Originally, we wanted to create a news service for community newspapers.
That plan, hatched over 25 years ago in the back shop of our weekly newspaper in Montana, got disrupted by the advent of the World Wide Web, which promoted commercial use of the Internet. We adjusted to the times and technology, and started creating web sites for newspapers in 1995, and now provide Internet services for more than 1,600 media outlets, mostly community newspapers.
In 2000, we changed our name from International Newspaper Network (INN) to TownNews.com – a brand we hoped reflected our ties to both community journalism and the Internet.
But our corporate name remains I.N.N. LLC, and now we're working on a content exchange network that takes us back to our roots.
Our BLOX Content Management System, originally designed for web site production, has grown exponentially. In addition to newspapers, specialty publications, and radio and TV stations use BLOX.
Even more importantly, we have designed BLOX CMS to be an all-in-one production tool. News outlets can use our CMS to create, edit and manage content of all sorts – and then publish the content to the Web, to social media, and to print pages.
Everything is integrated, including the content of media outlets throughout the United States (and in some parts of Canada). Thousands of editors, reporters, photographers and web masters are using the same tools to manage their news reports and related products (events, classified ads, slide shows, videos, etc.).
This vast amount of professionally produced journalism and advertising is housed at our data centers in Chicago and New York.
Aggregators have re-used this content for years (usually without getting permission). Hardly a day goes by without the Drudge Report or reddit.com (and other aggregators) linking to stories produced by TownNews.com customers. Search engines also find major breaking stories and drive traffic to the stories, photos and videos. Such links trigger huge traffic spikes that usually can't be monetized by the originating publisher.
Very often our customers will cover major news events – riots, earthquakes, tornadoes, botched executions, bizarre news events, etc. – that trigger high traffic, but with little chance of selling ads that keep up with the increased traffic. Such traffic is great for the newsroom's morale, but often happens too quickly for the ad department to respond. (And, local advertisers don't necessarily want eyeballs from outside the market.)
So back to my original idea of 25 years ago.
Instead of only outsiders taking advantage of the great content, why don't we internally share content between TownNews.com customers – with a method to monetize the distribution?
Here are a few of our technology advantages:
- All the content is in the same system, in the same data centers.
- Everyone shares and understands the same BLOX CMS tagging system.
- TownNews.com has developed canonical uniform resource locators (URLs) that produce great search engine optimization (SEO) results for publishers who generate stories. Canonical tagging sends the "link juice" to the originating publisher, rather than to the sites that republish the content.
- Our technology also allows customers who re-publish the stories to have a complete copy of the story (and photos and videos), rather than just a link. This increases content – and advertising inventory – for the sites that republish the content.
- We've also developed technology that allows us to place ads inside of stories that are re-published elsewhere, so the originating publisher will get revenue from stories that are re-published inside the network.
- Our tagging technology can help us aggregate specialty content. We could fairly easily produce outdoor, agriculture or other specialty sections that can be syndicated.
- We are working on digital rights management that will help everyone manage re-publishing. This would enable, for example, a publisher to block their content from being published by a nearby competitor.
This isn't just for major stories that cause flash traffic. Secondary stories also can easily be shared. Think sports stories – media outlets with teams in conferences can automatically (or semi-automatically) share content; state and regional news can be shared; editorials and columns can be syndicated; special sections (outdoors, agriculture, weddings, etc.) can be created and redistributed.
Kerry Oslund, vice president of publishing and digital at Schurz Communications, is working in cooperation with us to create a Content Federation. He's already attracted willing partners. And he talked TownNews.com and Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS) into working together so content can be shared between content management companies.
Some ideas just take longer to mature. This one may be a quarter of a century in the making. Maybe the time is finally right.
Marc Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Chairman and CEO of TownNews.com.