Local Interactive Strategies

Hyperlocal news – it’s happening under the radar

Recent  coverage of – and commentary about – hyperlocal news has been falling into two perspectives:  (1) There’s not enough money in it to sustain the business  at a local level (UK’s Guardian Local closing) or (2) AOL’s Patch points the way to a national/local hybrid.

In both cases, the assumption is that local coverage requires an approach that carries tremendous overhead cost: a traditional newsroom approach to assigning, editing and delivering news.

But far under the radar of media watchers, there is a ton of local coverage being done piece by piece, primarily by  a solo journalist covering a town, city or neighborhood. While this piece-by-piece coverage may not look significant enough to the pundits, it’s real and it has impact. Unfortunately, that piece-by-piece nature also means it’s barely sustainable because each site’s traffic isn’t enough to support a professional sales effort.

I’ve been getting a close-up look at this world for the past few months, working with a group of independent news sites in Chicago to figure out a sustainable business (a project supported by the Chicago Community Trust).  These solo publishers are passionate about local news, and they wouldn’t need all that much revenue to keep going. They’re using free or cheap technology, lots of volunteers and their own energy to serve and grow local, loyal audiences.  In many cases, their revenue is zero or close to it. So when these publishers talk about revenue opportunities, it’s a “glass half full” discussion. Contrast that with a traditional media company (like the Guardian) where any new initiative has to hit high revenue benchmarks to even look interesting.

That doesn’t make the business challenge any less daunting for independent sites. Building a sustainable business around local news takes resources and revenue to support them,  which probably means some kind of group effort. But it doesn’t take the revenue that a traditional media business expects.

Remember, we’re in early times of local journalism’s reformation. There’s plenty of creative destruction in the works and still to come. A “hyperlocal”  movement is under way, and it’s happening regardless of whether traditional media companies manage to  make a business out of it.


May 5, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. I truly believe that there is enough business at a local level. The issue is that corporate folks have to get their ad departments to embrace the hyperlocal approach in the same way the editorial department attacks it.

    We were close to turning a corner with Bluffton Today. The economy and an impatient corporate strategy did us in. In the end, we never embraced the kind of hustle and local pricing for advertising that could have endeared us to the community even more than the editorial product did.

    Ad folks want to sell the full pages and call it a day. If we smothered the mom and pops with fair pricing, I still believe to this day that it would have 100 percent worked.

    I’ve made the jump to the “dark side” working with Bleacher Report on a national level and loving it, but boy, I’m still itching to start an independent version of BT in Bluffton once Morris officially kills off the rotting carcass of what was once a thriving product (but I’m not bitter). 🙂

    Print is supplemental at this point of the game. You have to develop the iPhone, Android and iPad apps and then think print.

    Anyway, good to read your take on a topic near and dear to me. Hope all is well in Portland.


    Comment by Tim Wood | November 19, 2011 | Reply

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