By: Maria Moore
A pair of online news entrepreneurs on Saturday, January 29 launched the Independent Media Network – an online venture designed to provide advertising revenue, content sharing, and to help develop locally-owned news and commentary websites in Connecticut.
Lon Seidman, 34, of Essex, and Doug Hardy, 42, of Windsor, have been developing news websites for the past few years. Hardy is partnered with his wife, Christine Stuart, at CTNewsJunkie.com where he is business manager and Stuart reports on state politics. Seidman is the managing partner at LocalOnlineNews.TV, a video news website that, up until Saturday, has been focusing on West Hartford news while also farming out reporters to produce video news stories for CTNewsJunkie and other state news organizations. Along with Saturday’s launch of the Independent Media Network, Seidman announced a change for LocalOnlineNews.TV, which will now adopt a statewide news focus to be better suited as a video content resource for websites throughout the network.
About two dozen independent web publishers attended Saturday’s conference at the University of Hartford, where Hardy and Seidman explained to the group that although each one of their sites may be generating only a few thousand visitors per day or month, the network as a whole can provide a much larger volume of traffic.
“Together, we have 2,500,000 eyeballs to offer advertisers each month,” Seidman said. “That’s competitive with The (Hartford) Courant. And we have more unique visitors than others can offer.”
The problem for small, local websites is that large advertisers don’t know about them, Hardy said, adding that advertisers also don’t have enough staff to close individual advertising deals with thousands of web publishers every month.
Seidman and Hardy said the network is a one-stop shopping option for advertisers to reach dozens of Connecticut websites. They identified the need for such a platform during the 2010 election when Hardy was approached by a political candidate who wanted to advertise on CTNewsJunkie with a relatively large budget to expend over the last five days before the primary.
“We couldn’t justify placing the volume of ads that their budget would buy just on our site,” Hardy said. So he reached out to Seidman and the publishers of four other websites and the result was a series of political ads placed on small news sites across the state, reaching a wider audience and providing a new revenue source for local news entrepreneurs.
“We had accidentally launched an ad network,” Hardy said. That was followed by similar but larger ad buys for additional campaigns that appeared on NewHartfordPlus.com as well as 21 other websites across the state, including a few daily newspaper sites. Building on that experience, Hardy and Seidman created Independent Media Network LLC with the core function of providing the combined advertising platform. Saturday’s meeting marked the official launch of the network.
For many of the 25 or so who had gathered at the conference it was the first time they had met face to face with their peers despite some having communicated extensively with each other online. The group comprised a wide spectrum of the independent news media. Among them were those who have made a name for themselves at the state level, such as George Gombossy of CTWatchdog.com and Stuart with CTNewsJunkie. Others, like Bob and Maria Moore of NewHartfordPlus.com, Olwen and Nigel Logan of Shoreline Web News (LymeLine.com, OldsaybrookNow.com and ValleyNewsNow.com), and Jean Maheu of Hometown News Publications (HTNP.com), have established themselves as go-to sites for readers seeking news in their local communities.
Participants discussed content sharing to bring quality reporting to a wider audience while also building each other’s traffic. They also got a sneak peek at nontraditional news gathering tools – some of which are still in “beta” development – that could engage audiences in new ways. These were shared by Dr. Roger Desmond of UHart’s Media Communications faculty and also the host for Saturday’s meeting.
Ben Berkowitz & SeeClickFix
The event’s keynote speaker was SeeClickFix.com co-founder Ben Berkowitz whose New Haven-based web startup provides a way for people to report non-emergency problems – such as potholes, speeding, or graffiti – within their communities. The site offers a widget that quickly has become a fixture on news sites, both large and small, around the nation. Berkowitz said the site integrates itself with GoogleMaps and has currently has users in more than 50 countries.
In the U.S., newspapers offering the SeeClickFix widget include The Washington Post and the Boston Globe as well as smaller publications like the Journal Inquirer, New Haven Register, and numerous others. Berkowitz also said that municipalities are using a new SeeClickFix tool that generates work orders for repair crews directly from residents’ reports.
Berkowitz spoke of the community-building aspect of SeeClickFix and how it empowers residents to report problems to appropriate officials and follow the problems to resolution.
As an example of the site’s appeal and reach within a community, Berkowitz said that on the first day the widget was available on the Boston Globe’s website, readers reported 800 potholes. Since then the site has developed a free iPhone application that allows users to upload not only a description of a problem, but photos and video as well.
Hardy said he asked Berkowitz to join the network and speak Saturday because the site is a natural tool for local news websites. “SeeClickFix helps news organizations join those neighborhood conversations that happen every day,” Hardy said.
The twin themes of the meeting, that of building a combined advertising platform and that of enhancing their visitors’ experiences on their individual sites, kept conference participants talking long after the event’s scheduled completion and making plans for their next gathering.
The Independent Media Network is currently setting up a website at the following web address: imnct.com; site should be live within a day or so. For more information, please email Doug Hardy and Lon Seidman at firstname.lastname@example.org.