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. :-)