The Hookup: Part Two

Last Updated Sep 3, 2009 5:24 PM EDT

There are a number aspects of this week's acquisition of NowPublic by the that promise to put the business model of a hyper-local news network to its largest test to date.

Based in Vancouver, NowPublic calls itself the largest "participatory news network in the world," which draws reports filed by 185,000 citizen journalists from 160 countries. "We don't pay them," explained CEO Leonard Brody. "They come into our network by word of mouth. NowPublic is really a forum for them to communicate with one another about the things the care about."

On its home page, NowPublic adds the tag "Crowd Powered Media," and displays the most recommended stories from the past eight hours. A piece about the Blackwater security contractor by albertacowpoke has 56 recommendations as I key in these words.

This author's personal "channel" reveals that he is the top-rated contributor to Now Public over the past year, even thogh he only joined up six months ago. Of the top ten contributors to NowPublic the past seven days, four are Canadians, with one each from India, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, and three are Americans.

Scanning the site's front page, the articles seem to be well-written and relevant, covering a diverse set of topics. The navigational paradigm is very smart, with nine top-level options (Local, World, Tech & Biz, etc.) with sub-categories powered by "featured tags," as opposed to a fixed taxonomy.

Tags and other forms of crowd-sourcing are superior to a traditional fixed taxonomy, because they allow the user base to drive navigational choices based on changes in what users find topical.

The's model differs from NowPublic's in that it has specifically recruited its 16,000 "Examiners," most of whom are citizen contributors, with some professional journalists in the mix. "We look at writing samples, and do background checks," explained CEO Rick Blair. "Then we compensate them on the basis of various metrics including Page Views, Time on Site, and so on."

Blair said roughly 80 percent of the Examiners are active in that have contributed at least one article during the past month.

There are 109 U.S. cities in the network; clicking on any one yields a local news page. It appears that when no major local news story is available, the network automatically populates the lead story field with a national feature, as I saw the same stories across the network, especially in smaller markers.

The navigational paradigm is less elegant or intuitive than NowPublic's but it is serviceable. It does, however, lead users in a cul-de-sac now and then.

Clearly, one of opportunities the plans to exploit through this purchase is to expand internationally. "Our next launch will be in Canada," said Blair. "And we'll launch in the U.K. and Australia soon also. We have quite a following in the Philippines already."

So, by combining forces, in addition to the technological and advertising expertise discussed in our previous look at this deal, the Examiner-NowPublic hookup promises to yield an expanded local news network to markets around the world -- largely built by a volunteer army of un- or lightly-compensated citizen journalists.

"By combining these two companies we believe we are adding substantial value to our readers, our contributors, and our advertisers," said Brody.

Part One: Sept. 1 Inside the Purchase of NowPublic: Hyper-Local Media

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.