Shake up at Backfence and what it means for hyperlocal citJ

One of the darlings of hyperlocal citizen journalism in 2005 was Backfence. Well, 2007 kicks off with news that there are huge fissures in the facade. The question is, does this bode ill for the content model, or is it just poor execution by Backfence?

Previously, we talked about the poor content performance of many of these citJ sites.

Frank Barnako writes:

The concept of local, local blogs is wonderful. But it has problems.

  • No news operation can rely on part time volunteer reporters.
  • Hyper local blogs have a long way to go to get the respect, authority, and credibility that existing media have, as flawed as the “placebloggers” may think MSM is.
  • Advertisers can’t be bothered wondering whether local blogger’s small audiences will make the registers ring. And they don’t trust bloggers, either.

Blogs that do work are driven by strong personalities, either as writers or publishers. Think Calacanis’ Weblogsinc or Denton’s Gawker group, Arianna’s (and soon more) or Scoble, Mark Cuban, Daily Koz, and so on. Backfence’s Potts could be one of them. He is a guy with lots of opinions. Too bad Backfence editorial content didn’t seem to have any.

The stories on Backfence sites are mostly objective, and certainly not provocative. They are almost “corporate.” No feathers ruffled by these postings. Yawn!

Meanwhile, in the comments of Peter Krasilovsky’s post (link above), David Chase shares:

We’re always appreciative of feedback if you want to check out the site at The thing I’m proudest of is how we’ve ignited the community to contribute news, pictures, personal stories, classifieds, etc so 80-90% of our content is created by the community.

Chase admits the site isn’t a cash cow just yet, but participation must certainly proceed revenue, so maybe Chase has found the model.

UPDATE: More from Greg Sterling.

Local is really about getting good data (including from users) and getting to scale in a cost effective way, recognizing that building a successful brand in local and the usage and monetization that implies takes not only the right vision, but tremendous persistence and lots of patience.

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3 thoughts on “Shake up at Backfence and what it means for hyperlocal citJ

  1. I think a strong ‘voice’ is one thing I’m missing at Muncie Free Press. We are starting to form a small community, though.

    Also, check out some of the video the TSP’s Kurt Hostetler has been shooting. I think someone else edits the raw video, though.

    Finally, I’m in the camp that thinks (strongly) it can’t all be ‘citizen/amateur’ produced. It’s hard paying for people in the beginning, though. The start-up cost is a lot smaller than print back in the day, but it’s still an uphill battle – i.e. lack of trust, longevity, etc.

    We’re out here working on it, though. ;)


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