What’s happening in hyperlocal…

Yesterday, the New York Times announced a collaboration with New York University to cover local news in the East Village.

NYT journalist Richard G Jones will edit the Local East Village site, developed by staff and faculty at the University’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute. The site will ‘live’ on nytimes.com.

The Times has already collaborated with another journalism school on a hyperlocal project in Brooklyn, it has a venture in Chicago and an upcoming Bay Area link-up in San Francisco.

Speaking about the most recent announcement, the Editor of Digital Initiatives at NYT, Jim Schachter, says:

We want to continue to expand our network of collaborations, in the New York area and across the country, through associations with individuals, companies and institutions that share our values — foremost, increasing the volume and scope of quality journalism about issues that matter.

The new East Village site is not the only recent development in local news.

AOL is expanding its local news venture patch.com. According to a report last week from Business Insider, the group is planning to grow the number of local news websites from 30 to ‘hundreds’.

Citing an internal communication with employees, Business Insider reports that AOL said it wants to be ‘the global and local leader in sourcing, creating, producing and delivering high quality content.’

Insider says:

Patch is already growing fast. It served just 12 communities in New Jersey and Connecticut as of October 2009, when it announced plans to expand to another 11. It currently covers about 30.

Insider also reports that AOL is out at events (recently in NYU) seeking to hire journalism grads.

Writing about the AOL news, GigaOM’s Matthew Ingram says if patch.com is a failure it will be the biggest blow to hyperlocal yet.

Across the Atlantic, guardian.co.uk took its first steps into the world of hyperlocal with its Leeds website. Sites for Edinburgh and Cardiff are on the way.

Journalism.co.uk says Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger told Twitter the move was a ‘tiny toe in local web water’.

On her blog, Director of Digital Content for Guardian News and Media, Emily Bell says:

A hugely important part of this project has been the involvement of MySociety, who we’ve collaborated with to provide customised versions of their civic tools, allowing and encouraging local residents to report issues, contact their representatives and generally become engaged in the governance and care of their locality. This is an important partnership for us because we share many of the same values with MySociety, and it has been very valuable to work with them on a project like this.

I think hyperlocal has a big future – I have thought that for a long time.

I find it bothersome, however, that it mostly, at least in the US, remains the preserve of citizen journalists, journalism students and recent grads. Aside from the person tasked with being the editor, it seems the big names or more established journalists tend to be missing.

How do organisations expect readers to take local news seriously if they are not throwing major muscle, including journalists, behind it.

Local news is important. After all it can have the most immediate impact on readers’ lives and could possibly drive them to other parts of a media organisation’s operation.


One thought on “What’s happening in hyperlocal…

  1. I don’t see how the mass production of hyperlocal sites can benefit either the communities they cover or the journalists who run them.

    Isn’t the point of a hyperlocal journalist that they become embedded in and engaged with the community they cover? For that to work, building a community around the site and a genuine relationship with readers would be essential. That would limit the site’s size, in terms of geography and visitors.

    A news-gathering organisation devoted to serving, say, 20,000 people is almost certainly never going to be able to offer the profit margins once enjoyed by the huge US and UK regional and local conglomerates (which have laid off swathes of reporters who covered local beats). If it got to the stage where it could offer those kinds of returns, by widening its geographic reach and appeal to a larger number of visitors, it would no longer be hyperlocal.

    Another problem is that in an effort to reap those profit levels, AOL will almost certainly pay rock-bottom rates — they’re hiring journalism grads because they’re cheap, not for their youthful energy.

    What is wrong with the citizen journalist, reporter-as-owner model? The Ann Arbor Chronicle and the Batavian spring to mind as good examples of local news outlets covering events, right down to town council meetings, that nobody outside a 20-mile radius would touch. Their advertising works because it is linked to the area and probably sold to local businesses by somebody they know. Will it work as well when the ads are served or sold from AOL or Guardian or NYT HQ? I wouldn’t bet on it.

    I’m not sure if I agree with you that hyperlocal has a big future, but I would love it if it did. However, I would much rather see it grow as an ecosystem of local, cottage-industry journalism, whether that’s by citizen-journalists, part-timers, students or whoever, than be shoehorned into the broken business models of huge media outlets that have been activley reducing their investment in local journalism.

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