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Does it make any sense to build a national chain of city sites by hiring local editors, one by one? The answer is a resolute “no,” according to CEO Rick Blair, who said he’d been there and done that when he was a top exec at AOL Digital City.

Blair came on board to run the Denver-based company in April 2008. Working with owner Philip Anschutz, the mogul who had prior successes with AEG Live and Qwest Communications, Blair and a team that largely consists of former AOL execs have scrapped a model that had created local offices in five markets.

The company’s currently structured around 25 vertical channels, with channel managers based in Denver. They are served by thousands of “Examiners” writing for 200+ local editions. Each Examiner is fully vetted and signed up to write about various micro subjects (i.e., “Denver Skiing,” “San Diego Alternative Health,” etc.).

The company has 23,000 Examiners writing for it now, and expects 26,000 by year-end.  They account for 90 percent of the company’s content, with links to local sites accounting for the rest. More than 13.9 million unique visitors currently come to the site, making it the No. 5 U.S. news site, per comScore.

Each Examiner’s pay is based on a number of variables (page views, unique visitors, session length, return visits and frequency of posts). It is a model that is not dissimilar to other content developers, such as Associated Content, Demand Media and The difference is that is still mostly rooted in local reporting.

Looking forward, Blair says the company will focus on building up stickiness with the introduction of community social features. The site is currently reliant on SEO. It is also poised to begin monetizing its content via sponsorship models. One ski resort, for instance, has sponsored seven of the area’s 14 ski-based Examiners. The company is set to aggressively develop accounts around the U.S., Canada and several international markets via telemarketing efforts.

A full report is available for clients of the BIA/Kelsey Marketplaces program.

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