Last Updated Sep 2, 2009 2:34 AM EDT
Forgive a long-time journalism professor for an indulgence, but up until the beginning of this century, the ghost of Citizen Kane hung over everything that happened at the old San Francisco Examiner, which for 120 years was the flagship newspaper of the Hearst family's ever-expanding media empire.
That all ended late in 1999, when the Hearst Corp. bought the San Francisco Chronicle, and began the process, out of anti-trust concerns, of divesting its ownership of what the old media mogul himself had dubbed "The Monarch of the Dailies."
One thing led to another, and today all that remains of Hearst's proud broadsheet is a free tabloid thrown onto the steps of many an unwilling recipient in San Francisco and a few other cities. Where I live, most people consider it a nuisance. So, if this were fiction, we'd be talking the stuff of good old Sam Brannan, California's first millionaire, and coincidentally San Francisco's first publisher, who came to a similarly sad end, but that's another story altogether.
Plus, all of this history is orthogonal to today's news, so let's return to that.
The Examiner.com, though owned by the same Philip Anschultz who owns the tabloid throwaways, operates independently from that mere journalistic echo of centuries past. Today, I interviewed the CEO of this part of the company, Rick Blair, who told me why they decided to buy NowPublic.
"NowPublic has one of the best real-time search technologies," he stated, "and we think there is significant value for advertisers in that."
Leonard Brody, CEO of NowPublic, told me that "The next frontier of the breaking side of news is the 'live' web (e.g., social media like Twitter). "It's how people can watch breaking news about events they are interested in."
The Examiner.com says it has 16,000 "Examiners," some of whom are journalists but most of whom are the citizen variety, in 109 domestic markets. They get paid a modest fee for contributing to the site. NowPublic says it has 185,000 contributors, all of whom are unpaid citizen volunteers, in 160 countries.
"We're both proving that this (hyper-local journalism) is scalable," said Blair. Both companies say their internal logs indicate hockey-stick like growth in traffic, and I have no reason to not believe them.
As frequent visitors to this blog know, I am quite hopeful about the hyper-local business model, especially if real-time locational advertising opportunities can be mobilized to support the actual cost of providing content when it is most relevant to users.
"No one's really cracked the code yet," Blair allowed, "But we're attacking it on multiple fronts."
So, at the end of all this, I was stumped. Would old-man Hearst be rolling over in his grave about this development, or dancing on top of his grave? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. If you do, please let me know.