The news that NBC is closing the hyper-local news site EveryBlock has been met with widespread disappointment – rooted as much in the failure of a good brand as the uncomfortable reminder that the hyper-local community is yet to find a business model that pays.
EveryBlock‘s open source architecture (funded by the Knight Foundation) exists, so its cheerleaders could fork their own version and bring the platform back to life in another form. But what about the value of the company’s brand and existing audience? In a fickle and fast-changing news economy, that may be EveryBlock’s biggest asset. So is that value something that the company’s supporters can capture in a way that NBC can’t?
Instead of being forced to accept the wind-up of EveryBlock, perhaps its supporters could start a civically-oriented crowdfunding campaign to fund the brand. No doubt some people are already considering the idea. If NBC really sees no value in the asset, perhaps they could even be persuaded to pass ownership of it to the team that mounts that campaign. If the campaign does uncover, or demonstrate in a new way, the value of EveryBlock – through potential subscriptions, for example – perhaps NBC would feel the brand is still worth investing in. Perhaps that investment would be to continue to provide infrastructure for EveryBlock, if not direct funding. Even if NBC doesn’t decide to extend its support of EveryBlock, there are good precedents of fans saving loved brands, such as Polaroid rescuers The Impossible Project and the radio station BBC 6 Music.
There are a lot of question marks here: the sustainability of the business after the initial campaign, the ownership of the company, not to mention legal considerations that I’ll not attempt to answer. But it does point us to an opportunity and a question.
The opportunity is that crowdfunding could be a potential exit route for an acquired business that has a strong and loyal audience but whose parent company no longer wants. It would be great to see that possibility explored in the case of EveryBlock.
The question – which goes far beyond EveryBlock – is, can civic crowdfunding create value in situations that the traditional private sector cannot? How? If the answer is yes, the public sector could find itself with a new avenue to finance the projects it struggles to fund, and in which the private sector is either unwilling to invest or does so unsuccessfully.