Book Mark Briggs

The newspaper industry may be crumbling. But Mark Briggs — the former editor of interactive news at The Tacoma News Tribune — sees opportunity in that disruption.

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Mark Briggs Bio

The newspaper industry may be crumbling. But Mark Briggs — the former editor of interactive news at The Tacoma News Tribune — sees opportunity in that disruption.That’s part of why he founded Serra Media, a Seattle startup that allows editors and readers to plot news stories and photos on neighborhood maps. The idea is part of a larger trend in the media business known as “hyperlocal news” — a concept that has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks as organizations such as Fisher Communications, and The Seattle Times jump on board.Newsgarden, Serra Media’s first product, has already been implemented at about 10 newspaper Web sites such as The Bellingham Herald, The Cedar Rapids Gazette and The Kitsap Sun. And Briggs — a leading expert in new media who wrote the book Journalism 2.0 and plans to release a text book this fall called Journalism Next — has other projects in the works such as a “hyperlocal” shopping site called TownLuxe.We caught up with Briggs to chat about the geo-targeted news, the future of journalism and what The Seattle Times and other newspapers need to do to take advantage of the next wave of innovation.On coming up with the idea: “One night at the Elysian (Brewery) — typical story you know on the back of a napkin — the idea came up for Newsgarden. I pitched it to the News Tribune, and they said: ‘No, not interested.’ So we said, ‘let’s build it anyway.”What was it to leave the newspaper business? “It was hard. But the more I recognized how stifled I was feeling …in the corporate news structure I was actually really excited to sort of break out and have the freedom to pursue whatever was new.”How do you describe Newsgarden? “It is social mapping for news. Basically, it is technology that local news publishers use to provide a collaborative publishing platform so that their content and their users’ content can be in a shared space and organized geographically, so that you can drill down as a user by seeing what is going around you. It stems from my frustration of running local news Web sites for 10 years and having to click through so many different places on my own Web site to find out what was going on in my neighborhood. I just wanted one place that aggregated local news, the sports, the business, the entertainment, the user generated content and I wanted to see that in one place.”On geo targeting stories and advertising: “Not every news story is location based, so it doesn’t work for everything.  The goal of it is to build these micromarkets that will ultimately be monetized, and that’s why our ad platform is called Micromarket Ads because what we are trying to do is build out these micromarkets where these small advertisers — who don’t need the entire reach of the newspaper — they just need that little area.”So do you see yourself competing against the neighborhood blogs? “We see ourselves positioned to work with existing media companies or new startups…. We are talking to several hyperlocal blogs about testing it in their markets.”What about competition from New York’s Outside.In?  “They are VC-backed and they do it with an automated model. So it is news on a map, but they are going to go out and use natural language search and try to identify the location of news stories and blog posts, which is a fantastic concept and when it works it is great. But if you look at a news story — and there are five locations in the news story — how does it figure out what location to map it to? So, I think we are still a little ways from an automated, geo-located story mechanism.”On launching the TownLux local shopping service:  “(My wife) looked at Newsgarden and said: ‘That’s great, Mark, but I think it really should be used for shopping…. launched our platform on July 1 and we’ve actually seen more contributions in one month to her, than we have in one month for any of our news platforms. So we think people may be more interested in contributing items about shopping, than they are about news. Shopping is something that everybody does … and everybody at one point or another has bragged about a great find at a store or a great deal they’ve got. That’s what we are tapping into.”How do you make money? “For us, the revenue model is a software-as-a-service licensing fee that we keep really affordable for publishers. They can run ads on the pages … and we have an advertising network in the middle and that is a self-service geo-targeted advertising network… It is much like Google ads.”What makes hyperlocal news a promising opportunity? “To me, it is that one untapped area especially for online advertising. I think there is still a lot of potential and opportunity within the digital local space because you have all of these small, little advertisers who maybe did yellow page advertisements and they couldn’t even afford the newspaper…. Now, with digital technology if you build that targeted audience, you can deliver super, highly-targeted ads that the audience is not going to see as interruptive.”What do you think of micropayments for news sites? “I am totally against it. I think it is a terrible idea. I just don’t think that’s how the Internet works. If you look back at the economics of publishing — especially newspapers — news has never been paid for. Before the Internet 20 years ago, 80 percent of the revenue came from advertising and 20 percent came from circulation…. So why are we trying so hard to re-invent a model that never actually existed.”As a new media pundit, what do newspapers need to do to survive? “I think they would be smart — and I’ve always thought this — if they actually committed to being a Web site first. (If they) considered themselves a digital property that happens to put out a print product, they would be ahead of the game.”Where should they invest? “If you had an Internet company called The Seattle Times, you’d be pouring massive amounts of resources into mobile right now. Massive. Because mobile is going disrupt news and information just as the Web did ten years ago. So maybe they missed on the Web, but they can still take advantage of mobile.”Since you are writing Journalism Next for college students, what advice do you have for them? “I think that journalism is actually in really good hands with that age group, since they can sort of invent it on their own terms. They are not going to have play the same games that you and I did when we were coming up… I tell them that journalism is in your hands and you can make it better than it has ever been.”On being a newspaper man versus being an entrepreneur: “Looking back, I feel like I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I just kind of fell into journalism, so this is actually my true personality.”Contact a speaker booking agent to check availability on Mark Briggs and other top speakers and celebrities.


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