“I’m not a believer in local anymore,” he said. “I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under especially, the concept of local is very different. Like Facebook publishing the news feed — it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal.” Brody said weather, traffic and crime are becoming commodities, and while local politics may have some differentiation, nobody cares about it anymore.
Now we can fight over what hyperlocal means.
(Reminds me of a panel I did for Kelsey with Greg Sterling a few months back. I uttered “hyperlocal” and Sterling said, “Please stop using that word.” I said, “No.” For the moment, it’s a useful term because it describes a certain strategic philosophy that has been hot recently; however, I agree, it is ultimately meaningless — the whole idea of hyperlocal is just what good community newspapers should be doing anyway. Hyperlocal only means anything if you’ve been falling down on your community news job.)
Brody is only right if you accept that hyperlocal has only two facets: Weather/traffic and politics.
To me, hyperlocal has never been about politics. In fact, politics is the antithesis of hyperlocal. Hyperlocal is about people. It’s what people do, have done or can do (think, event calendars) where they live. Planning boards and city commissions have very little to do with it.
In fact, where newspapers have lost their way is in getting too wrapped up in the local political game. Too often, the local city hall becomes its own mini-beltway and all the players (including beat reporters) think their actions and their gossip is far more important than anything else in the community.
I’m not concerned that “hyperlocal” is the wrong strategy. I’m more worried about whether we can actually execute on it. Will our editors and reporters ever willingly forsake a few meetings at city hall in favor of a Eagle Scout promotion or volunteer fire department carnival? (And to reach younger readers, those are probably the wrong subjects of coverage, too.)
The other part of a hyperlocal strategy, which includes the hyperpersonal Brody mentions, is part technique and part programming. There’s no reason we can’t do that.
Be sure to read the rest of Brody’s interview. It’s otherwise worthwhile and pretty on track.