We'll tell Mr. Nordstrom to advertise with you

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Salute to the Black Press Symposium at Paul Quinn College, hosted by The Dallas Examiner. It was an enlightening — and, for me — an inspirational experience, as it further validated one of the ways that I think our news distribution concept will help many voices be heard — and paid.

It occurs to me (and had even before the event) that in all the talk (and action) regarding "citizen journalism" today, the alternative, ethnic and niche press have been left out of the conversation. Everyone thinks about what the web is doing to mainstream dailies; and about what bloggers are doing to the media landscape. It strikes me that Web 2.0 is as dangerous to smaller publishers as it is to large ones; but that it presents them a far greater opportunity. But I’ll get to that presently.

There was a lot of language in the presentations from members of the Black press that put me in mind of the wedia movement. For instance, Freedom’s Journal, the first Black newspaper in America launched with the tagline:

We plead our own case. Too long have others spoken for us.

And KKDA host Willis Johnson:

Nobody’s going to cover our community like us.

But at the same time, there was much of the business-related gloom that you hear from the mainstream media today: In 1920 there were 1200 Black newspapers in the US, with the larger players having paid circulations north of 300,000.

(Having grown tired of the term "mainstream media," as I seem to utter it thrice daily, I was intrigued to hear George Curry’s opening salvo: "Don’t call it the ‘mainstream media.’ Call it what it is: The white-owned media.")

Today there are a couple hundred Black papers — many free. The Examiner, for instance is paid and has a circulation of around 10,000. And with multiple papers in Dallas fragmenting the market, and a perception that big media outlets like the dailies will make moves towards reaching the African-American market the same way they have with the Hispanic market.

For me, the most stirring speaker was Charles O’Neal, VP Economic Development for the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, and former Editor of The Examiner. He spoke preached on the economics of Black newspapers.

(He had me from the start when he qualified his resume, saying that he hated being called a journalist. Too limiting: He was a newspaperman. Anyone who’s worked at a small paper knows the distinction. Charles has a standing invitation to be a columnist for Pegasus News.)

Charles spoke of a "three-way dance" between the publisher, the readers and the advertisers, taking the Black community to task for shopping at the Nordstroms of the world while simultaneously taking Nordstroms to task for not advertising in Black newspapers, urging the audience to "Tell Mr. Nordstrom to put his ad in The Dallas Examiner!"

That was a revelation point for me: You see, as a jaded newspaperman, I don’t believe that Nordstrom is ever going to advertise regularly in The Dallas Examiner. It’s not because they don’t want to reach Black people — it’s because they’re not going to advertise in any niche newspaper with a relatively small circulation.

So how can a Black, or Asian, or Baptist or Jewish or neighborhood newspaper get Nordstrom in front of their audience and get paid for it, without losing control of their content?

Collabortition. (Collaboration + Competition) We’re not going to detail the whole deal here, mainly because it’s not a one-size-fits all proposition. But, in general, if you’re a publisher, a student publication, a TV station (or program) or a radio station (or program), we can greatly increase your online exposure among folks who are most interested in what you do. In fact, we’ll push it to them.

We’ll share the ad revenue accrued by the views of your material. And, because our advertising is primarily behavioral, as opposed to contextual, you’ll likely see dollars from advertisers who usually don’t return your call. If we get Nordstrom; and The Dallas Examiner is our partner; and a reader who is a Nordstrom shopper reads their content on our site, they’ll get money from Nordstrom without Mr. Nordstrom ever deciding to run with them.

By the same token, the most highfallutin’ fashion or lifestyle magazine could see ad dollars from a corner burger shop or dry cleaner, via the same mechanism.

And we don’t care if you’re a competitor to another of our partners, or to us. Because our model works better with more content and more targeting — It is as they say, "all good."

And maybe, just maybe, when Nordstrom sees what their customers are reading on our site (as we will be absolutely transparent about the demographics and reading habits of our readers in aggregate), they’ll realize that they might want to throw some advertising towards a Black newspaper, or a sports-related radio show, or a neighborhood newspaper.

Interested? Drop us a line.

UPDATE 11/26/05: An employee of La Vida, a black paper based in Arlington informs me that they actually do get advertising from Mr. Nordstrom. So the example is shaky, but the premise is still strong: If you have a local media outlet that runs behavioral advertising and revenue shares with content partners, those partners may see revenue from unexpected bedfellows.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.