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My next move

Friday was my last day at Alley.

A difficult decision, as Alley represents the future of work and it’s a damn good agency to boot, but for years now I’ve been deeply distracted by the problem of local news.

I wake up thinking about friends working as editors, publishers, and reporters; friends struggling to make ends meet while doing yeoman’s work. Friends who wonder when the next layoff will be, or what the next pivot will entail. Friends who feel driven out of the field to higher paying careers with greater stability. Each morning I wake up before dawn and find myself preparing for the daily ritual of serving a non-existent newsroom.

I tried hard to make my dreams a reality within existing institutions, but lack of momentum caused me to change my metric. A better man may have had different results. I can only reflect and learn and change and grow. The work goes on.

Dear reader, I admit the navel gaze of modern noblesse oblige…  But despite the quixotic tenor to this whole affair, it doesn’t reduce or neutralize how crucial this effort feels to me… ‘Tis nobler in the mind… I had to act.

I am lucky to have a partner in State College’s Dan Myers, the owner of Lazerpro Digital Media Group (the company that acquired Onward State from Evan, Eli, and me in 2011). At some point in January we will be moving OnwardState.com, Altoona.com, and Williamsport.com to a new architecture/platform developed by my company, Philadelphia Publishing Company. Watch for a press release in the coming weeks. But suffice to say for now that the companies are bound through a software-as-a-service contract that includes a revenue share on transactions facilitated by the platform (such as ecommerce, memberships,  programmatic, etc). We believe this partnership will allow both companies to focus on what they do best, and we’ve taken care to implement incentives that encourage growth and specialization.

Yes, this is the platform. Or the faceless publisher. Or Shopify for Publishers. Or Newsroom in a Box. (That last one is my domain – kinda nice, no?)

The goal is to be the best and fastest way to start and run a profitable independent online news operation. Currently focused on local, which as a subset of niche publishing should give us a platform that works well even without a specific geographic focus. But that is just one of the many hypotheses I will be testing over the coming months.

Another of the hypotheses? The future of advertising and paywalls. I’ve ceased my twitificating on digital media issues, but I have been following this storyline closely. I am careful not to confuse careless and shoddy ad implementations with the real power and innovation that programmatic targeting represents. We will be investing heavily in this area, as I see a key opportunity in developing the “optimization engine” that will eliminate the need to slice the baby in half (excerpted from my Lenfest Institute application):

I propose to use similar methodology to create a first-party system wherein parties representing advertising, subscription, and audience development can negotiate in real-time for placement on the article page.

Real-time bidding/programmatic advertising are well known in the publishing industry at this point. But dynamic layout projects are generally limited to academic efforts.

I’d love to make it possible for local publishers to offer private marketplaces populated using ethically collected first party behavioral data. There could be ad network and audience extension opportunities, too. In an ideal world I can add value without requiring a server transition (think Pico or Relay Media).

My dream for Philly Publishing is that eventually its customers buy out the platform component, turning it into a co-op and letting me enjoy a financially independent & pastoral life of niche publishing.

To that end, I will be joining Dan as an early adopter of this platform to publish a new site, PopularHistory.co, which I hope to be the first of a few owned & operated outlets in the Philly Publishing family.

But for now, it’s just me, a MacBook Pro, and a good chunk of code to write.

Have ideas? Suggestions? Words of warning? Send me a direct message on Twitter or email me at <twitterhandle>@gmail.com.

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