Our Base

Posted: April 21, 2011 by Adam Hodnett in Uncategorized

We can thank Moses Asch (wiki) for the music of the 60’s and 70’s.

He started Folkways Records (wiki)(podcast) in the late 40’s, which led to the folk revival. These records taught musicians like Bob Dylan how to play. They had an office in New York where traveling, depression-era surviving musicians could sell their songs.

Moe Asch thought more like an anthropologist than a businessman.

Some libraries bought every record he made. This gave him a base. When they made more money, they made more records—they operated on tight margins. The goal was to documented culture. They made 2,168 records, including one from the Miramichi—home of the oldest folk festival in North America.

Journalism should be thought of in the same way. It documents our time. If we can establish a solid base, then we can take on bigger projects when funding becomes available, and always fall back if a risk doesn’t pay off.

I think we can keep an online paper alive with 3,000$ a month, which we can get from advertisements.

***

We would treat Facebook like local radio, our website like a local paper, and our videos like local T.V specials. Certain stories would attract certain people, so we would sell different ads at different prices.

Our base would pay one full-time editor, two part-time co-editors, and freelancers.

We would need 6,500$ from kickstarter.com, and two months to establish a routine and build up our site.

This would all rely on the basics of community reporting.

People like local news—it’s important, and social media doesn’t cover it. People don’t have time to report for fun.

Covering the courts, paying attention to local decision-makers, and learning about the people around us has been the job of local papers. But in this hyper-connected, and increasingly paperless time, we’re losing our sense of geographical community.

Facebook is already solving this problem. Events and groups are creating better distribution networks than we could have imagined.

My news organization, The Fredericton Local (I don’t really like this name), would treat Facebook feeds like a community radio station. Everyone who “likes” the group would receive our daily status updates.

This would be our main source of traffic. The number of followers clearly marked on the front page would give us the data needed to convince local businesses that they would reach their target audience by advertising with us. WordPress.com and Squarespace.com have built in tools to collect data on our viewers. We could also use Google Analytics. We’d put these numbers on histograms and pie charts, and find something to color code.  We’d get fancy pants and look all educated and stuff.

FACEBOOK ANNOUNCEMENTS

At 7:00 a.m.–every weekday–we would send out the weather forecast, and the time of sunrise and sunset. We’d announce events and cancellations in the city. We’d announce obituaries as well–the morning is a debatable time for this though.

At 11:30 a.m.—when people are taking lunch—we’d announce the weather again, any special notices, and link to our most recent “community” and “local” stories. (*read further to know what I mean by these stories*)

At 5:00 a.m.—when people are done for the day—we’d announce the events of the night, tomorrow’s forecast, tomorrow’s events, maybe the moon phase, and link to our weekly feature. We’d also hype the upcoming one.

The point would be to stay visible, active, and reliable. This would allow us to work on bigger stories.

STORIES

We would give out local stories for free. We would charge a small fee for bigger multi-media stories that appeal to an internet-wide audience. The main goal would be to provide daily services to a dedicated audience with minimal inconvenience.

I truly believe local stories are interesting, even though they’re not always written that way.  And following things like the courts and city council are essential to our democracy.

With the Internet we don’t have any space restrictions. Stories should be the length they deserve, big or small. But we would have to put out a certain number a week.

a. Community Reporting

We have to cover the courts. We’d follow the Canadian Press Style Guide very closely, keep it simple, and practice writing good headlines. I think people are naturally interested in court stories and it is very important to watch our legal system.

We’d also follow city hall, new businesses, and give hard news reports on city events. We would try to have at least one a day.

b. Local Stories

We want people to learn about their community.

When I was growing up in Bathurst, we always knew when someone was in the paper. Our parents talked about it, and even though I didn’t look at the paper regularly, I always read stories on people I knew.

We would do profiles, reviews, and longer stories on events in the city. We would do at least two a week.

c. Features

The whole organization would be a vehicle for our features.

Our features would be multimedia projects. We’d keep getting better at them, but we’d keep it simple at first. Black screens with white text. Nothing more than the Kens Burns effect to give pictures motion. Close up shots of people’s heads with a solid background from our interviews.

They could basically be slide shows. We’d write them, record ourselves reading sections and make separate .wav files for each one. We’d put these files on a timeline, insert the interview clips we want, bridge our video clips with photos and we’d be done. We could even do all this with Aperture 3, but we’d probably use Final Cuts, or some video editing specific software. The key is good writing. At least that would be our focus. Once a story is as good as it can be, then we can start playing with technology.

Once we’re efficient enough to make them longer than 20mins in a week, then we’d start charging .99$. We’d probably give out a print edition for free. And maybe charge a little less for just audio–I think the walking/commuting podcast audience is going to keep growing.

We would do more as the funding became available. 40+minute documentaries would be an immediate goal. They’d just be specials at first, which we would sell for 1.99$. Once we had the co-editors working full-time, we could consider a part-time writer with specific audio/visual experience, or training.

ADVERTISMENTS

This model depends on three categories of advertisements. It would bring in between 3,100$ and 4,300$ a month. We would sell more ads for each new section, and we’d always be trying to bring our prices up.

I think advertisement serves a good purpose, and I think it can be win-win-win.

A company is able to reach its target audience, an organization can make money off establishing an audience, and an audience can hear about things they need while consuming content for free.

But banner ads are ugly. Clutter isn’t welcoming. And pointless ads meant to drill brand names into your head are insulting.

We would embed advertisements in to our content like Leo Laporte does on TWIT. . This would be personalized advertising. We’d call them “sponsors.”

The key would be to know our audience.

a. Community

Our Facebook feed would be for people in Fredericton. This would be the cheapest, and the least specialized ads.

The Coffee News—that piece of paper lined with ads in every restaurant—charges 120$ a month for one of the small squares.

We would charge 150$ to 200$ for one of six places on our community sponsors page. This would include a photo and a paragraph or two. We’d encourage the companies to advertise sales and promotions. We would try to make it something like a coupons page.

We would link to this page in our morning Facebook announcements. We’d also embed a link and a thank-you message in our shorter community reporting stories.

b. Local

These ads would go for 600$ to 800$. We would sell two of these a month. These companies would be in at least 4 stories and 10 afternoon announcements per month.

These ads would be embedded in our profiles, reviews, and longer local stories. We would do two or three stories like this a week.

We would do a profile-type page for each sponsors. For a break in a story (probably right after the nut graph) we’d insert a couple lines thanking our sponsor, linking to the profile we made of them and state whatever attention grabbing info we can.

Our afternoon Facebook announcements would link to these articles and the associated sponsor profile.

We’d eventually make a different pricing plan once we found out what days get the most viewers, and which stories people respond to.

I picture this appealing to commission based businesses. Real-estate agents, mortgage brokers, accountants, lawyers, car dealerships, car rental agencies, and new businesses. This might even appeal to contractors and seasonal companies.

c. Features

We would do one multi-media feature a week and try to attract a global audience. We would embed one ad in each weekly story. We would sell it for 1000$ to 1500$ a month, at first.

We would create a profile page for this sponsor as well. We would link to it on every evening announcement. We would consider having a space for this company on our homepage as well.

We would be chasing Internet services and tech companies—web hosting, small ISPs, web page designers, and technology manufacturers. I’d love to get people like audibles.com or squarespace.com to take an interest.

d. Incentives

All these prices would be subject to change. I think good ads are worth more than we’d be charging, and we would slowly bring up the price once we could prove we were good. We would offer locked in prices for longer plans, and maybe some discounts. Hopefully this would encourage companies to buy several months of space and allow us to budget and plan further ahead.

We would also make honorable mentions of companies who support us for long periods of time.

e. The message

We would always try and make it clear that we are extremely grateful for these sponsors. We would try to have our viewers understand that the content we provide is free because of these sponsors, and that they should buy from them as much as possible.

f. Ethics

Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to be ethical hardliners at the start. But we would eventually sell our ads cheaper for ethical companies. The goal will be to encourage a strong local economy driven by informed consumers. We would want to be independent enough to pull any company that receives complaints from our readers.

EMPLOYEES

We would eventually want several full-time people, some part-time writers, and a big freelancing budget. But the goal at first is to have a functioning system at the lowest possible price, ensuring we have a stable base.

I think three people making decisions is the minimum we can get away with. I thought of two, but I think three has a better chance at keeping conversations professional and democratic. It also gives us a bit more variety and personal experience to draw from.

I couldn’t work for this project for less than 1500$ a month, so that would be the base full-time wage, and part-time would be 750$ a month.

The cheapest way for this to work is to have one full-time editor and two part-time editors.

a. Full-Time

  • This person would be in charge of the Facebook announcements.
  • He/She would do the bulk of the final editing
  • Would also be responsible for most of the video and audio editing
  • Would manage the website
  • Would take care of advertising client relations
  • Would be responsible for all the same things as the part-time editors.

b. Part-Time (per week)

  • Attend two or three meetings– 2-3 hours
  • Report on the court or city hall twice–4 hours
  • Report two other events–4 hours
  • Would be paid for one hour of travel– 1 hour
  • Researching/writing a feature–7-8 hours.
  • Odds and ends–1 hour

* Any spare time would be devoted to editing and reading submissions.

We would expect part-time editors to take their own pictures and submit thoroughly edited work. We would also look for people who have their own equipment.

c. Freelancers

I want a big freelancing budget. The prices would have to be worked out once we got going. I would want to pay at least 100$ a story, and at least 30$ a photo. We would take submissions, but we would prefer pitches. Any freelanced weekly feature would require close contact with our editors, but it would hopefully pay several hundred dollars.

This is a big deal for me. In many ways I would want this project to be driven by freelancers. I would love to be providing people with a way to make money by thinking critically. Also, every new writer would bring a wave of excitement to our site from their family and friends.

We would hold freelancing workshops once we were established. They’d be free and would inform people about what our editors are looking for. Hopefully cutting down our staff work and helping train our community to be critical and investigative.

OFFICE

Offices are no longer essential, but I still think they’re important.

I always joke that if I can only afford one room, then I’d only have a studio—not a bedroom.

I have a one-bedroom apartment. If this project got started, I would move all my stuff into my bedroom and turn the main room in to an office. This would hopefully be very temporary.

It’s hard to motivate humans. Pay is basically mandatory, but a dedicated workspace goes a long way.  I actually think a work environment would be critical to our success.

EQUIPMENT

Technology is amazingly cheap right now.

I would want writers who think of themselves as a brand, and already market themselves with their own web-space. They would likely have their own equipment.  But the company should own some.

For starting off, I already have a camera that can shoot HD and a professional audio recorder.

Once we incorporate, the company we would buy some equipment. The Canon T1i (749$) and the Zoom H4n (~300$) would be at the top of my list. An HD video camera compatible with an external mic would extremely useful as well. We could shoot multiple angles then.

It would be mandatory that every employee has their own computer, but I think an iMac would a smart goal, especially with the video editing we’d hope to do.

We could do a lot with basic apple software like GarageBand, iMovie, and iPhoto, but I think we should set our sights on pro software like FinalCuts, Logic Pro, and Adobe Photoshop.

OUR WEBSITE

Simplicity is the goal. No more than three columns, and preferably only two. There would be a banner at the top. We’d have the weather (and maybe a three-day forecast) displayed big at the top. We’d expect some people to check our site only for the weather and announcements–which would be close to the top.

We’d have a list of our sections, and the leads to our stories with a photo in a blog-like list.  That’s pretty well it

We could probably find a cheap WordPress template to buy, or we could use Squarespace.com. We’d get our domain from Godaddy.com.

Facebook would most likely be our storefront, but we want our homepage to be clean and easy to navigate. Since our ads are placed in our content, there would be no need to clutter our site with flashy distractions.

EXPANSION

  1. Full-time – Providing the part-time editors with full-time work will be the first thing we do with extra money
  2. An Office – I believe dedicated space is important, so that would be the next move. I looked in to offices downtown once, and I seem to remember small ones being between 400$ and 600$.
  3. Incorporating- It isn’t terribly expensive, but I think it would be important before we started making much money or acquiring assets. We’d consider models like worker co-ops.
  4. New sections – We’d try to think of sections like shows. We’d give a lot of control to the creator, sell section-specific ads, and pick a designated time to announce updates, making them almost like time slots. Once we have traffic data, we would know when the peak times were and would announce the most popular “sections” at the most convenient times. Some ideas:
    1. Aggregator- We would eventually use twitter for announcing new content. It would consider an internet-wide audience. This section would aggregate links from around the net like BoingBoing does. It would also create a space to sell cheaper, internet oriented ads.
    2. Politics- We should be following provincial politics if we’re based in Fredericton. We would launch a provincial politics section with a hyped up feature (possibly given for free). We’d need at least one dedicated writer, and probably two. Again, it would be a new, interest specific space to sell ads.
    3. Tech – A tech section would also be valuable.
    4. Documentaries – We’d work on getting longer documentaries out right from the beginning. But if we could afford it, it would be great to release them on a regular schedule.
  5. Panel discussions and live shows – We would constantly be looking to be more interactive. Panels to discuss an issue live on the net would be popular. Any sort of theme based live podcast would also be great.
  6. New Office, New Town – Once we had a proven model, we could spread it. We’ll have learned from our mistakes, and will hopefully be able to set up an office in another town. We’d be able to pool our resources and tackle even bigger stories.
  7. iPad Magazine – With a couple offices with reporters around the province, we could consider putting out an iPad magazine.

KICKSTARTER.COM/FUNDING

We need 6,500$ to launch this idea.

6,000$ for one full-time editor and two part-times for two months, and 500$ for everything else–all the web services, any office supplies, extra SD cards, and as many freelance pieces as we can. This will give us two-months to create our site.

A simple video on Vimeo will plea our case, and we’ll provide incentives for donors.

  1. Message Wall/Poster – Every donor can submit a short message. We’d cut these out and paste them to a wall in the office. We’d take a picture of this wall later, and sell it as a poster for a future fundraiser.
  2. Free Downloads (50$)- Free downloads of everything we charge for, forever.
  3. Featured in a video of this experiment (~300$) –  (see Experimental Narrative below)
  4. Highest donor will have a section named after him/her – Possibly the web aggregation section. I don’t care for “The aggregator” very much.

6,500$ is the minimum we’d need to raise. Any extra would go to providing more hours.

TAXES AND LEGAL STUFF

It’s my understanding that taxes are relatively easy. Everything you need to know is at Enterprise downtown (on Queen, I believe). If this ever got started I would interrogate them. But I think you just need to declare what you make, and what you spend. So we would track that closely. I guess we would be considered a sole-proprietorship. I also talked with a lawyer once, and any signed document is legal. Any agreement in connection with the business would be written up and signed by both parties and a witness.

WHY HERE WHY NOW?

Fredericton is a prime location for this. Irving media has made things stale. A lot of people also don’t trust Irving papers, and would love a new source that can be incorporated into their routine–especially one that doesn’t require any effort to follow.

Distributing through Facebook almost seems too easy. Everyone is already hooked, and it touches just about every demographic. I know grandmothers will love community reporting. And we’ll find a way to write about kittens and babies if we have to.

Also, I don’t have a job for the summer yet.

A couple years ago, I quit my sales job, slept on the floor of my friends’ living room, and tried to make a call center-like business by using Skype and sites like Guru.com to find “clients.” I did alright. I should of worked harder.

I felt comfortable doing this because I had a bit of money saved, and I was getting student loan in a couple months. Well, it’s the same thing now.

Best case scenario–It works! I’d switch to part-time, finish up school, and we could continue building this thing.

Worst case–We would of been paid for our work. We’d leave the experiment behind us, put it on our resume, and send it off to the internet to fix our holes. (see Experimental Narrative)

EXPERIMENTAL NARRATIVE

At the end of our two month trial period, our final feature will be on this experiment. It’ll serve two purposes.

a. Place the whole company within a narrative

The video will replace our “about” section. It’ll put everything in context for new visitors. It’ll let people know what we’re trying to do by presenting it as a coherent story. Hopefully it’ll help create a connection between our viewers and our staff. But if the project doesn’t make it …

b. Pass the idea along

The video will describe our successes, our failures, and what we need to do to keep going. It’ll lay out the back story, have clips of interviews with the ~300$ kickstarter donors, and convey why we think this project was important.

Even if we don’t succeed, I would still love for companies like this to exist. Perhaps someone on the internet will recognize our mistakes and make it work. This final feature will package up what we’ve learned and send it off to the world to make it better.

*****

I legitimately want to see how this idea would fare on Kickstarter. It’s very unlikely that I will have any summer plans better than this. I think I’ve laid out a lot of work, but if you’re interested in helping out at all (only full-time? part-time? freelance?) let me know at adamhodnett@gmail.com. ALSO,  please point out any problems with this plan, the workload, or anything at all. Exam-time is tiring and I’m sure I’m over looking blatant problems. You can comment here, but as always, I’ve made a Reddit thread HERE for discussion.

EDIT: Btw, feel free to use any of these ideas at any time.

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