October 26, 2009

Charleston Hyperlocal News Site The Digitel lands Investment, Expanding

Allan Maurer  /  Tech Journal South

CHARLESTON, SC - The Charleston hyperlocal news site, "TheDigitel," short for the Digitel Telegraph, has closed on an equity round from Palmetto Investments and Exchange Group in an undisclosed amount.

Former reporter Ken Hawkins founded the site which launched in June 2008.

"I worked for newspapers for eight years and decided there was a better way to do it," Hawkins tells TechJournal South.

George Magrath of Palmetto Investments says the site focus is on connecting people to the best, most interesting stories about the region, offering a minimum of context, and excerpting a minimum amount, doing so only when absolutely necessary.

It also tries to offer helpful context, analysis, and background as we know it.

It includes links to related stories and sources, and offer connections to added resources like maps, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Wikipedia, and so on.

The model is to present a clean, easy-to-use design that acts as a transparent information access tool.

Its goal is to be an open and transparent community portal with an ecosystem that allows for community members to tell what they know.

The site includes an easy-to-use Wiki-like feature that allows anyone to edit or contribute stories. Editors receive a notice of changes they approve before they go live.

Hawkins says the three-person company "Aims to be a connector, a new valet," to help people negotiate the Internet's information overload.

The site, like many others trying to establish new media paradigms, has tried a number of ways to monetize its content, Hawkins says, such as a sponsorship model.

"I still like that but it's the wrong time, considering the economy," he says.

One interesting new model is dynamic advertising. "One of the core concepts behind what we do is that content should not sit by itself in a bubble. The Internet was created around hyperlinks for a reason."

So, an advertiser such as a Net-savvy corner grocery store might include half something like a Google text ad accompanied by the store's live Twitter feed, which might let site visitors know their latest offering. "That way the advertising never gets stale," notes Hawkins.

Hawkins says he believes that in many cases, the new media vs. old media argument is mistaken when it suggests one must replace the other. "You use different tools for different things," he says. "A screw driver is better for some jobs, but it doesn't replace a hammer."

In a recent talk, Hawkins says he told a group that traditional news organizations have always focused on the "Who, What, When, Where, and Why."

The Internet is good on the first four, not so good on the "Why" part of the formula, he says. While the Net excels at breaking basic news facts, traditional media such as newspapers can excel at adding the "Why" to the equation.

Plans are to expand to another city, likely Charlotte or one in the Research Triangle, NC in the not too distant future, Hawkins says, although other cities are also being considered.

Further expansion would follow if the sites succeed.

The site also has plans for citysearch type of feature.

He says the possibility that traditional media will begin erecting pay walls would only make the hyperlocal sites more valuable. "Then we become the book review," he says. "You check with us before you spend your money."

Online: www.thedigitel.com