Introducing GrowthSpur

As much time as I spend on Recovering Journalist railing against the problems and failings of traditional media, I spend far more time away from the blog trying to come up with solutions and thinking about What Comes Next. That’s the main reason why I’ve been posting less frequently lately: I’ve been in the thick of creating a new company that will provide support for local media entrepreneurs.

It's called GrowthSpur, and it's the outgrowth of conversations among a group of new-media thinkers, including Jeff Jarvis and myself, about creating new business models to support local news and information  sources. GrowthSpur will provide tools, training, services and ad networks that will help local sites grow and become successful businesses. 

Countless local sites and blogs have been started over the past few years, mostly as labors of love, and there are many more to come as newspapers founder and journalists and community leaders look for new ways to provide news, information and forums to their neighbors. 

But as I know all too well from my experience as co-founder of early hyperlocal network Backfence, starting a successful local site is very hard. And many of these startups don’t give enough thought to revenue and business models needed to sustain a site or blog after the first blush of excitement or funding wears off.

That’s where GrowthSpur comes in. The company will provide a suite of tools and services that will take a lot of the guesswork out of starting or running local sites and turn them into successful, sustainable businesses, including:

  • Training local sites how to set up multiple revenue sources, including best practices in ad sales

  • Providing tools that local sites can use to manage and enhance their businesses, from ad-serving to analytics to mobile delivery

  • Organizing networks to bring local sites together to sell ads amongst themselves

  • Enabling “citizen ad sales” efforts that can provide additional sources of ad revenue to local sites by letting local entrepreneurs get into the ad-selling business

There’s no upfront cost to local sites for a GrowthSpur partnership. Our revenue model is a service fee on the advertising revenue we help you with. In other words, we make money if you make money. 

How much money? We believe, based on our research and experience, that a well-run, sophisticated local site can bring in more than $100,000 a year in revenue from advertising, e-commerce and other sources. GrowthSpur exists to help local entrepreneurs achieve that level of success—and more. 

While our initial focus is on independent local sites, we’re also aware that there are more traditional local media sites that can take advantage of the networks we’re creating to provide additional soruces of ad inventory and revenue. We’re happy to work with them, too.

As I mentioned, Jeff Jarvis, one of the smartest thinkers around about the changes in the media business, helped develop the concept and will be a senior advisor to the company. Other members of our founding team include:

  • Dave Chase, a former executive at Microsoft and its erstwhile local network, Sidewalk, who now operates his own local site, SunValleyOnline.

  • Tom Davidson, who focused on local efforts as a VP at Tribune Interactive.

  • Jennifer McFadden, formerly of New York Times Digital and co-founder of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

  • Mel Taylor, a local advertising wiz who has shown companies like Tribune,, FoxTV and ClearChannel how to improve their local online ad sales efforts.

My role is CEO and chief instigator. We’ve also assembled a first-rate advisory board, including people with extensive experience in local sites, media and startups:

  • Jonathan Weber is founder of, another pioneer in this field

  • Michael Rogers was the New York Times Co.’s futurist and editor and publisher of 
  • Chris Schroeder is CEO of HealthCentral and former CEO of WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive

  • Liddy Manson was CEO of DigitalSports and a former executive of WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive

  • Josh Grotstein is CEO of MotionBox and was a partner in SAS Investors, one of the backers of Backfence. He’s also been an executive at Prodigy and NBC.

One more GrowthSpur resource: We’re privileged to be working with Jarvis’ New Business Models for News program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. Their help has been invaluable in helping us understand the needs of local sites.

GrowthSpur is open for business, and we’re already working with our first group of charter partners. If you run a local site and would like our help, go to our site, read more about it and get in touch with us. We’re still in our early stages, but we’ll try to help you as much as we can. 

And while GrowthSpur will be taking much of my time, not to worry. I’ll still be making occasional trouble here at Recovering Journalist.

PS: Jon Fine at BusinessWeek has a column about GrowthSpur. And Jeff Jarvis weighs in at BuzzMachine.

3 thoughts on “Introducing GrowthSpur

  1. I am quite impressed with this, Mark. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with the revenue model (we make money when you make money) or the fact that you have taken what you learned from Backfence and turned it into a project that will keep others from having the same experience when you could have very well hoarded the lessons learned, and let them learn on their own. You’ve got an amazing group of people working with you. Do keep us readers of your blog abreast on the goings-on with GrowthSpur. Good LUCK!


  2. Pretty fascinating, and I wish the best for the lot of you in supplying what looks like a niche currently or soon to be laden with demand.
    One component I’d love to see you plug in would involve some critical thinking coulped with creative expertise in coming up simply with better online ads. No flashing for flash sake or monkeys bouncing back and forth across the screen. Ads that attract the visitors’ attention perhaps in part through context and in part through visual appeal yet somehow sufficiently understated so as not to upstage the visitor’s main goal in visiting, which usually is to obtain some certain information.
    Just a thought, and no doubt easier said than done.


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