Local News Takes Flight in South Dakota’s Largest City » Nieman Journalism Lab

Here’s a fun one. Did you know Paul Reuter, who would go on to found Reuters, initially used pigeons to fly stock prices and other news between Aachen and Brussels?

In South Dakota, Pigeon 605 – a one-year-old sister site to SiouxFalls.Business — delivers personalized local news with a modern fleet…minus the feathers. (The “605” refers to the area code that serves the entire state.) In a city that has just exceeded 200,000 inhabitants, over 4,000 people have chosen a virtual pigeon to deliver information based on their interests and neighborhood.

Here’s how it works. Choose (“adopt”) a bird, decide on a name and tell Pigeon 605 the news that interests you. (In addition to topic-specific news, readers can also opt for categories such as “Stories That Make Me Smile, Laugh, or Maybe Cry,” “Stories A Bit Weird,” and “Stories That Will Make Me a Citizen.” more informed”) You determine how often you want to hear from your virtual bird.

I chose a grumpy face gray and named it after the little bird that told me about Pigeon 605. Over the past week I’ve had a text message and a handful of emails, including one that sought to difficult balance Covid19 News with a missing cat story.

Pigeon 605 is profitable, says the founder Jodi Schwan. The local news site took off thanks to advertising and especially sponsored stories. (Schwan owns Align Content Studio, publisher of Pigeon 605 and SiouxFalls.Business, and the two-person team employs a number of freelance reporters and photographers for the outlets.) partner stories sponsored by local nonprofits, corporations and businesses are labeled and Pigeon 605 promises its readers that it will not accept political advertising.

Schwan got his start in broadcast journalism (at the local KELO-TV) and oversaw the digital transformation of the Gannett-owned business Sioux Falls Business Journal before going alone with SiouxFalls.Business in 2017. This site focuses on development, entrepreneurshipand local industries, including health care and manufacturing.

“I became quite convinced that I was not going to retire in a newspaper. I wanted to be somewhere that was able to grow — and specifically able to add staff, not cut staff,” Schwan said. “And so I started thinking about what that might look like.”

While neither SiouxFalls.Business nor Pigeon 605 have a revenue model for readers, Schwan said it plans to add elements of one to help diversify how it funds digital news sites.

The pandemic has at times made Pigeon 605’s launch feel like “a one-year soft launch,” Schwan admitted. (“Planned and Rescheduled: Your Guide to the 2022 Concerts in Sioux Falls” is currently on the homepage.) Their audience is steadily growing, but the site is still experimenting to find the right combination of coverage.

“I didn’t want to come up with something that looked like everyone else was doing,” Schwan said. “I didn’t start covering crime, politics and weather. I went in a different direction. I went where I thought there would be community interest, but also places that would allow us to stand out.

Schwan sees personalization and innovative delivery methods — including SMS, where she’s seen readers consistently and enthusiastically engage — as the future of local news. The quick survey readers fill out when they “adopt” their pigeon gives them insight into their audience and provides them with a roadmap for moving forward.

“The big goal is to get more people to adopt, because the more we grow this database, the more cool things we can do,” Schwan said. In the future, she hopes to expand stories that help locals be “informed citizens”, add more school-specific coverage – possibly partnering with students themselves to post stories – and offer more localized content.

“Sioux Falls is just beginning to develop its metro area communities, what you would typically consider suburban communities, and many of them are underserved from a news standpoint,” Schwan said. “As they grow, I like the idea of ​​being able to send news to specific zip codes or specific communities.”

I have to say: a little customization goes a long way. I’ve never set foot in South Dakota, but I always open all my missives from “my” pigeon.

“I think data is key here when you’re looking at the business case, but hopefully it’s the brand and the user experience that keeps readers coming back,” Schwan said.

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