Bringing professional newscasts to independent journalists

The traditional broadcast journalism formula is changing in a way that will benefit local news outlets. From the ability to start YouTube channels, to doing interviews live on Instagram, local journalists can take advantage of the ever-changing technology at their fingertips. 

And now there’s a way for local journalists and news outlets to access an in-studio experience, with all of the elements of a professional news broadcast — it’s called Happs

Mark Goldman and David Neuman saw an opportunity to disrupt the traditional paid TV model of news. They created Happs, the only platform of its kind where freelance broadcast journalists can create their own shows, with news studio capabilities. Through the creation of the first online, cloud-based broadcasting studio, journalists have complete autonomy over subject matter, direction and production of their broadcasts. 

Using Happs, journalists broadcast simultaneously to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and Periscope to reach the maximum number of viewers. 

“The visual medium is far and away the most powerful medium for shaping public opinion,” says Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Happs. Goldman is no stranger to broadcast journalism, having worked as VP of business development at Universal and president & COO at Sky Latin America, launching television networks for them around the world.

Almost 20 years ago Goldman was approached by Al Gore to create Current TV, a new network that would democratize the visual experience. It was the precursor of user generated content, an open-source news platform allowing reporters to use their own equipment and cover any stories they wanted. They brought on Neuman, a news executive veteran who had been president of Walt Disney Television, and chief programming officer at CNN.

After the sale of Current TV, Goldman and Neuman wanted to continue empowering people to tell their own stories through visual media. “[Present day broadcast journalism is] geared towards politics and division because that drives ratings, but it’s not relevant to younger people. On a creative level they’re headed on a precarious path in terms of longevity,” says Goldman. He explained that news media companies used to be built on bureaus around the world where they could get to breaking news and events before anyone else. Now, most news is covered on social media before news stations can go live, rendering that infrastructure expensive and of little value.

In 2019, they started building a new platform that allowed any journalist to report on the news using just a smartphone. The first version of Happs garnered about 80 hours of incredible live news coverage a month. Happs journalists were inside the Hong Kong protests and amidst the rubble in Northern Syria after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They were in places Western media couldn’t reach. Now, Happs is being used by local journalists from Oklahoma to Lagos, to innovate their reporting in a way they could not replicate without this game-changing technology.

Mary-Ann Okon is a reporter in Nigeria who has been extensively covering the #EndSARS movement in Lagos on Happs. “Happs has helped me to bypass all the hassle, restrictions and suppression in the Nigerian media space,” she says. “I’ve been able to break stories faster than normal and I get a conversation going on a matter arising, even without being in a studio.” 

Towards the end of 2019, Happs wanted to use technology to transform the journalism industry entirely. “We realized that the opportunity was not to make Happs a media entity where we were choosing the stories and using the tech to tell those stories more effectively,” Goldman says, “Instead it was to make this an open platform that let anyone become a broadcast journalist and use those professional tools, speak to a broad audience, monetize their journalism themselves.” 

The team spent the next six months re-architecting the platform, to make it completely run by the journalists themselves. The full iteration was finished just a month ago. Alex Mohajer is one of Happs’ most successful journalists since the new iteration. “Happs allows individuals to be their own media apparatus, that’s the benefit, you’re not constrained to a corporate culture or the talking points of your organization,” he says. Mohajer started with a few hundred views and he now receives almost 5,000 views per broadcast of his show The AM Report, a show giving a progressive take on political news. 

Happs is also transforming the traditional paid advertising model of cable news networks. The platform itself operates independent of any advertising. “At Happs we believe that journalists should receive financial support directly from their viewers so they remain free to pursue their craft without the influence of intermediaries or advertisers,” says Goldman.  Viewers can make payments through monthly sponsorships to their favourite journalists, and awards that can be given during each broadcast. The platform receives a share of the payments. Goldman says it’s “a similar business model to other creator platforms.”

On Nov. 3, Happs did a total of 41 broadcasts averaging over 1,000 views per broadcast. Pablo de la Hoya, community manager for Happs, says it was local journalists that allowed Happs viewers to get the best understanding of how cities across America, and the world, were reacting on election day. “It was great to see a community of journalists come together from so many different parts of the country. We saw broadcasters joining in from Arizona to Florida, from Chicago to D.C. and from Vietnam to Europe to discuss the elections,” he says. 

Goldman says the goal is to “put these tools in the hands of independent journalists and local media organizations all over the world and let them do broadcast journalism at a scale that we would never be able to replicate if we were acting like a large media corporation. That way of producing news is on it’s way out.”

In the news

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And one more thing… 

We’re thrilled to share that yesterday, Indiegraf was awarded $100,000 in investments from the 2020 Impact Investor Challenge. 

Party in the USA: What Indiegraf’s expansion into America means

Hi there,

We’re Erin Millar and Caitlin Havlak, the co-founders of Indiegraf. H.G. Watson let us take over the Indie Publisher this week to share some big news: Indiegraf is coming Stateside!

We are honoured that New Media Ventures, a leading United States-based investment fund focused on progressive innovation, announced an investment in Indiegraf this week. Read our press release here

So what does this mean for us? NMV is co-leading our seed round of investment along with Toronto-based Marigold Capital. This investment will fund Indiegraf’s expansion into the American market and fill gaps in community journalism in some of the more than 2,000 news deserts there.

We’ll be focusing on supporting existing and new outlets that are not only filling gaps in community news, but also committed to providing more equitable news. We know communities that have long been underrepresented in the news are disproportionately impacted by the collapse of traditional local newspapers. We believe that a lack of access to quality community journalism is a form of political disenfranchisement. We want to support journalist entrepreneurs dedicated to serving underserved communities and changing the traditional power dynamics of news to better serve everyone.

Indiegraf is one of 14 early stage startups selected to join NMV’s 2020 investment portfolio from a record-breaking 1,400 applications. Here’s what NMV President Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman had to say: “In 2020, we’re investing in a new cohort of world-changing leaders, the majority of them women and people of color, who are responding directly to our country’s oppressive institutions, policies, and culture.” Read NMV’s full announcement here.

We’re proud. We’re grateful to NMV and Marigold for believing in us. And we can’t think of a more relevant mission to dedicate ourselves to at this moment than growing media pioneered by diverse local journalists.

But as fellow news entrepreneur David Skok once told us: “Being proud of raising investment is like patting yourself on the back for going grocery shopping. You might have your ingredients but you’ve still got to do all the cooking.”

We’ve got our work cut out for us, and that’s why we’re glad to be part of this growing community of fellow travellers, including you. In the coming weeks, we’ll be getting started and we would love to hear from you if you want to get involved. Here are a few connections we’re looking for:

  • We’re searching for a U.S.-based executive to join our team. Do you know of aligned leaders in this space who can help us connect with the right journalists and publishers, build strong relationships with U.S. partners in the local news ecosystem and obsess over Indiegraf’s publisher experience?
  • We’re still seeking a few more angel investors to invest alongside New Media Ventures and push our seed round over the finish line. We’re just over 80 per cent of the way to our goal.
  • We’re eager to hear about communities that need independent local news! Which publishers should be on our radar? Are you a local journalist interested in launching a news outlet?

With optimism,

Erin and Caitlin

P.S. And because we’ve taken over this newsletter to boast, we better leave this off with some tips about fundraising that we learned from our seed round.

In the news

Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include, or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!

And one more thing… 

Poynter is now accepting applications for its Leadership Academies for Women in Media. 

Indiegraf to expand into the United States with investment backing from New Media Ventures

Indiegraf, a platform for independent publishers and journalists, is pleased to announce an investment from New Media Ventures, a leading United States-based investment fund focused on progressive innovation. Co-led by New Media Ventures and Toronto-based Marigold Capital, Indiegraf’s seed round of investment will fund the company to enter the American market and fill gaps in community news.

“This funding will help Indiegraf move quickly to help diverse, United States-based journalists launch or grow digital news outlets in some of the 2,000 local news deserts in North America,” said Erin Millar, co-founder and CEO of Indiegraf. “I can’t think of a more relevant mission to focus on in this moment than building platforms for local journalists building bridges between communities.”

A new cohort of world-changing leaders

Indiegraf is among 14 early stage startups selected to join New Media Venture’s (NMV) 2020 investment portfolio. This year, there were a record-breaking 1,400 applications. NMV recognizes Indiegraf for its cutting edge innovation that is transforming the local media landscape. 

“In 2020, we’re investing in a new cohort of world-changing leaders, the majority of them women and people of color, who are responding directly to our country’s oppressive institutions, policies, and culture,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, president of NMV. “Together, they are building critical infrastructure and technological tools that will scale the progressive movement for 2022, 2024 and beyond. We’re calling on other funders and investors to join us in making sure these innovative efforts are well-resourced from a very early stage.” 

Marigold Capital also invested in Indiegraf co-founders Erin Millar and Caitlin Havlak’s first company The Discourse. “We’re investing in Indiegraf because we believe in the team’s ability to deliver their mind and tech-stack solutions to a growing network of indie journalists who inform, enable and empower their respective communities in an equitable and inclusive manner,” said Jonathan Hera, managing partner of Marigold Capital.

Connecting media-entrepreneurs across North America

Since Indiegraf launched in spring 2020, it has quickly grown to 18 publishers serving 23 communities in Canada. Indiegraf helps journalist-entrepreneurs across Canada launch digital news outlets and drive revenue from readers to empower homegrown journalism. 

Peterborough Currents’ relationship with Indiegraf has been incredibly positive. We can focus on journalism. We know our tech and digital marketing is in good hands,” said Ayesha Barmania, co-founder of Peterborough Currents. “Working with Indiegraf means we’re no longer struggling alone to build a news outlet for our town. We’re now connected with a group of peers helping each other build strong independent news outlets for North America.”

Indiegraf is also a Top 5 Finalist for Spring’s 2020 Impact Investment Challenge. The finale pitch on November 26 2020 is open to the public. Register for free.

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About Indiegraf

Indiegraf is a platform for independent digital news publishers. Indiegraf empowers independent journalists to fill local news gaps. We contribute to a healthier democracy by ensuring everyone has access to civic news. We provide technology and marketing tools to independent publishers, serving as their business engine by driving their audience and revenue growth. Meanwhile, they can focus on providing their communities with quality journalism. Indiegraf spun out of Discourse Media, a successful digital publisher that operates six local news outlets in B.C. and Quebec.

About New Media Ventures

In the past decade, NMV has mobilized more than $50 million in early capital to nearly 100 companies and organizations. See the full 2020 portfolio of grants and investments here: www.newmediaventures.org/investments/announcements/2020.

The next evolution of newsletters is mini-courses

Newsletters are proving so effective for independent publishers at increasing audience engagement and reader revenue that new email products are emerging — and newsletter courses perhaps best represent this trend. 

What are newsletter courses? Here is a basic breakdown:

  • Evergreen, on-demand email series
  • Typically used to tackle deeper dives into a specific subject or issue
  • Set number of emails (or text messages) over a fixed number of days/weeks

These emails follow a consistent sending schedule regardless of when readers subscribe. So once the content is produced, these mini-courses can run on autopilot and continually recruit new audiences and retain existing subscribers.

Here are three more benefits pushing publishers to embrace this newsletter format.

Your content has a longer shelf life

News cycles come and go faster than ever, so newsletter courses are attractive to publishers who want to tell big-picture stories that aren’t necessarily time-sensitive. 

Want to explain North American car culture? Canadian site Passage broke down automotive history and potential alternatives in a four-part mini-course called “How The Car Conquered The World.” Passage also produced a deep-dive on democracy, and promises another course soon on prison reform.

Passage co-founder Geoff Sharpe said the car culture series attracted enough new members to recoup expenses after a month. But more surprisingly, the mini-courses helped build the news outlet’s middle marketing funnel.

“We originally thought this would be a way to acquire new readers, but it’s acted as more of a retention tool to engage people already on our list in a deeper way,” Sharpe said. 

The content itself isn’t much different than typical articles, he said, but it arguably offers more overall value to the organization.

“We can pay a little more for content because we know more people long-term will read it, helping our mid-funnel,” Sharpe said. “We’ve certainly been happy with the results, but there are a lot of potential opportunities to experiment with.”

Tell really epic tales

Some stories can’t be told in one swipe, so newsletter courses allow readers to consume bite-sized chunks of bigger, timeless stories. For example, Oregon Public Broadcasting recently produced “Timber Wars,” a joint newsletter-podcast project about the state’s forestry fight in the 1990s. That’s when the Northern Spotted Owl was added to the endangered species list, resulting in “one of the biggest environmental conflicts of the 20th century,” according to OPB.

The newsletter course complements a seven-episode podcast series of the same name by providing additional reporting, photos and video about the controversy and how loggers and environmentalists have since found common ground. Much of the reporting was pulled from OPB’s archives, helping to revive prior reporting efforts from the public news outlet’s environmental and science reporters. 

The 2020 U.S. presidential election also served as a catalyst for newsletter courses. The Texas Tribune created a five-part newsletter course to “Teach Me How To Texas,” an election rundown for new voters in the fast-growing U.S. state. 

Additionally, Boston-based NPR station WBUR and Spanish-language daily news outlet El Planeta partnered together to produce its own state-focused crash-course on the 2020 election, providing both a seven-day overview and three-day crash course to inform Massachusetts voters. 

Another way to make money

Passage caps off its “Deepening Democracy” series with a membership call-to-action: “Without the support of members, this course wouldn’t have been possible,” the extra email reads. 

Passage currently doesn’t require readers to pay for its newsletter courses, although Sharpe said it may someday produce paid series or add-on editions accessible to members only. 

Content shelf life can also be extended, he said, by hosting webinars related to the series weeks after the newsletter course debuts. 

“Maybe make it a members-only event to try to convert subscribers,” Sharpe said.

Don’t feel bad about requesting donations if you don’t have a membership program established. But if you’re not targeting reader revenue, then consider grants that could fund these mini-courses. For example, The Open Notebook received nearly $50,000 in foundational support to create a newsletter course geared toward science journalists.

And if you’re in the ad sales game, newsletter course sponsorships should be easy to sell because of the higher open rates, roughly 60 per cent to 70 per cent per edition at Passage, according to Sharpe.

In the news

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Editor’s note, Nov, 17, 3:44 P.M.: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Geoff Sharpe’s name. We apologize for the error.

How to put your audience funnel to work

A good marketing strategy takes the guesswork out of growth. As we discussed previously in our primer on the marketing funnel for journalist-entrepreneurs, there are many ways to structure it. Whatever breakdown of segments you choose, they have to make sense for you, based on what you learn about your audience. 

To do this effectively, each stage must be measurable. You may have some ideas about who your most loyal audience members are, and the type of people who wind up paying, but until you measure it’s only a guess. We need data!  

Here are some tactics for nurturing growth at each stage of your audience conversion funnel and some ways to measure success.

Top of funnel: 

The key question here is, how are you getting your target audience members’ attention so they become casual consumers of your journalism?

One common and important tactic at this stage is paid acquisition, or as Lenfest puts it “spending money to make money.” That’s because our funnel can only be successful if we’re bringing people into it in the first place. Once you make more people aware of the brand generally, it’s a process of re-targeting those who have already been exposed to your outlet’s content, sometimes described as a “warm” audience. The more you know about who the different types of people interested in your content are — where they live, what their income levels are, what interests they have — the more effective and customized your pitch to them will be, and the higher your return on marketing investment.

Key tactics: organic social content, organic search (SEO), optimization to ensure people find your website and stories, paid search (SEM), targeted or boosted social media posts (Facebook and otherwise), paid acquisition (email capture), collaborations with other outlets with similar target audiences, landing pages that describe what you do and the impact of your work.

Key metrics: Subscription growth, average conversion rate (sign ups for your email list, for instance), cost per click (CPC), webpage visits, social media page likes and followers.

Middle of funnel:

The key question here is, are we making people want to stick around and keep coming back? This can look like an onboarding email flow that explains your values and introduces your reporters to your audience. It can be additional news products that deliver added value. It can be delivering more frequent, quality content in response to questions from your audience so they feel invested and heard. It can be a dedicated Facebook group for your readers to talk and engage with you and your work after you hit publish, so you can listen, improve and repeat.

Key tactics: Frequency, quality and consistency of content, optimized on site experience and conversion (UX), welcome email flow (onboarding process), landing page, community engagement, key performance indicators (KPI’s) to track engagement that are unique to your outlet and audience. 

Key metrics: Site analytics (number of website visits, time spent), subscription rates, email analytics (open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes) social media analytics (Facebook group membership).

Bottom of funnel:

The key question here is, are we making it easy for people to do our desired outcome? If it’s to have users become paying members, have we simplified the process, and trimmed the annoying asks like unnecessary logins or a mailing address we don’t need?

Key tactics: Frictionless checkout, regular and responsive campaigns, optimized non-campaign (passive) conversion, segmentation, customer service, clean billing, referrals. 

Key metrics:  Number of paying members, conversion rate (from subscriber to member, for instance), frequency and level of contribution, qualitative data from user interviews, surveys.

Retention:

Finally, a funnel is only as good as the bucket you have underneath. Your bucket represents your most valued members, a segment you want to serve as a distinct group so that they’re happy, and stay. The driving question is: does this most loyal audience segment feel special and appreciated? Importantly, in the context of the media world especially, we’ll benefit from considering benefits beyond the narrow goal of paying for content. Extremely loyal readers who consistently engage with content online and share it with others provide core benefits to overall growth, even if they don’t pay for news. 

Key tactics: exclusive perks and benefits, a strong, inclusive onboarding process and thank you messaging, customer service, re-engagement campaign for likely churners, ‘win-back’ tactics for cancelled subscribers.

Metrics: churn (and causes), monthly retention rate, subscriber engagement.

By thinking strategically about each segment of our audience along their journey with us, we can develop and sustain growth. Remember that every segment of your funnel is important, and that it’s your job to refine metrics and strategies at each stage.

What the heck is a marketing funnel and why should I care?

As journalist entrepreneurs, our day doesn’t end once we hit publish. Our job is to understand that we’re in the business of delivering products that are so valuable to our audience, they will want to pay for them. 

To do this, we need to understand the entire journey we want our audience to make from the moment they first read a story, to the moment they pay for our work.

Key to this understanding is an audience conversion funnel. It’s important to your work, so here’s what you need to know about it.

What is an audience conversion funnel?

The term funnel is borrowed from the marketing world. It’s a visual way to think about the journey we want our audience to take from awareness at the top, to maintaining interest, to desire, to action at the bottom, also known as conversion. A conversion can be any desired action, such as subscription, membership or referral. Our funnel can also reflect a number of conversions along the journey. 

Though the concept of a funnel implies that the process is as simple as the flow of gravity—it’s not. In real life, it’s a multi-stage decision-making process. As consumers, we want to get to know the product and the people behind it, see how the product serves us in their daily lives, and weigh the costs and benefits against competitors. Now more than ever, everyone is campaigning for our attention and our money. That means we will lose people along the way. 

Your funnel represents your diverse strategies to capture and maintain your audience’s hard-earned attention — and trust. Think of it as a relationship that’s built and earned. And it’s up to us, as journalist-entrepreneurs, to nurture it. 

How does it work?

Traditionally, a marketing funnel is structured into three parts. The top of the funnel is how we capture the attention of our target audience — the people who we hope will consume our product. In other words, it’s how we “get them to come.” The middle of the funnel is how we “get them to stay.” And the bottom of the funnel is how we “get them to pay.”  But we’re not done there. We need to get our members to keep paying, whether that’s renewing membership or contributing to our next campaign. Let’s call this retention.

While the funnel includes the tactics we employ at each stage, we can also think of each stage as a segment or sub-group of our audience at a stage along the journey.

As The Lenfest Institute points out, our funnel should be tailored to our unique circumstances. In the context of digital media, that means it’s complex. Consider this: at the awareness stage, someone might find our content via Google keyword search (SEO), social media, a newsletter forwarded by a friend or direct contact with a journalist — to name just a few.

Similarly, our funnel should also reflect the many ways in which our audience members become regular consumers and eventually super fans of our work, such as through repeat visits to our website, filling out a survey or reading about our outlet’s values and mission.  

Repeat consumers of our work are what we call loyal audience members. They’re not only the most likely to pay, but likely provide all kinds of additional benefits to our business. They’re the ones who consistently comment on our social media posts, send our newsletters to their friends and take the time to write us thoughtful feedback. 

In other words, they’re advocates who provide built-in marketing and demonstrate we’re delivering something valuable. In the graphic shown, this segment is tacked on to the bottom of the funnel, but keep in mind that we likely have highly engaged audience members that aren’t paying members. Though a traditional marketing funnel might cast them aside, we must treat them like gold. 

How do I use it?

Once you’ve sketched out the journey different members of your audience take and ways to track them, you essentially have a skeleton for audience growth and revenue strategy. That means you can begin to quantify the size of your audience at each level of decision-making, so you can develop scenarios as a benchmark to measure progress. This will be essential for setting goals, tracking progress and delivering essential fundraising campaigns. 

Our funnel also helps us identify where we may be falling short, and strategize accordingly. For instance, it was through a marketing funnel analysis that The Discourse Cowichan improved their middle-of-funnel tactics, and grew their audience by more than 500 per cent

Now you’re all caught up on what marketing funnels are, read this story to learn how to put them to work.

Indiegraf Media

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