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Can St. Pete lead the next revolution in local news?

Mark Parker



Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst and head of network for Cityverse, leads a discussion on the evolution of local news Oct. 27. Photo by Mark Parker.

After providing a free platform to catalyze discussions around local issues, Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, hopes a new, innovative startup will further evolve local news.

Hamilton, also head of network for Cityverse, a virtual overlay for a physical city, told attendees at Thursday’s Innovation Gathering that he stumbled into the publishing business nearly five years ago. He now hopes to lead the next round of evolution in local news by utilizing new technologies and methodologies to bring the St. Petersburg community closer together.

Hamilton led a discussion titled “The Evolution of Local News” at the eighth annual Innovation Gathering, hosted by the Soaring City Innovation Partnership. Held at the RITHM (Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat and Medicine) hub at Tampa’s University Mall, the event sought to explain the metaverse and why it should matter to people.

Hamilton recalled working closely with several St. Petersburg businesses and organizations before becoming a publisher. Despite those conversations bringing some of the city’s best minds together, he said the resulting ideas often amounted to whispers throughout the community.

“They just didn’t resonate,” he said. “And we said, ‘man, our communication channels in cities are kind of broken.’”

Hamilton launched the Catalyst in January 2018 to fill a void created by the decline of local newspapers and the rise in social media information silos. The first goal was to uplift St. Petersburg businesses and provide solutions-based content.

After “stumbling along” in those early days, Hamilton said the Catalyst began expanding its coverage, first with arts and culture after the Tampa Bay Times abandoned much of that segment.

“Pretty much anything the Times came out and said, ‘we can’t cover anymore,’ we decided to cover,” he added. “And having a positive attitude. The name ‘Catalyst’ is meant to say, ‘we’re going to put the ideas out there, start the conversations – but it’s really up to you to have those conversations.”

The local newspaper, Hamilton noted, historically served as a gathering space and set the tone and culture for a city. When those began to disappear, he said, so did community aspects, like people interacting with high school sports.

Regional papers and social media led people to engage with national politics and artists, Hamilton opined, rather than the creators down the street and issues affecting daily life in the city.

Sept. 19: The game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Hamilton announced a partnership with the team Oct. 18. Photo: Tyler Schank/Tampa Bay Rays.

In between national and neighborhood

Hamilton said he identified a need to build a platform that merges the spirit of objectivity with granular expertise. Something to help establish the local culture, enhance the city and bring its people together – Cityverse.

Facebook users, explained Hamilton, typically follow friends, family and national influencers – who often share the same beliefs – but not their neighbors. Nextdoor launched as an app for neighborhoods, and he noted it went public through a SPAC last year with a $4.3 billion valuation.

“The key there is to understand that it had nothing to do with how awesome the platform was,” said Hamilton. “Because nobody thinks it’s awesome. But they served a tribe that wasn’t served.”

Hamilton added the remaining void in social news platforms exists somewhere between the nation and neighborhoods – in cities.

The idea, he explained, is to catalyze local conversations through experts who are still acceptably objective to residents. Hamilton used offshore drilling as an example. It poses a risk to the environment and tourism, but provides a domestic energy source and financial benefits.

He said offshore drilling is all those things, and if people only hear arguments from environmentalists or corporate proponents, they will never come together. He believes communities – in this case, St. Petersburg – are small and tight enough to understand different perspectives.

“It’s taking a small-bite solution approach to much larger problems,” said Hamilton. “How we’re going to activate that is to mine up gems of this knowledge and content from the community.”

The Catalyst, Hamilton told attendees, will provide core news to Cityverse, and the platform will offer content tools to the community. Content generated from the tools will be distributed through Cityverse channels. He gave several examples including neighborhood associations, which will receive a free newsletter tool. The most significant articles from the newsletters will appear in a ‘best of neighborhood writing’ section, and the best of that content, added Hamilton, could go into the Daily Spark – the Catalyst’s free daily newsletter. That would increase the distribution of the piece from hundreds in the neighborhood to tens of thousands in the city, so that the “best ideas can reach the most people.”

He said local high schools would receive sports reporting software so coaches or administrators could upload scores and highlights to a dedicated page. 

He noted that every artist in Cityverse would receive a free gallery and the ability to upload their creations. They can automatically mint NFTs to display or sell, and purchases will upload to the buyer’s “home space.” The galleries will exist in the Cityverse art district with aggregated marketplace sections, art news and gathering spaces.

Utilizing Web3 – a new, decentralized version of the internet – aspects, Hamilton said, would allow people to, eventually, build a virtual civic life on the platform if they desire.

Every user will have their own home space, digital wallet and NFT gallery. He said a person’s gallery would become a form of civic self-expression, as it displayed the art they purchased or tickets stub NFTs for attended shows. They might also receive NFT awards from nonprofits for doing civic good, like beach cleanups or donating funds.

“But it also builds community around what you’re into,” said Hamilton. “It shows the art or sport or cause you love, and then you can connect with others that share that love.”

While anyone can browse Cityverse and purchase items, he said users would have to verify residency to receive a home space and gallery, contribute content and earn money.

Hamilton said the beauty of the platform is that it can take the best of the technology that exists in the world and apply it at the local level to reconnected fragmented communities.

“And if it works,” he said. “You win.”

The platform is under development, and he expects it to launch in early 2023.

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  1. Avatar


    October 29, 2022at5:55 pm

    “. . .the spirit of objectivity with granular expertise.” It all reads very digi-speak to me. Anyone can call their stuff “objective.” The Times does it whenever they pitch a renewal to an annoyed former subscriber. And what is “granular expertise”? Valuable journalism is not granular. It is oceanic, vast and fundamental–just like humanity aspires to be.
    Small, tight communities don’t seek out differences of opinion. That’s why they are small and tight: everyone says the same thing and nobody tries to kick the fences down.
    But–give it a try. Anything’s better.

    • Joe Hamilton

      Joe Hamilton

      October 29, 2022at10:12 pm

      Granular expertise means that with the infinite information available on the internet, expectations have changed about the depth of knowledge in news. A retired civil engineer or environmental sciences professor can, given a means to do it, provide a better piece on a topic like coastal high hazard issues at City Council than a journalist. At the same time, the confidence in objectivity has waned. Nearly every news source is considered left or right leaning. Thus the historical, objective middle has eroded proportionally to our understanding of bias in news, and our ability to go deep into topics on the internet. Where once society saw a house, objectively, we now get that a house viewed from the front, from the rear, from the inside, from space, through a microscope, etc. are all the same house, yet would be ‘reported’ quite differently from each of the perspectives on the list…and that list of perspectives could reasonably be a thousand items long and growing. So it’s tough for a journalist cranking out two stories a day on who-knows-what subject to give readers the depth of understanding from a full suite of important perspectives.

      Thus I want to drive the belief that absorbing and considering different perspectives, and the relative truths within each perspective, is a critical civic skill that we should hone. And that the modern face of objectivity is the intention dig into, and extract value from, different perspectives, even if contradictory. The platform we’re building provides content tools, and incentives, to ‘mine’ the perspectives and bring them to the community to be considered together.

  2. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    October 29, 2022at6:09 pm

    Designed,Planned,Organized, Controlled,Implemented and Capitalized by CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE!

    Follow the money 🤑

  3. Avatar


    October 31, 2022at10:52 am

    This is a fascinating article, and one that I would hope will grow among our neighbors and communities. Just as the two comments above reflect, I too have some hesitation about “objectiveness” of any publishing organization. That lack of trust in our “legacy media” is sign of the times we live in, and brought on by that same legacy media. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to reach out to each other or share our stories. If an effort to show both sides of an issue, I think this may work. The examples provided by Hamilton of offshore drilling and the view of the house are terrific! I’m hopeful that proposals for new roads, high rise buildings, veterans and homelessness issues, crime and drug abuse, high school sports and academic achievements in those schools, would all see the same approach.

    Like so very many on our peninsula, I’m a recent transplant. While I like many things about my new home, I have much to learn about my little city, county and new state. This proposal of community news and reporting has merit, and I’ll be following it. Thank you, Joe Hamilton!

  4. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    October 31, 2022at5:56 pm

    I consider your reporting objective, and that has thankfully has not covered “sensational” political spats. I appreciate yourcontent and format and look forward to your next steps. Thank you for your service.

  5. Avatar


    November 1, 2022at8:01 am

    I’m there with Ron, the first commentter. I’m going to be just like OJ and take a stab at old school media. (PRINT) EDDM, newsletter straight to you mailbox. 9 cents per door. This newsletter will be a government watchdog first and foremost, then onto all things good in humanity. It seems today nobody has the courage to bludgeon city officials anymore. Everyone is ash kissing. I guarantee you Joe my newsprint will reach national news and land on the governors desk like a brick. This will give me a launch pad. Volume 2 will be scaled down and diverse with content coming from local journalist. One volunteer is a PhD that wants his own column except he has to keep his word choice to pre-grad level. Nobody really wants to read the stuff I just finished in this article. Everything said could have been condensed into two paragraphs. My newsletter will saturate 3 zip codes with a grand sum of 40,000 mailboxes. Cost to print and mail is $12K. So Joe, let’s see who can bring back local only media and creat community cohesion.

  6. Avatar

    Mary Heckert at-MarySueIRL and KindEdge-dot-com

    November 19, 2022at9:01 am

    It’s not about ‘bringing back local-only media.” It’s the missing cross-section between the pixeled location-based resource that is Nextdoor and such… and the impersonal mass that is “the global internet.” A center of gravity helps mature thinking be cultivated by HUMAN interaction; “the internet” includes experts and trolls alike. Local helps to create sort of Hemingway-Gertrude Stein-style salons of conversation where there are known sources and thusly there is a sense of human validation that the sources are legit, or of varying but recognized levels of expertise. Example: I’m a bio-optimizer and longevity enthusiast. I follow “the internet.” But I’d like to get closer to local subject matter experts like Dom D’Agnostino such that I might see him speak if and when there is a small local event; and in doing so, might then cross paths with this mid-layer cross-section of people like me who are keen to live and continually improve my knowledge of the bio-optimized life. The great writers cross-validated by meeting up, sitting at tables, sharpening each others’ proverbial pencils. Podcasts do this but even podcasters admit there are huge logistical barriers to getting three experts LIVE in a room to chat when each lives on distant coasts. There is a huge opportunity to have these location-based “centers of gravity” on the millions of niche topics the internet has enabled to flourish. Let Joe grow this thing and we’ll see this all evolve into the unanswered need it is.

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