Outsource To Your Readers

I read Maureen Dowd’s piece yesterday on a website that is covering local news in Pasadena California using stringers in India and I thought the whole idea was really nutty. How is it possible that people living half way across the world could know much about what’s going on in my neighborhood?

As Mark Josephson, CEO of our portfolio company, Outside.in, said in his post on the topic yesterday:

But why is everyone focused on trying to make the old model of
newspapers and reporting survive as opposed to innovating and embracing
new forms of news, like participatory journalism or hyperlocal bloggers?

The unfortunate events in Mumbai showed that witnesses can be a
great source of news.  And, you don’t have to look any further than our
weekly Blogiology 101 posts to see that there is incredible coverage
happening at the hyperlocal level.

These are new forms of news gathering and they cost a heck of a lot
less than even offshore operations.  News organizations should embrace
their community of readers to find new ways to help cover their news.
Use your brand, traffic and salesforce to drive traffic and revenue to
new groups of people who are already writing about their own
communities.  Hey, they already live there and actually really care
about it too!

I am convinced that the future of local news is on the web, not on paper, and I am equally convinced it will be written largely by the people who are making the news or experiencing the news first hand and not by traditional journalists or their replacements somewhere where cheaper labor can be found.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    100% agree and my belief is that most of our information will not come from 3rd party sources (even local websites) but from our social networks : Twitter is for me one of the greatest sources of information (it’s where I learnt about the Mumbai attacks BTW) because I cared about what my friends care (is “caring about the same stuff” a definition of friendship?) and because I trust y friends!At Notifixious, we are promoting this by offering our users to share the information they received by push to their friends on Twitter…

  2. Michael R. Bernstein

    There will still be a professional niche for investigative journalism, though. Which, when it comes down to it, is what many folks assume that most journalists actually do. Fictional portrayals of journalists hardly ever show them as mere regurgitators.

  3. shareme

    Not to diminish the point but India police are finding that the terrorists used that web information to avoid capture for hours. Thus how would we influence the need for responsible microblogging such a terrible event to prevent terrorists with blackberries from gaining information that could post pone their capture?

  4. jmcaddell

    I, for one, am thrilled that we can begin to experience that same dislocated feeling reading our local newspapers as we get with our Clear-Channel-owned radio stations, with “local” DJs piped in from some studio in Denver.

  5. Simon Cast

    Hmmm…I think I disagree by degrees rather than absolutes. While the witnesses will become the dominate source of news there is still a very important role for journalists/editors in news. The problem with relying simply on witnesses as the news looses context. However, by moving up the chain, journalists can bring the witnesses reports and background information together to create context.The context is important, it is the difference between knowing something has happened to knowing why, what, where, when and how all together.

  6. Kenosha_Kid

    Where is “quality control” in all this though? When there is no filter, there is no way to verify accuracy. If false or incomplete information becomes an issue, then readers may tune out the amateurs and go back to the professional journalists. This past election cycle notwithstanding, integrity will have to become the competitive edge of the traditional outlets. (I wonder if the lack thereof in the recent election cycle has actually opened up a window for the amateurs?)

    1. fredwilson

      We face that issue in blogs all day long and I believe the truth and best work rises to the top

  7. RacerRick

    I don’t understand why they’d outsource something to India when there are probably 100s of local moms who would love the opportunity to work a few hours a day.Stay at home moms are a huge work force opportunity, especially for a local venture.

    1. fredwilson

      I totally agree

      1. RacerRick

        Whoever figures out how to harness the stay at home moms will win big.1/2 of the females in my wifes MBA class no longer work (but would love to).

        1. howardlindzon

          i agree. jetblue started doing that but than india came calling 🙂

  8. rkorba

    Apropos the Bombay point, I found the most compelling coverage (dead tree web sites, mostly) on the WSJ.com and NYtimes.com sites to be the combinations, both well done, of traditional diligent reporting, on-the-spot updates (i.e., the Lede on NYtimes) and reporter-driven accounts on eyewitness news, augmented by unedited (twitter and other) accounts, in one package. Both papers did a better job than a flow site would have. Maybe that is the hope for my favorite dead tree media — event-driven over flow-driven reportage, with deep dives being the stock-in-trade. I’d still subscribe, and crowdsourcing the sunday crossword would just suck.

  9. markslater

    why cant it be easier to make money by telling someone that they are going to lose money.

    1. howardlindzon


  10. Jeffrey McManus

    As someone who spent two years chasing local news right out of college, I can confirm your assertion — these guys aren’t attacking the right problem. While it would probably work to outsource certain kinds of newsgathering (think police blotter), the high cost of reportage hasn’t been the core problem of print journalism for at least twenty years.

  11. twillerer

    This is especially true for so called, “breaking news”, where twitter and other mobile blogging platforms are much better suited at reporting the “on the ground” happening. Essentially competing with the stupid satellite trucks every local network has.I’m not sure why local news stations / papers aren’t using twitter as a source for “breaking news”.

  12. delgaudio

    I agree but I also believe that new social accountability models will need to be established in order to prevent thing like this from happening:http://www.foxnews.com/stor… I wish:http://www.ireport.com/was more concerned with being more like wikipedia that it is with getting people on CNN.

  13. Colin Mathews

    News generation, gathering and editing can be more highly distributed–for sure. But events like the Mumbai attacks and other high-profile or non-local news stories (especially vertical news, like national politics, technology, entertainment et al.) disguise how difficult it is to get reasonably good, repeatable news content at the local level. When hundreds or thousands of people blog or contribute on one topic–the presidential race or a sensational event–then the best work can rise to the top, as Fred says. Good work tends to happen around such news, too, because it reflects well on the reporter/editor to contribute. But that model definitely does not hold at the local–or even regional–level. Yes, you can find some exceptionally high-quality hyperlocal blogs or other UGC news content, but the large numbers would demand that–among all of the hyperlocal blogs out there, some must be good. But definitely not all localities, or even most, have high quality user-generated news sources.

  14. rick gregory

    Yes… but…Events like Mumbai are cited as examples of how citizens can deliver news and they are excellent examples of that. But such events are a small percentage of all news. A lot of what fills newspapers and TV is pretty mundane, though it might be important. How we get that news, news that isn’t sensational, is going to be quite interesting. I agree it’s online and very likely more participatory, but how do we cover, for example, a local public works project or cross-jurisdiction, long term issues like the impact of light rail transit? I can see some of that being covered by citizens, but mostly, citizens aren’t good at covering things that aren’t singular events and there’s still value in doing so.It’s funny that you should cite Outside.in since I’m unconvinced of its utility for me right now. I live a dozen miles north of Seattle and virtually ALL of the news on Outside.in deals with Seattle, not my neighborhood. This isn’t hyperlocal, merely local and probably happens because there isn’t much being written by/for/about my area but it makes outside.in not much more valuable to me than the main local news sources. This isn’t a failing of the service… it’s just dealing with sparse data and perhaps the issue is self-correcting. But, to me, that’s the promise of such channels of information – they can do something that no city newspaper or TV station can possible do – talk to me about my community in depth.

    1. fredwilson

      The answer to the sparse data problem is partially to get people like yourselves telling outside.in and other services like it about local data sources like school newspapers and PTA newsletters that are hopefully moving onlineIt will take time, but it will happen

      1. rick gregory

        Agreed. IN fact a part of my comment that I edited out was about the small, free community papers as sources. We’re still left with how to get actual reporting on non-event driven news though. And I wonder about microformat adoption and other things that can make those more discoverable – relying on someone to create an account, look at the page, see mostly non-hyperlocal content and then do he research on what things are online and tell Outside.in about them…. that seems fraught with barriers. Hmm… /thinks more…PS: Ok, did a bit of research. FOund a site that aggregates small, community papers around Seattle. No easily apparent way on Outside.in to tell them though. Mail sent to them, but for anyone reading this – if you want people to suggest sources, make it dead easy. And yes, I noted the Add > Blog option. That takes you to the geo-toolkit page which is… um… not intuitively connected.

        1. markjosephson

          Thanks Rick. Will always look for ways to make it easier. We prioritized the links to GeoToolkit because we were hearing more from site creators that they wanted to get their content into our distribution network and we created these simple tools for them to do that and more.But, sometimes you just need a big button that says “suggest a source”. We’d love to hear more…mark

  15. Niro

    Totally agree. Traditional media just cannot handle it right with their decreasing budgets, but there are some big challenges in harvesting the power of the crowd. Some of them are the overflow of information, the reputation of the originated content and ways to fund the reports. Platforms like http://www.iamnews.com (ours) and http://www.spot.us are tackling these challenges by setting information free while putting boundaries that define editorial needs. http://www.outside.in are doing great job by letting the consumers discover news that may interest them. More and more ventures like that are pointing to a future where the consumers are taking an active part in the creation of news. Not just by contributing content but also by defining what their media agenda is. Especially hyper local news.

  16. oryx_orange

    To those for whom credibility of the source is primarily about the quality of the content, I would agree that outsourcing to the community is the way to go for local news. If you’re in the habit of listening to (ie. getting your news from) those with the keenest insight and the most informed opinions, then the best will indeed rise to the top.This does not apply to most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. In a community such as the one we’re in now, where everyone knows what Twitter and Digg are, we assign credibility to these methods of gathering information not just because of the value of the information but because that information has been recommended by people with whom we personally identify. People who don’t get most of their news online, which last time I checked was most people, identify with different people and different media, and therefore assign credibility in different ways. I think such communities will continue to prefer to receive their news filtered by local gatekeepers (ie. news outlets) and simplified by brevity, unless there is a powerful incentive for those gatekeepers to deliver it another way, which, at the moment at least, I don’t see being the case.

  17. johngerzema

    Interesting parallel between your alternate model of news gathering and delivery and the evolution in companies brand marketing. The wrenching changes faced by news organizations today portend the wrenching changes marketers will face as they interact with empowered customers in an economic downturn. As someone in the business of reconfiguring how brands message in our digital age, I am attentive to how your portfolio companies use focus, personalization, iteration and community connectedness to grow their brands and revenues. As big brand marketers we can and do learn a lot from BugLabs, Etsy, Twitter and others. As i wrote in the Brand Bubble, “if a brand isn’t moving, it’s invisible.” Contracting your information gathering out for cost reasons and relying on your brand to maintain your relevance is one example of a brand not moving.

  18. andyswan

    A king’s ransom for he who finds the “signal” in the growing pile of noise. See DrudgeReport traffic stats for proof. Two employees. Two.

  19. robhunt510

    Fred, I also blogged on the Dowd piece (from London), but without comment. Certainly it’s not a nutty idea if the readers and viewers of the site enjoy the content. We will see. Many travel guide books are sourced in similar ways.However, the scope of local news is vast: from listings, town hall events, crime, marriages, politics and sports, and yes of course “people who are making the news or experiencing the news first hand” can write up their versions of the story. They can post that their restaurant has a special on Fridays. Citizen journalists can take pictures on their cell phones, can Twitter direct from the Oberoi hotel Mumbai. Local politicians can post their many achievements on their natty new blogs. But……it is as true in a small town as it is in Washington, London or Mumbai: one role that serious journalism has undertaken in the post-war years is to hold power to account. Or at least to attempt this. I question the assumption that local “people” – who are not traditional journalists – can muster the strength to do this alone.When Mark writes about potential online authors who are “living there and actually really care too” I couldn’t agree more. But journalism, television, radio, in print, online, blogged or Twittered, is about balancing the empirical “living there and seeing it” with the contextual “what does it mean?”The key to this conundrum, I suspect, is trust – as others have written. Until we trust the Twitter Sea or the citizen blog at least as much as, say, what our friends post or write on Facebook, we will be very unsure.Love this site.

  20. thomasl824

    There still needs to be someone to question, pursue a story and uncover info that is not readily available or hidden. Plus people need to make $ not just micro payments.

  21. Jesse Nahan

    Why outsource when the overlooked resource at local newspapers is photography? The cost of printing and distributing a physical newspaper—more than the salaries of reporters—is what’s challenging the industry. The web is indeed the answer, because it affords small papers the ability to go really deep in the local area without additional newsprint costs. But the overlooked goldmine here is photography. Talented staff photographers shoot hundreds of photos at events, but only a small selection can run in the physical paper. The web can run them all—and turn them into revenue. An example of how well this can work is a photo system I built for the Ocean City Sentinel of New Jersey, a weekly paper (http://www.ocsentinel.com/p…. The Sentinel can now present hundreds of photos from every sporting and local event. People love to search for and buy photos of themselves, their kids, grandkids and friends. The lure of so many local-oriented photos, unavailable anywhere else, drives traffic to the newspaper site, and the high-quality images become the brand. Even the large Philly papers, which can’t afford to send photographers to the Jersey Shore, can easily search and select unique stock from this site for any coverage they need. The Sentinel plans on backfilling years of the photo archives, which have been otherwise gathering dust, and making the images accessible. The uploading process is so streamlined, interns do it.By the way, Pasadenanow, the online paper Dowd wrote about, does not appear to offer any photos for sale.

    1. fredwilson

      Geotagging flickr photos is a huge win for local papers

  22. Richard

    It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to build something like Truemors with separate (or loosely joined) sites for lots of different cities/towns/neighbourhoods. There are all the usual concerns about accuracy and the need for real reporting, but this could cover a different niche – things that are going on around you right now and background information about them (added to the story by any user who knows of course).This gets into an area where even now it can be almost impossible to find information online because the topic is too small for a major media organization to devote a lot of resources to – but there’s still a lot of people who know about it and could share small bits of information.I’m estimating there’s a 70% probability this exists somewhere already and I just don’t know about it 🙂

  23. gregorylent

    this site loads sooooo slow, the right side takes forever, zemanta, feedburner, whatever else is on there … am in china, maybe that makes a diff …

  24. hootie

    most people don’t know how to report an event and many will watch cnn and then ‘report’ that as their own…what you get with grassroots reporting is noise and no substance