Metro

Alums bring new outlet to the Prov. news scene

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Josh Fenton MA’94, CEO and co-founder of GoLocalProv — an online startup covering the Providence area — will tell you there are three things to distinguish the site from a traditional news organization.

First, GoLocalProv operates exclusively online, posting stories because there are stories, rather than because there are pages to fill.

Second, the website relies on social media, deriving about 20 percent of its visits from Facebook.

And third, the site relies heavily on video, shooting and producing — rather than writing — “a lot” of its news coverage, Fenton said.

Fenton and GoLocalProv co-founder Paul Krasinski ’98 had the idea for the site two and a half years ago, Fenton said, but did not start actively working on it until last year.

“Our strategy was to go recruit all the smart people,” Fenton said. “That is really a core component to our business.”

Fenton said GoLocalProv also differs from other online news destinations in terms of the kind of stories it produces. It is neither a blog nor an aggregator.

“Most of the digital replacements for newspapers, things like the Huffington Post, don’t do fact-based journalism,” he said. “They do aggregation and opinion. But opinion has to start with fact-based journalism.”

In its first five months, the site has garnered the attention of both Providence residents and the traditional media. In an e-mail to The Herald, Michelle Nguyen ’11 wrote the site had surpassed a million page views, and a claim made in a GoLocalProv article was investigated by the Providence Journal’s PolitiFact Rhode Island.

The organization questioned the accuracy of a story published on the site about Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 during his successful campaign for Rhode Island governor. According to PolitiFact, the story missed “key facts” in its attempt to tie Chafee to Ukrainian mobsters.

Fenton said GoLocalProv stands behind the story “100 percent.” He called Stephen Beale, who wrote the story, “one of the best investigative journalists in America.”

“I think we must be of some impact to the marketplace, that (the Journal) seems to be motivated to evaluate our content,” Fenton said.

The company is located in a small downtown office, tucked between larger buildings on Weybosset Street. The office itself is underground, with brick walls and an alcove of pink and red couches. It’s not quite the garage space often associated with start-ups.

Business meetings take place at a round table. The dress code is eclectic: Fenton wears a button-down shirt and slacks, while another employee sports a New York Jets sweatshirt and a baseball cap. Between cups of coffee, employees joke about potential company face-offs against the Brown basketball team, or an alleged rivalry between website columnists Matt Jerzyk ’99 and Travis Rowley ’02.

Fenton said eight students from Brown started interning at GoLocalProv this fall, joining LeeAnn Chen ’11 and Marques Coleman ’12, both of whom started at the company last year.

“Anyone can walk up to Josh (Fenton) and pitch him an idea,” Coleman said. “It’s also a very creative atmosphere.”

Coleman works twice a week at GoLocalProv. He started out filming and editing video but now also spends time managing interns. Last summer, Coleman even covered Bill Clinton’s visit to Providence.

“They kind of throw you in projects where it might be really hard,” Coleman said. “I like the fact that you’re being challenged.”

Fenton said that immediate plans for the site include a redesigned interface, a new business section, and apps for iPhones, iPads and phones running Google’s Android operating system. In the long run, he hopes for GoLocalProv to become a major news source in the area.

“People want to know what’s going on in their community,” Fenton said. “So as newspapers cut back… it creates a huge opportunity for us to produce original content.”