Paul Farhi, writing in AJR, wonders if hyperlocal journalism can pay.
Easy answer: Of course it can.
Hyperlocal journalism is just a fad term for what good community papers have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s a fad term for the kind of nuts-and-bolts community coverage many daily newspapers abandoned in the wake of Woodward and Bernstein. It’s a fad term for building sites enhanced with granular databases and user-generated content (Remember the days when every newspaper ran every obit for free, every police and fire call, and had the ladies’ social committee chairwoman writing a regular column?).
Hyperlocal journalism is nothing new. It’s just a new word. It’s paid before. It will pay again. The web presents new revenue challenges, but history proves, the market is there. We just need to figure out how to get there from here.
Farhi sounds a far more skeptical tone in his piece. His pessimism is based largely on the failure of Backfence. But Backfence failed for multiple reasons, none of which are in any way related to a number of other business strategies that can be built around hyperlocal, especially the kinds that newspaper companies should pursue.
And while Farhi doesn’t see much to celebrate in the current state of many other small, non-newspaper affiliated hyperlocal operations, he only lightly touches on the theme that success for these sites should be measured on completely different terms than what a large company might try to accomplish. An independent hyperlocal site can survive with much more modest goals and still serve as an exceptionally pesky disruptive force for established media companies.
Here’s two interesting bits:
Smith points out that most of the weeklies have larger editorial and sales staffs than the Post in Loudoun (the Times-Mirror has 15 full- and part-time newsroom employees). What’s more, the weeklies have an unquantifiable advantage over the big-city paper: local brand names and strong ties to the community. The Times-Mirror, for one, can trace its founding to 1798.
“Where we fell down was getting the initial traffic in,” he (Mark Potts) says. “When it works, it’s mind-blowing. But it takes time to build, and it’s difficult if you don’t have a big media organization behind you.”
So, what happens when you take those small, well-branded institutions that have been covering their communities for a long time combined with the resources of a big media organization, and you put that together with the tools and ideas behind hyperlocal journalism? Well, I think we’re going to find out. :-)
Yes we are :)
Especially if people start getting panlocal.
[…] Hyperlocal is just a fad, but what the word represents is nothing new Remember the days when every newspaper ran every obit for free, every police and fire call, and had the ladies’ social committee chairwoman writing a regular column? (tags: local web news journalism) […]
[…] Howard Owens writes much the same thing, only better. […]
I think the ‘brand’ issue highlights what is wrong with hyperlocal – no real community anchor.
All these local weeklies have a local presence – offices, people etc. Generic sites (ala backfence) which try to build community websites throughout – I just don’t see how they would work. The legitimate connection to the community just doesn’t seem to be there.
[…] I am following the debate in the US on the future of ultra-local (or hyperlocal) news with great interest. Like Howard Owens I feel it is a new term for something which has existed for a very long term and that it does have a future on the web. In response to an article in the American Journalism Review, Owens writes: Hyperlocal journalism is just a fad term for what good community papers have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s a fad term for the kind of nuts-and-bolts community coverage many daily newspapers abandoned in the wake of Woodward and Bernstein. It’s a fad term for building sites enhanced with granular databases and user-generated content (Remember the days when every newspaper ran every obit for free, every police and fire call, and had the ladies’ social committee chairwoman writing a regular column?). […]
Right Amhmed. That’s one of the points I’m trying to get at when I write about this stuff. The local newspaper has a tremendous advantage over a start up in this space, if done right.
[…] Howard Owens: Hyperlocal is just a fad, but what the word represents is nothing new “Hyperlocal journalism is just a fad term for what good community papers have been doing for hundreds of years. Itâ€™s a fad term for the kind of nuts-and-bolts community coverage many daily newspapers abandoned in the wake of Woodward and Bernstein.” (tags: hyperlocal journalism newspapers) […]
Hyperlocal news in America promises this time to be much more than a fad. A big source of funding is about to emerge that may or may not have an equivalent in the UK. Seem my post “Hyperlocal news sites may not be financially viable now, but they will be after the collapse of metro area-wide news” at The Future of News.
The reason that the term may be a fad but the concept may live in a more vibrant form this time is the instantaneous nature of the web as well as the fact that many people are getting tired of always reading something negative. It may sell the paper, but it may turn off those that are interested in knowing what’s going on next door instead of always being told what’s happening overseas… everyday.
[…] Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007 3:12 PM by Will Femia As you know, I tend to think in threads of “speaking of” but sometimes these things really do seem to make a theme independent of my meandering mind. Case in point: Will,Have you seen this? It’s a pretty amazing demo of Photosynth, a project that, among other things, can grab several images off, say, Flickr, and then build a 3-dimensional, navigable model. -Larry That is totally amazing, and I particularly like the idea of navigation by zoom (is that Seadragon?). It also reminds me of the mobile browser Deepfish project, that I’ve only read about but I understand it displays a whole Web page on your mobile device and you zoom in and out depending on what part you want to see, rather than wrestling with little scroll bars. What else is interesting is that I’ve been playing with a lot of this kind of 3D zoom navigation lately and given that presentation it’s probably not by coincidence. Recently folks were trading this gigapixel photo of Chicago at night. I thought it would be so big that it would crash my machine but it didn’t. Instead the point is that the picture has enough information for you to do quite a bit of zooming. More fun to play with is this one of Machu Picchu. If you still aren’t feeling the depth-as-navigation vibe, check out SpaceTime. I’ve been playing with it quite a bit and only crashed it once. Even if you don’t want to load it to play with it, the video demo is accurate. It presents your pages floating in space in a three dimensional stack that you can flip through. (Note to the folks at SpaceTime, I want the tabs to launch with a click instead of a paste in the address field.) OK, here’s one more. Recently the folks on Digg have been celebrating this “infinite zoom” animation (it does eventually repeat). Choose the Flash version. And of course, I don’t have to remind you that all of the latest exciting map applications have made us very familiar with the concept of zooming into a page for more information (or in some cases, too much information). Speaking of spotting trends (and predicting them), Rex does a nice job rounding up links to support his thesis that prediction sites and tools are the future. I hope “prophetic clients” catches on as a term, just for the coolness of it. Speaking of iPredict, I guess we can shut down this Paris Hilton one. Speaking of these prediction sites, part of what made me say, “oh yeah” while reading Rex’s essay is that I had MediaPredict in my notes. You can check out the “how it works” tab for a video explanation but basically you bet fake money on ideas you think are good. The idea is that enough people making these kinds of assessments will result in worthwhile information about what will do well in the marketplace. Here’s the line that I know will raise the eyebrows of readers here who’ve been critical of “wisdom of the crowds” models in the past: “That kind of collective intelligence is almost always right.” We’ll see. Their use of the stock market model reminds me of Blogshares. Also in my notes to mention here is Truemors. I’m not sure I’m totally understanding this site but the idea is for people to contribute “did you hear…” material that is true. So it looks like mostly news items, but there’s an element of prediction there as well. Perhaps more useful is that one of the founders of Truemors has been very open about the investment required to launch the site: By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09. Kawasaki’s numbers lead me to another trend, hyperlocal reporting, but this one doesn’t need spotting, it’s already a pretty well establish buzz-term. I don’t mind saying from the outset that I’m a huge fan of hyperlocal news. I love gathering the free scrawny newspapers in the bank ATM lobby. I love reading blogs about my neighborhood and I like meeting these local bloggers and for that matter, I like being one. That said, I had some trouble with the dark perspective of this item: “Media companies have high hopes that hyperlocal news online will bolster their newspapersâ€™ futures. But early returns suggest the financial outlook for such ventures is not bright.” The off-target use of Backfence as a model of hyperlocal failure is part of why I don’t agree with the article’s bleak perspective. The focus on Baristanet in the second half of the article makes hyperlocal sites sound pretty successful to me, even if the scale is not the same as that of newspapers. Friends who are readers of Baristanet pointed out to me that the site has a rivalry with a Yahoo group that serves a similar function. Hello local newspapers, there is enough of a gap in coverage in this community, and enough interest and demand that two essentially volunteer news sites have spontaneously formed and one of them is slated to make 100 grand this year. How are you going to convince me that “the financial outlook for such ventures is not bright”? In the course of making myself feel good about my opinion I also read this bit. “Hyperlocal journalism is just a fad term for what good community papers have been doing for hundreds of years.” But never let it be said that I’m not open to being wrong. I followed the link in the comments of the above item to find out what “panlocal” means only to run into this: “My problem with hyperlocal is that I don’t believe in it (and never really have) as a scalable business proposition.” Setting aside whether scalability is really the issue, it sounds like he’s solving the limitations of hyperlocal news by mixing it with items of more personal appeal that aren’t geographically based. (Is that what you got? My perception may be skewed a little because I recently read about this Yahoo guy who says search is out and personalization is in.) More familiar to me is the conclusion of the AJR piece that a more likely solution as a business model is a network of hyperlocal and/or niche sites that form a profitable aggregate. “It’s a paradoxical notion, one that seems to strike at the whole notion of “hyperlocal” journalism: To stay very small, you may have to get very big.” I say this is familiar because if ever there was a long tail business strategy this sounds like one. Related loose link: The Washington Post’s local explorer is more like local infographics than local reporting, but still interesting. Lighter links coming up shortly. […]