive — the only thing that makes donations happen is relentless campaigning.

David Cohn, aka DigiDave, created Spot.Us for journalists who wanted to fund independent reporting projects, ie specific stories, while Kickstarter was created to fund any creative project.

“If you want to raise funds to launch a NEW kind of editorial project (a magazine, or fund a year of your site, etc) Kickstarter is a good platform. For smaller projects – Spot.Us is better. I am not even sure if it makes sense to try and raise 1k or less on Kickstarter to do a specific reporting project. “

Brian Wheeler and his team at CTVille Tomorrow put together a one pager  on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. I’ve distilled the tips from Jennifer Markey, Community Engagement Ccordinator, into ten principles that should serve any hyperlocal well and any kind of campaign well.

  1. Create a compelling project.
  2. Produce a light, personal promo video.
  3. Create momentum by timing updates.
  4. Position each update differently, with a unique hook, ask and thank you.
  5. Appeal personally to contribute and “share.”
  6. Follow up each gift with a thank you and a request to “share” the ask.
  7. Request and encourage team members to “share” the ask.
  8. Distribute one press release (and cross your fingers. )
  9. Work social media: Two emails to subscriber list. Ask on Facebook and Twitter at least once per day.
  10. End at the right time. Wrap it up when you think people will be most likely to donate.

Cohn: Why Open source is important to journalism crowdfunding

“ launched about two months before Kickstarter,” said David Cohn, aka DigiDave. “At that time IndieGoGo was around – but only funding independent fiction films.”

Cohn pointed out that while Spot.Us was an early website for crowdfunding – the concept was already old.

“I took many lessons from, SellABand (which I think is now closed) and others. In fact, crowdfunding for journalism existed long before there were ANY of these platforms. A guy named Chris Albritton funded his trip to report in Iraq in 2003! “

Cohn points out that he wanted to create a crowdfunding platform that was open source and that could be used by any journalist or newsroom. In the case of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other platforms, the means of production/fundraising is owned by someone else.

“Crowdfunding is low-hanging fruit. There is no reason somebody shouldn’t give it a shot. That said, it’s much more powerful to own that process (similar to App.Net‘s recent success) than to rely on other organizations to create the infrastructure for us. In that respect – part of what I was doing with Spot.Us was to create an open source platform that any organization could use and incorporate. To my knowledge – Spot.Us is still the only open source crowdfunding platform.”

What this means is that given the technology knowledge, a news site could incorporate functionality and it would be 100% legal. There’s also less risk that fees could become exhorbitant.

“The journalism community should OWN the crowdfunding they do. If not – then the only real winners of a crowdfunding revolution would be folks at NPR who, if they wanted, at least have the basic infrasturcture to take advantage of the cultural shift. Everyone else has to get in line at Kickstarter. “

Read a storify on this subject.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on Google+ and on twitter at saduros.


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Hyperlocal sites rethink approach to local online advertising

Some publishers are remixing their local online advertising formulas to better please their small business customers. That’s the case at in North Carolina and CTNewsJunkie in Connecticut.

A report by Borrell Associates predicts local online advertising will grow to nearly $20 billion in 2012.  The report, Benchmarking Local Online Media: 2011, surveyed  5,756 local online operations and made market- level advertising projections for 2012. It says:

 “If the digital growth spurt continues through 2013, online media will hold the largest share of local advertising, toppling newspapers for the first time in history….”

“Who’s winning? It’s clearly companies that are offering commerce-related content – or more specifically, companies that are more interested in finding consumers who are ready to buy something. Of the top 15 companies making money from local online advertising last year, all but 3 had a commerce-centric focus.”

 Local online advertising will grow to nearly $20 billion in 2012

Gordon Borrell, founder of the media consulting firm, is bullish on local online advertising but bearish on advertising for hyperlocal news sites. He believes banner advertising is too limited an approach for a hyperlocal news site and advocates instead that a site behave more like a local advertising agency. That’s more in line with what the local advertiser needs, he said.

“Their job is really to help save Main Street,” he said. “I would applaud them if they became much more of a marketing partner with a local business. That is much more what is needed.”

Bonnie Appel, Vice President of Media for Brushfire Inc, Cedar Knolls, N. J., agrees that a local site needs to reach beyond banner advertising to get the attention of a small business customer.

“If you are a hyperlocal news site and you are talking with a hyperlocal business, you have to get them in with something bigger than a banner ad,” she said.

This could be any number of ways to get the attention of the customer. Appel suggests that the site work several channels to get the attention of the audience. These could include advertorials, sponsored content or  a directory.

The approaches suggested by Borrell and Appel  have been featured in this blog and are already under way at many news sites. These include social media education and management; special events; online directories; general education; and assistance getting the business online.

Meanwhile at, Boraks has some of that under way, but his current focus is revamping the site’s approach to advertisers.

“Last year we started On the original page you could buy the front page, the inside page, the health and fitness page – we thought that we could sell ads against those positions but we found most advertisers wanted to be on the front page,” Boraks said.

“We had four dozen ad slots across the site and about as many prices. It just got so complicated, “ he said.

Local small businesses not accustomed to digital

Boraks said his competition is regional magazines and weekly newspapers so his sites are battling against print. Without a highly developed market for impression pricing, it was challenging to make the case to small businesses who really knew nothing about the web.

They decided to simplify their approach so they could compete better.

“We felt that it made more sense to run all our ads against all our pages. We have great traffic across our whole site. We have great monthly visitors. We felt we were doing best service to all of our advertisers by giving them full access to our full run – to use an old print term.”

They priced the ads by setting a total revenue figure based on operational expenses.

“We took our total monthly expenses and backed into our pricing that way.  If we sell 60% of ads on the site then we are at break even.  Everything above that is profit and below that we are in the red a little bit,” Boraks said.

Between the two sites gets 50,000 to 60,000 unique monthly visitors.  “Our 50,000 is comparable to the numbers they claim. The weeklies print 25,000 copies and claim  they get 100,000 views. I disagree with the four multiplier,” he said.  “We can measure our readers and they can’t.”

In addition, Boraks says that they have introduced a new deliverable to their advertisers:  a guaranteed minimum 30,000 impressions per ad.

Brushfire’s Appel agrees with the accountability aspect of this strategy.

“The internet is accountable,” she said. “So guarantying a number of impressions is something you need to do.”

Boraks says that bringing in 80 advertisers would pretty much sell out the site. But then again, operating this way means that they can can ad pages or additional sites if needed.  “If we sell all the ads on the site, we would be bringing in more than $200,000.”

Boraks credits much of the idea to Lyndsay Kibiloski, who was’s first ad designer and now wears many hats including operations manager. The site has a full-time staff of 3 with 7 part-timers.

A few months into the new approach, it’s so far so good.

At, Doug Hardy, publisher, said he’s working on the 3.0 version of ad rates.

“The trick is just to get people to start buying at your base rate,”  he said in a post on the BlockbyBlock Facebook Resource page.

We’re now offering site takeover and also a 300×600 banner option,” he wrote.  “Further, instead of multiple banners in our email blasts, now we’re going with an exclusivity thing — 1 advertiser per email blast, and options for buying 1 day or 1 week or 2 weeks. We want to close fewer deals for larger sums.”

Hardy suggested starting at a cost per mille (CPM=cost per thousand views) of $15 for a 300×250 banner as your largest option. The site staggers the rates downward for smaller banners. He said CTNewsJunkie also offers staggered rates for longer ad campaigns – say offering the full rate for between one to three months, and then cutting the rates by 20% of the advertiser commits to an ad for three to six months.

Hardy suggested an idea that sounds similar to Boraks’.

“Offer flat rates for ‘run of site’ deals. This is key when dealing with old-media-centered people,’ “he wrote. “ ‘Why isn’t my ad showing on your site? I paid for it?” They have a hard time understanding that they only paid enough for a 50% share of voice, etc.”

Hardy said that using a run-of-site approach, you set a ceiling of impressions that is a high percentage of your total and leave the banner up all the time.

“They like this when they think they’re getting a lot of impressions free. Closes the deal,” Hardy wrote.

The danger in this approach is that if you see a big spike in traffic, the advertiser will get a great deal and your site will fail to earn revenue on a lot of impressions.

“Eventually, this is bad if you run out of positions to sell,” he wrote. “There’s also the possibility that people won’t pay the price for all of your impressions if you stick rigidly to your CPM and charge clients for all of your traffic. You might price yourself out of the marketplace.”

“But that’s where the negotiation comes in – as your audience grows, you absolutely have to fight the pressure from advertisers to keep your rates flat from year to year,” he wrote. “It’s B.S. and unfair to expect you to do that when you’ve doubled or trebled your audience. But above all – you have to close deals or you’re out of business. So it’s a moving target.”

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.

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Impact counts for hyperlocal news, but how to count it?

What is the impact of news and how do you measure it?

These are good questions that go to the heart of  newsroom  sustainability.  Embedded within the answers is a better understanding of newsrooms’ added value and a value proposition for sustaining newsrooms – online and hyperlocal news sites, whether non-profit or for profits.  For NPOs, foundations will want to know what impact their grants provide. For commercial sites, potential advertisers will want to know what they get in return for their advertising dollars. Click through rates measure activity but they do not demonstrate impact.

Many answers for describing impact of hyperlocal news

These questions were recently addressed in the BlockbyBlock Facebook Resource group. Michele McLellan, BlockbyBlock founder, said there are many ways to look at the issue of measuring impact.

Many answers. For starters, they may be looking for impact at a public policy level or in exposing wrongdoing. They may be looking at level of citizen engagement with the site and its content, which can be measured in a number of ways. They may be looking for how the site extends the content deeper into the community, say by hosting in-person forums, etc.

McLellan added that she views web stats — pageviews, uniques of reach —  as measures of reach and engagement, not impact. [ View  a Storify with additional comments from the BlockbyBlock community.]

What prompted the recent flurry of conversation was in part an announcement by The New York Times  that the paper is looking for good short-term help to decipher the right metrics to measure the impact of news. Aron Pilhofer, who runs the social journalism  newsroom team at the Times, and who is the co-founder of and Hacks and Hackers, posted a short “Help Wanted” on his blog July 25.  The Times will be bringing on a Knight-Mozilla fellow to dig in and unearth some real measures of news and — we can only hope — break through  to a definition of  impact. Pilhofer wrote:

If you’re an analytics nerd, a news junkie and think it would be neat to spend some time working on a problem like this using The New York Times newsroom as your laboratory, we’d like to hear from you. The deadline is August 11th.

Pilhofer gave kudos to Greg Linch, whose post on his blog, The Linchpen: “crystalized the challenge and the opportunity perfectly. In his words: “So, what if we measured journalism by its impact?”

What we do not have are ways of measuring how a piece of journalism changes the way people think or act. We don’t have a metric for impact.”

This was also a topic of conversation among writers who participate in the Carnival of Journalism [The thread is  not publicly viewable].

RJI’s Mayer and J-Lab engagement research cited

Denise Cheng, a digital journalist who has worked for the Journalism Accelerator and The Rapidian in Grand Rapids notes the overlap between the NYT research and the work done by  Joy Mayer during her Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship. Cheng said:

[Mayer]  interviewed many journalists and technologists to triangulate a definition of engagement, and in spring 2011, she and Reuben Stern convened around 30 practitioners from all over the country to survey different engagement tactics, how they were beginning to measure those or how they’d flesh out those metrics. It led to a white paper. It’s such a great spring board that I hope Aron and Greg tap her for her insights.

Jan Schaffer, Executive Director of J-Lab, said of the New York Times project:

Aron’s interests ring true with us at J-Lab and echo some of the frustrations we surfaced in our “Engaging Audiences”  report and suggest there might be a correlation between impact and genuine audience engagement.

Schaffer said that J-Lab research found at least four types of engagement:

  1. Engagement as outreach, driving users to consume content.
  2. Engagement as reaction, inviting users to comment, share, like and chat.
  3. Engagement as stakeholder participation, getting users to contribute stories, time, funding.
  4. Engagement as civic participation, activating audience members to address community issues.

Schaffer topped it off saying.

You know your journalism has had impact when people start participating in more than just your website, Facebook page, blog or twitter feed.  🙂


Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.

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Knight Lab seeks feedback on Local Angle’s use in local news

The Knight News Innovation Lab wants innovative editors and reporters to tell them how to develop its new tool for local news, Local Angle. The Lab is seeking feedback from the community to refine its next iteration.

“This is something in between an experiment and a product,” said Ryan Graff, Outreach Manager for Knight News Innovation Lab. “At this point we just want to have a product out, get some feedback and see if there is interest in a product like this.

Local Angle  is news spotter for local news

The beta acts as a news “spotter” for local news by sifting through articles, identifying the names of prominent citizens and celebrities and then listing their birthplace towns. The editor or reporter who is looking for leads to develop local news would visit his state to see a list of headlines and then browse to find useful information. The application can be adapted to search along many terms. The Knight Lab chose celebrities because they are featured in Wikipedia and are an accessible search. But in the future, the tool could be adapted to search for company names or less prominent names. It could also deliver information in a different form.

Local news knowledge of a City Editor

A newsroom could also think of Local Angle as a tool to help reporters understand their places better, Graff said in a follow-up email:

One of the anecdotes that Rich Gordon uses frequently when talking about Local Angle is that many years ago every newsroom had a city editor with a deep knowledge of the town they worked in and of everyone who was born or important in that particular place. These days, city editors don’t exist in every newsroom, particularly when the “newsroom” consists of one reporter with a laptop. Local Angle could conceviably help reporters know their communities better, and in the process serve as a source for content ideas and relevant links.

Testing the tool out, I searched for national stories that could be localized for Chicago. For instance, ShoreNewsToday in New Jersey reminded me that Centralia, IL, is the birthplace of anti-gun activist James Brady, the aide to President Ronald Reagan who was severely injured in an assassination attempt in 1981. The tie-in could possibly be useful for local news coverage related to the July 20 mass shooting in Aurora, Colo.

“Local Angle’s goal is to spot content from around the web that may be of particular interest to a city or town no matter if it happens somewhere else,” a press release said. “The application uses Google News to scoop up current news stories, AlchemyAPI to identify the people mentioned in each story, and DBpedia to identify a geographical tie.”

Crunchbase says Alchemy API is a text mining platform providing the most comprehensive set of semantic analysis capabilities in the natural language processing field… and that it tracks influencers and sentiment within the media.” DBpedia “extracts factual information from Wikipedia pages, allowing users to find answers to questions where the information is spread across many different Wikipedia articles,” Wikipedia says.

Local Angle was developed by computer science Ph.D. Student Shawn O’Banion and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science computer science professor Larry Birnbaum, a co-founder of the Knight Lab. The first iteration was released in June.

Give it a close look and if you have any idea of how you’d like to see it developed get back to the inventors at knightlab AT

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Can Google Author / journalism SEO fuel stronger community news?

Source: SearchEngineLand

Why do news publishers need to learn more about SEO? Because the Semantic Web and Google’s evolution are changing the game. It’s certain that Google Author will release a deluge of authors. Journalists would hope to rise among them and bring that precious Google  juice to their sites. This is a time of opportunity. And also a time not to be left behind. But most important, it’s past time to refine journalism SEO.

Conrad Saam, Director of Marketing for Urbanspoon, told me at TechWeek:

“The author’s authority is haloed to the blog. Google is trying to get a feel for the quality of authorship and have that come into play in the search rankings.”

Basically, topics matter and Google knows which authors are relevant to which topics. Saam said:

“If my mom writes a quote about SEO it shouldn’t matter. If Vanessa Fox — who is a guru of SEO — writes a post about the quality of SEO it should really matter. So finding out who is writing what and associating that with the quality of the content as a ranking factor is just absolutely happening.

What’s not to like?

Yellowstone Gate, Editor and Publisher, Ruffin Prevost pointed to this article by  , the developer of the Yoast for WordPress SEO plugin, which shows how Google has made registering for Authorship  as easy as entering your email address from your site’s domain. Unfortunately, it looks like the plugin he has developed won’t work for multiple authors on one post. But it will work for everyone who writes for your WordPress news site. That’s pretty cool.

Who is  expert at journalism SEO?

Prevost also noted this article by Frédéric Filloux, which  discusses how online only outlets are often far better than legacy media in marketing stories to readers using SEO and headlines written using algorithms.

The essence of what we’re seeing here is a transfer of value. Original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashion publishers. But once they are swallowed by the HuffPo’s clever traffic-generation machine, the same journalistic item will make tens or hundred  times better traffic-wise. Who is right?  Who can look to the better future in the digital world ? Is it the virtuous author carving language-smart headlines or the aggregator generating eye-gobbling phrases thanks to high tech tools?  Your guess. Maybe it’s time to wake-up.

Lean and nimble online news publishers already have a leg up on the big newsrooms. Perhaps time is right to add a few more SEO skills? Or perhaps it’s time to rethink the way a newsroom works, building a little SEO in from the beginning of the editorial process? What do you think? How do you work this?

Although Google Author does not yet factor in Google’s search rankings, it is at minimum sorting out issues of duplicate content. In this interview for Search Engine Journal with Sagar Kamdar, Google’s Director of Product Management in Search, Grant Crowell discusses how Google Author will help identify duplicate content:

Of course, one of the important reasons that Google implemented the Authorship program is to help them identify duplicate content. Some authors have had problems with others ranking higher than them in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for their own original content. Authorship is supposed to push the original author to the top of the rankings when someone does a search for their article. What it can’t yet do is exclude others who aren’t the original authors…

On the BlockbyBlock Facebook page, I asked independent online news publishers about the role of SEO, search engine optimization, on their hyperlocal news sites. Here’s a Storify on what they said about  journalism SEO.


Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.

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General registration is now open for Block by Block summit 2012

We’ve opened up general registration and invited non-publishers who are interested in the future of local news to join us Sept. 13-15 in Chicago.

The general registration fee is $75.00

The registration fee for vendors is $300.00

We have additional sponsorship opportunities. I am happy to say that two of our sponsors will be BxB publishers who are branching out and offering services. Stay tuned!




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Is writing the new superpower? Make it so with Google Authorship!

Will Google Authorship guarantee prosperity for online journalism? Nope. But it could significantly change the nature of the SEO game by connecting credible authors with their work, strengthening our chances.

No more faux Blockshopper type headlines. I like that.

At TechWeek Chicago 2012, buzz was building around Google Author – SEO champs were chewing over the details. But I credit my initial interest from a meeting with local SEO meister Andy Crestodina, co-founder and strategic developer for Orbit Media Studios here in Chicago. When we met I planned to interview him, but he told me to put away my recorder because he wanted to learn more about me. Me? I was further flabbergasted when he interrupted my overly detailed digital career opus and said “Wait, there’s one thing you haven’t said you are that you are – a writer!” I’ll admit I was struck dumb. I blurted a reply “That’s because I want to be paid for my work!”

14 years is a long stretch of career to have been back-peddling my humble skills as a scribe. I had reason, though. For a decade-plus, web producers and other digital entrepreneurs had been saying that grabbing “content” off Wikipedia and other sites and rewriting it for  websites was just fine. Hence the name of one of my early blogs was “Snake eats Tail.” When I would argue the virtues of originally researched and journalistically sound articles, stories and other digital “content” these folks’ eyes would glaze over. Then the coders would intervene, arguing there was no need for words, especially words that required cash payment.

Embrace the SEO bugaboo

But here was Crestodina in one short phrase shattering this past reality. “Writing is the ultimate superpower,” he said. And, he said, the tide is turning in favor of writers, journalists and news sites, if we would just pay closer attention to that bugaboo called SEO, or search engine optimization, and other emerging tools, such as Google Author.

So what is Google Authorship? It connects writers with their writing. Using what’s called a rich snippet it pops your photo into links to articles written by you. Photos in searches are good because people tend to click on them more.

With Authorship, Google sees content associated with real identity as  higher quality

In a July 9 email, Amanda Chang, with Global Communications and Public Affairs for Google Inc said this:

“While Authorship is not currently one of the over 200 signals we use in search ranking, we hope to experiment with using information about Authorship as a signal in ranking in the future. We hope it will improve the search experience over time as we believe that often times content associated with real identity is of higher quality than content published anonymously.

Improvement is needed.  It can’t happen too soon. We’re glad experimentation is in the works. Still, although Authorship is not a ranking factor,  it’s a factor in what gets clicked by making  the listing more prominent in search results. Crestodina says he has seen research indicating that when the author’s headshot appears in search results, CTR (clickthrough rates) increase by 150%.

Sagar Kamdar, Group Product Manager for Google Search, said of Authorship in a recent interview:

The main thing that we are trying to address is the faceless nature of the web. For many years people have been clicking on content not knowing who created it, and not knowing who commented on it. What we are seeing is that users really want to know who created that bit of content. Users know who their favorite authors are, and we’re trying to make it easy for them to communicate with those author(s).

As this SEO guy says so eloquently on Youtube get your “mug on the SERP and you guys want to learn about me. ….Google is looking for your face.”

Yes. The Internet needs good writing.

Need for unique content rising since 2005

When I met with Crestodina in late June, he explained that he started to see a sizeable uptick in the market for unique “content” in 2005 – that’s what journalists call “news.” In our meeting, he discussed rich snippets and how the Google Authorship Markup works. He took me on a tour of how to best think of keywords and where to research domain name authority – stuff I had watched develop but never fully studied.

As a Huffington Post blogger, I had caught flack from newsroom folks for writing for free. But as an independent, I knew it was better to have a platform than to not have one. Seeing that Huffington Post has a a perfect score of 100 on the domain authority scale  vs my own site’s authority of 38 explained why my instincts were right.

What I am beginning  to more fully understand now is that if I learn to better work SEO, my website can actually gain authority and become a good platform for my business – even in the sea of words that is the Internet. I also learned that if I use a tool like Google Author, readers will be able to locate my writing wherever it resides on the Internet. Theoretically my work could be cut in half as I won’t have to store all my bylines on my blog anymore – which was actually bad for my SEO, but I didn’t know that. It turns out that duplicate content is confusing to Google.

Identity, relationships and content

What these SEO experts see coming in the future is this: Author rank will influence page rank will influence the search engine results page.

Crestodina quotes Amit Singhal, Head of the Core Search Team for the Google search engine. “Fundamentally, it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content.”

And Crestodina’s take on that is:

  • Identity = author
  • Relationship = Google Authorship “signature”
  • Content = the article itself.

I’m hearing that it’s beneficial to all writers – but especially journalists — to go through the necessary steps to be regarded as an author by the Google algorithm. Although the tide rises for all of us with Google Authorship, news sites will undoubtedly be left behind if they don’t start using SEO and other tools strategically.  The Web guys and everybody else are already stampeding toward it.

Google’s Chang sent me three links for getting started.

Meanwhile I spent several days setting up the Google  Authorship markup and going back through Webmaster tools, examining the steps related to domain rank I had perhaps skipped in the past. We’ll see if it works. If  you’re not a DIY like I am, your webmaster should be able to get Web Authorship to work for you pretty quickly.

Google’s Chang  also offered to answer any additional questions we might have. Let’s send some her way.

Next week, I’ll be revisiting some of the basics of SEO for journalists and sharing SEO wisdom from publishers in the BlockbyBlock network.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.

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Applications for the Community Journalism Executive Training program are now being accepted!

Organizations that wish to apply must complete the online application and provide required documentation by EOB Friday, July 20th.

Last month, INN and the Knight Foundation announced that we will be convening the Community Journalism Executive Training program at Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg October 18th – 20th, 2012 in Los Angeles. This valuable hands-on and intensive program will be available to only 40 organizations from within the INN and Block by Block publisher communities that apply.

CJET (Community Journalism Executive Training) is designed for independent news publishers who have built a news organization that is strong on journalism and user engagement but who need a boost when it comes to creating a successful financial model.
At CJET, a team of business mentors and experts will:

• Teach you to build an effective business plan from scratch, focused on your particular needs and goals.
• Review your existing business plan, critique it, and help you rebuild it.
• Work with you to develop a 100-day strategy to take your plan from paper to reality.
• Introduce you to the business tools and techniques that can help you drive revenue, measure your performance and identify opportunities.
• Challenge you to think about your exit strategy: What do you hope to achieve with your site, and how will you know when you get there?

Organizations who wish to send a senior representative of your business and who are able to attend the event in person in Los Angeles should complete the online application  in full – including submission of all required backup documentation – by EOB Friday, July 20th.

Organizations who are selected to attend will be provided with a travel stipend to cover the majority (but not all) travel expenses including airfare and lodging to attend the event. Any organization which is selected and which can demonstrate financial difficulty may apply for additional funding assistance.

Applications will be reviewed and attendees will be selected by the CJET Management Committee, including INN’s Kevin Davis & Brant Houston, KDMC’s Vikki Porter, Block by Block Founder Michele McLellan and The Patterson Foundation’s Janet Coats.

Notification of acceptance into the program will be announced July 30th, 2012 with commitments to attend due back from attending organizations by EOB August 1st, 2012.

Participating organizations will be expected to attend all program events, as well as submit all requested pre- and post- event work. Travel reimbursements will be distributed only upon the successful completion of the program.

This program is made possible due to a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Terms and conditions for qualification and participation in the program are subject to change.

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20 community news publishers will get Knight training

Twenty community news publishers challenged by the business aspects of running their news sites will receive expert coaching through the Community Journalism Executive Training (CJET) program, a joint effort of The Patterson Foundation and the Investigative News Network, with $100,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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