San Diego Online News Vet Heads Home to Run New Venture

After a brief stint with Las Vegas Sun publisher Greenspun Media Group, local online media vet Chris Jennewein is off to head up a new local San Diego news operation. Not surprising, after just a week or so, he’s already thinking about ad revenue generation. Rather than the usual local business targets like auto, real estate, or restaurants, however, Jennewein’s ad team is after less-typical local advertisers.

“There’s enormous potential to create local news Web sites that work for both readers and advertisers,” said Jennewein, named president of the two-month old San Diego News Network last week. It’s been less than a year since he left the Union-Tribune, where he made his name at popular local news destination SignOn San Diego. Indeed, Jennewein recognizes he’ll be competing with SignOn, along with other local media startups. “Competition is a good thing,” he said, adding the site will “differentiate ourselves in several ways.”

One difference may be SDNN’s initial approach to ad selling, which will focus on four advertiser categories outside the typical local advertiser pool: healthcare, education, government, and finance. “Those are all areas that even in this recession are showing some strength,” Jennewein told ClickZ News.

“We’re making pitches, for example, to the tax assessor and the tax collector,” he said, regarding government advertiser outreach. The site has also sold ads to local theaters. “We’re carefully making calls, making presentations�we’re not taking anything for granted,” he continued. While the site has already introduced some unique ad opportunities, it isn’t leaving out standard display or partnering with national ad networks. “Display is still very effective,” said Jennewein, adding that “joining a national network is an important part of today’s online advertising mix, and we’ll take advantage of it.”

Editorial with a local impact is the primary mission of the site, and SDNN is letting advertisers support that in a way that’s somewhat novel for a small local news operation. The site developed an ongoing series about Southern California’s water crisis, and environmental and engineering consulting firm Dudek is sponsoring the site section dedicated to that coverage.

The sponsorship and editorial projects “happened in tandem in the sense that the sales team knew that a major series was going to be done with that,” said Jennewein. “That’s old school, but in the sense of local news that makes sense.” The site has a dedicated sales team of four people.

He doesn’t think readers will be especially concerned about advertiser infringement on editorial in the case of such sponsored sections. “I think readers are sophisticated; they do want to see advertising that has some fit with the content.”

SDNN, funded by private and local venture investments, is “‘very interested in experimenting with new [ad] formats,” Jennewein said, adding that pre-roll video ad offerings are in the works.

The firm operates from the offices of the local Fox affiliate, he added, noting that Fox is a partner, not an investor in SDNN. The site partners with Fox and several other local media operations including CW Network TV affiliate San Diego 6, Walrus 105.7 FM, and newspaper San Diego Downtown News.

Jennewein was VP of Internet operations at Union-Tribune Publishing Co. until he as laid off from the firm in May 2008, along with fellow new media execs. There, Jennewein led Web projects like the SignOn San Diego-associated radio site. He started with Greenspun Media Group, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, in August, serving as SVP and publisher of Greenspun Interactive. When asked why he left that firm after less than a year, Jennewein implied that commuting to Las Vegas from San Diego was not an ideal situation.

His new position, he said, “is a chance to build a new model for local news in the market where I live.”

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