When postcode-based news and hyperlocal news sites were still just a twinkle in many newspaper publishers' eyes, SoGlos.com, an online events and entertainment magazine for Gloucestershire, was already alive and kicking.

Set up in 2007 by journalists Michelle Byrne and James Fryer, the site is now approaching its third birthday and preparing for some big changes in 2010.

The original idea behind the site was to create a magazine online, written and sustained by a team of professional journalists, and not just a website, deputy editor James Fryer tells Journalism.co.uk.

The initial focus on user-generated content, for example reviews of local restaurants from readers, has been pared down over the past two years.

"We launched with a plan to embrace user-generated content and we thought it would become much more important than it did, but we dropped our forum because it didn't work in the way we wanted it," explains Fryer.

"There are so many directory sites around at the moment. We've got a very targeted directory, but like all user-generated content it’s hard to get rounded reviews. It’s got the extent that we're even considering removing that facility altogether.

"Instead our unique selling point has become a traditional model of journalism. Everything from short event listings to features - we have a very set style for it all."

The site's writing and reporting style may be traditional, but to survive and grow beyond a start-up to a sustainable online business SoGlos has gone beyond the established model.

As a small team - now seven staff on a mixture of full-time and freelance contracts - including a developer the site is able to rapidly build new features and make use of third-party software to meet the demands of readers. This is an advantage over its local media competitors, suggests Fryer, pointing to the interactive listings map, which makes use of Google maps and has proved particularly popular since its launch in 2008.

Without legacy printing costs or handed-down sales structures, the site has also been able to innovate with its revenue streams, which includes producing an in-house listing service for local entertainment venues.

Advertising on the site is sold on a weekly or monthly basis, not cost-per-click (CPC), as is the standard for many online businesses. This has helped encourage local businesses who aren’t particularly web savvy to try online advertising for the first time, says Fryer.

"Most local newspaper websites are still a poor relation to their main product, the print edition. They're not run as a standalone product. They're run on a CPC and have an in house system that sells on this basis," he adds.

But citizen journalism news start-ups won’t replace journalists covering local news and information, says Fryer.

"A lot of the regionals in particular are closing but then a lot of the start-ups aren't being run by journalists. Professional editorial, staying within the law, and being sustainable and providing a service that advertisers can trust is very important," he explains.

SoGlos is attempting to bridge the gap between the two using the mentality of a start-up, but one founded on journalistic principles. Its strong house style and refusal to just copy and paste press releases, for example, is both a commitment to editorial quality and a means of tracking unlicensed reuse of its material.

Having anticipated the niche or hyperlocal trend in local news sites and established SoGlos on a strong editorial footing before a surge in such destinations, Fryer feels the SoGlos model has been sufficiently tested and proven to become a franchise.

In 2010 he hopes the model and content-management system (CMS) behind the site can be rolled out elsewhere in the UK and potentially taken on by redundant or disenfranchised journalists.

"Because we have spent so long developing it we've proved it can work with one journalist and one sales person," says Fryer.
"The model that we've built up should bring in £100,000 a year income, which would be retained and maintained by the journalists rather than any owners."

SoGlos will continue to tweak its model and CMS and is aiming for 100,000 average unique users a month in 2010 - an increase from a 2009 average of 67,000 - and has plans to develop an iPhone app.

"We're 95 per cent happy with the model," says Fryer. "But there's still more we want to do."

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