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Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Grafstein launches online startups in news business

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Jerry Grafstein

When Jerry Grafstein left the Senate after nearly 26 years, he knew he wanted to get back into the world of newspapers and media.

He’d been involved in a number of start-ups, including Citytv and YTV, and soon was involved in a consortium bid to take over CanWest assets including the National Post, the Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen.

When that venture fell through, he looked elsewhere, and at one point considered a suggestion that he launch a website geared to Liberal policy wonks. That seemed too narrow an audience, but it led to the creation a year and a half ago of the Wellington Street Post, an online news aggregator that offers content to people of all political stripes.

“That did reasonably well,” Grafstein said. “We attracted a fair amount of attention.”

Its success spawned the creation of a similar venture geared to those eager to consume news from and about Washington, called the Penn Ave Post.

More recently, Grafstein and his partner, Adam Miron of Ottawa, launched HollyPost, which does for Hollywood what the other websites did for politicos in Canada and the United States.

The sites don’t provide original content – there is no news staff beating the bushes for stories. Instead, sophisticated software developed by Miron and his team scans the online world for new content – largely from blogs – and puts it on their web pages. The site then hosts the content’s headline and opening paragraph or so, sometimes including a photograph, along with a link to the original story.

The Penn Ave Post has been up for a few months and “it’s doing well,” Grafstein said.

HollyPost should do even better, he said, considering that the audience for news about Hollywood, its stars, its gossip and even its lawsuits, is global, he added.

Grafstein believes the “Post” model he’s introduced is perfect for today’s harried news consumer. Where once people leisurely sat down with newspapers to gather their information, they don’t anymore. “The problem with papers is time,” he says. “People don’t have time.”

The software Miron developed “seeks the information, organizes it and puts it into order,” doing what is traditionally an editor’s job.

The software was road-tested against the New York Times. They found that a story originating out of the Middle East appeared on the Times’ website 45 minutes after it did on theirs, Grafstein said.

He said he and Miron monitor the sites regularly throughout the day to ensure it’s working properly.

Revenue is generated through ads. The Posts have an arrangement with Google and “they match up clients who want exposure,” he said.

“Rates are determined by the number of eyeballs… and how long they stay. We find people are staying longer than we thought, so there’s more value and that is part of a math formula for the ad rates.”

So far the Wellington Street Post is breaking even and Grafstein said he expects Penn Ave Post to do the same “shortly.”

He has greater expectations for profitability from HollyPost, because of its larger audience.

Grafstein has plans for further expansion. Sometime this month he expects to launch the China Star News and later the India Star News.

Further down the line, Grafstein said, he plans to indulge his passion for Jewish information and create the City of David Post, an aggregation of Jewish news from around the world.

“My passion is to take ideas and put them into action in the media,” he said.biz

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