For years now, hyperlocal news has been touted as the great hope of publishing and the future of journalism. Although financial success has been elusive for hyperlocal hopefuls from Brooklyn to Biloxi, location-dedicated blogs have been appearing across the globe. But with so many placebloggers clamoring for attention, and so many places to cover, the hyperlocal landscape is difficult to navigate.
Enter Outside.in, a blog aggregator launched in 2006 to help connect bloggers and readers interested in the same city block. "We aggregate content from more than 30,000 local media sources every day and organize them by neighborhood to provide a unique combination of information about what is happening right outside your front door," says Mark Josephson, 37, a Skidmore psychology grad who became CEO of Outside.in after tenures at Seevast and About.com.
"Imagine getting a Twitter direct message if your favorite restaurant gets a health code violation." —Mark Josephson
From its headquarters in DUMBO, Outside.in coordinates news from over 40,000 neighborhoods and according to Josephson, receives four million unique visitors each month. While the young start-up has proven adept at raising capital and signing deals with established media companies, hyperlocal has yet to take off as so many have predicted. In the following interview, which was conducted via email and has been edited for clarity, Josephson tells Gelf what it's like to corral thousands of placebloggers, why he considers himself a friend of both large media companies and small independent bloggers, and what role he sees Outside.in playing in the future of news.
Gelf Magazine:What was the transition from About.com and Seevast like, and was it a move you could have predicted?
Mark Josephson:This was a super easy transition and one that made a lot of sense. About.com is a big destination media site. Seevast was entirely networks. Outside.in is a hybrid and was a great opportunity to build the next model for local news.
Gelf Magazine: Describe Outside.in in your own words. How does it work? What is the service and what is the mission?
Mark Josephson: Outside.in is a data and technology platform that powers hyperlocal news in more than 40,000 neighborhoods in the United States. We aggregate and organize content from more than 30,000 local media sources every day and organize them by neighborhood to provide a unique combination of information about what is happening right outside your front door.
We work with publishers across the web, from small-town bloggers to major media companies, to distribute that news and we're currently reaching more than four million monthly unique visitors.
Our partnerships and network of bloggers, along with our core site, are changing how people consume local media, and our tools and platform are changing the underlying business model for local media companies.
Gelf Magazine: The publishing monolith is crumbling, and the great hope that is hyperlocal news is still struggling to find a foothold. How did you convince your investors that you're here to stay? What will make Outside.in successful?
Mark Josephson: It is a very exciting time to be working on a new medium for local media. There are at least four central trends that point towards an exciting future for hyperlocal and for Outside.in:
1) Local publishers' current model needs to change and they are more open than ever to new solutions.
2) Local advertising is projected to be at least a $22 billion market. There are more truly local advertisers coming online every day and there are not enough quality advertising impressions to serve them.
3) There is an explosion of hyperlocal information from local bloggers and new efforts from traditional sites like The Local from the New York Times and from start-ups like Twitter and Everyblock.com. These disparate sources can be aggregated and organized to provide value to consumers.
4) Consumers demand personalized and customized information. "Me-centric" media exists in almost every vertical (sports, health, business, weather) but local. Imagine getting an alert if there is a break-in on the next block or a Twitter direct message if your favorite restaurant gets a health code violation.
Gelf Magazine: In recognition of the doom and gloom surrounding publishing, are services like Outside.in partially responsible or is the demise of the newsprint inevitable?
Mark Josephson: No! Outside.in is a partner to publishers big and small. We are currently working with publishers to create Neighborhood News Pages for them that extend their editorial reach and create new targeted ad inventory. We also drive traffic to publishers from our site. We support local bloggers by helping get their headlines distributed and drive traffic to them. Outside.in is focused on supporting local media businesses.
Gelf Magazine: Is Outside.in a competitor to local news beats? What's your relationship with small-town bloggers like?
Mark Josephson: Outside.in exists to drive traffic to and support local media sites. We work with thousands of local bloggers today to help them get distribution on the pages of our larger publishing partners like NBC. We give local bloggers the tools to "Geo SEO" (geographically-targeted search engine optimization) their content and improve its placement.
Gelf Magazine:Will location-targeted advertising be enough to sustain the hyperlocal movement?
Mark Josephson: Just like in every other market, hyperlocal will be supported by a combination of different advertising types, including location-based, proximity-based, search, direct-response, and brand advertising. I don't think that it has to be all or nothing.
Gelf Magazine:When Steven Berlin Johnson launched the site he said, "The natives know best." Does that premise still stand?
Mark Josephson: Absolutely. Who knows better what's happening in your neighborhood than your neighbor? Since the site was launched, there are even more people creating content in hyperlocal markets and it is becoming even easier to create it.
Gelf Magazine: Can bloggers across the country be trusted? Do you verify or fact-check any of your posts?
Mark Josephson: Most bloggers can absolutely be trusted. In any population there are outliers, but as a whole, there is an incredible amount of valuable information out there and we are focused on helping bring it to the surface. We do not verify or fact-check contentwe aggregate. We focus on giving tools to our publisher partners to curate the news to fit their editorial guidelines.
Gelf Magazine: How much editorial input does Outside.in exercise? Are you concerned with the content or quality of the posts you collect?
Mark Josephson: We do not exercise editorial control over any content. Just like Google does not decide which information is included in its database, we do the same. We empower our publisher partners to curate the news to fit their editorial rules.
Gelf Magazine: Outside.in focuses on the location of the post rather than the location of the blogger. But what do you make of outsourced local news?
Mark Josephson: We blogged about this back when it hit the news. [The post is called "Missing the Point."]
Gelf Magazine: What do you think of Johnson's model of the future of newsan all-enveloping news ecosystem?
Mark Josephson: I think that Steven is right. There is an undeniable shift towards this new model and it is a super-exciting time to be part of this change.
Gelf Magazine: What's the next step for hyperlocal news?
Mark Josephson: The next step for hyperlocal news is for the larger traditional publishers in each local market to embrace the local bloggers and start partnering with them and driving them traffic.
Gelf Magazine: Your Outside.in profile lists the New Jersey Hall of Fame as one of your favorite places. Who are the three most important people to come out of the Garden State?
Mark Josephson: Clearly there are lots of important people from the great state of New Jersey none more important than rocker Bruce Springsteen, author Harlan Coben, and Huxtable kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner.