The digital media industry hates local communities, but we love them.
It’s funny, really. We hit one million page views recently. One million. Yet I feel like a total failure.
Before I go any further, some background: while in college in 2014, I created a blog called The Rival. Think of it as a combination of Vice and The Onion but strictly for a college community.
Let’s role play for a moment:
You’re a college junior studying Political Science. The only publication on campus is 85 years old, features headlines about the golf team, and is covered in metaphorical dust.
Quite simply, this isn’t the kind of information your friends and you care about. You prefer to discuss race relations and sexuality on campus, joke about the university’s ridiculous expenditures and construction projects, debate whether Frank Ocean blew it the second time, and dive deeper into issues of debt, diet, and the Donald.
This is what The Rival enables; it’s an opportunity to discuss what really matters to you, your community, and your generation.
The digital media industry only cares about massive populations. They don’t give a shit about local communities.
Since 2014, we expanded our blog into a digital media property spanning 13 college campuses. We have an editorial team of over 300 students. And again, we just hit 1 million page views.
These incredibly talented students expose the absurdities of college life, hold their universities accountable, get exclusive interviews with insane celebrities, connect and engage with their communities, convince students to make out with complete strangers… hell they even sell their own sponsored content.
Yeah, that’s right, they’re almost self-sufficient.
So, why do I feel like I’ve somehow failed?
The answer is really simple. The digital media industry only cares about massive populations. They don’t give a shit about local communities.
The Rival has a mantra: community, then content. We license our platform to students, effectively giving them all operational and creative control. Every headline, every hire, and every tweet is decided by a student on staff at that campus.
There is something unique about each college community.
Only Duke students will understand where “mid-tier” frats and lesser known “Key 3s” hang out at Shooters. Only Rochester students will miss Meatless Mondays at the old Douglass. Only Maryland students will understand the countless jokes made about McKeldin Mall.
That’s the content that is valuable to this audience. Local and brutally authentic.
So why is it that digital media doesn’t support this type of content? Why do I hear from from investors and professionals, “Great idea kid, but you’re gonna have a hard time getting interest”?
Simple: because the only metric that matters to advertisers, publishers, distribution platforms, and investors is — you guessed it — views.
To any content marketers, audience developers, and online publishers out there, that last statement probably feels idiotic. More views equals more advertisements displayed equals more cash.
Obviously views are what matters. Clicks are awesome! Click here to learn more about how to get more clicks!! CELEBRITIES GAINING WEIGHT!!!! ALIENS DID 9/11!??!!!? CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE!!!!!
Let’s take Mic.com. Their goal is to capture an audience of 75 million American millennials — 18–34 year-olds in the US. With $15 million of investment, they’ve managed to clock in around 19M users per month. That’s about 25 percent of their target audience.
Using the money from our collective bar mitzvahs and cash from a business plan competition, my co-founder and I built a publication that raked in 55,000 unique users in October. Add up the undergraduate population of the schools in our network and you get around 104,000 students. We captured about 53 percent of our target audience.
Eat it Mic. We’re 28 percent better than you.
I think there is an obvious reason why we’re able to capture more of our target audience. What better way to understand and connect with your audience than to literally be the audience? We believe so firmly in locality that we’re willing to repeat a 2 month long on-boarding process again and again and again and again.
Why? Because the alternative is having one centralized editorial and marketing unit up in NYC controlling the satellite publications. That takes away from locality, community, and truly engaging content.
Our competitors have abandoned this idea. Odyssey Online has completely jumped ship, effectively creating an extremely misguided attempt at a social network. Yes, they manage to bring in 25M users a month, but they do it with headlines like, “I’m The Girl That Talks To Her Mom Every Day” and “An Open Letter To My Hammock.”
Yes, these are real headlines. RIP AP Style.
The Tab picked quantity over quality. Admittedly, they are trying to stick to their local mission, and their content is infinitely better than Odyssey Online’s, but they also have these weird, dead branches lying around the web. They rely on cross promotion between their outlets and remote editors that have already graduated. They’re slowly taking the power away from students.
If there is one thing every publisher, advertiser, and consumer knows, it’s that content is king, community is his queen, and mass-appeal is that dick knight that’s always trying to cross the moat into the kingdom.
There needs to be more investment in community-oriented outlets. There is consistently higher rates of engagement and trust, which is great for audiences and advertisers. Digital media industry: don’t hate me because I’d prefer to cultivate something sustainable over some get-rich-quick publishing scheme.
No, we’re not clocking in thirty million pageviews each month and praying that our users’ ad-blockers are turned off. We’re creating a meaningful relationship with our audiences.
The Rival can (and will) sell school-themed merchandise, hold events with ticket sales, run a few ads for local businesses, and prove that you don’t need to sell out in order to generate substantial revenue.
Digital media industry: don’t hate me because I’d prefer to cultivate something sustainable over some get-rich-quick publishing scheme.
We’re creating a school-centric platform. Each publication will have it’s own localized branding, content strategy, and mission. We believe that this model will engage our audience in a new, completely sustainable way.
Digital media doesn’t have to sell out.
For anyone interested in continuing the conversation, feel free to reach out to me, email@example.com, or check out our website at https://therival.news.