the transition to digital journalism
Newspapers, TV and radio news shows and general interest magazines generally built audiences by bundling together a variety of content - general news, sports, weather, business reporting, lifestyle and entertainment, and so on.
The Internet dismantled those bundles, creating opportunities for niche products in each topical area that competed with general interest publications and networks.
See, for example, the book "Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy" by two Boston Consulting Group executives. The book grew out of a 1997 Harvard Business Review article they wrote, in which they pointed to newspaper classified advertising as a prime example of a product that could be un-bundled from the print product and done better online.
Some general interest publications will survive in this environment, such as major national newspapers like the New York Times and USA Today, or cable networks like CNN, Fox News or MSNBC.com.
But local news sources, especially metro newspapers that serve a wide geographic area with a variety of content, have been forced to re-think their online strategy in the face of a new competitive environment online in which a myriad of highly focused sites chip away at the traditional bundled product.
Some news organizations are forming alliances with competitors to share more generic news stories and thus reduce the cost of providing news that is easily obtainable from a variety of sources.
Rise of Hyperlocal Sites
Many newspapers are also adopting a hyperlocal strategy. Rather than delivering one product with commoditized news to a large geographical area, they're creating locally focused products for individual communities that offer more extensive and in-depth coverage on local issues.
And within those very local communities, online sites can slice up content even more, creating "verticals" on specific topics of concern to local residents.
Thus a local site would have sections on crime, education, health care, etc. similar to the beats of traditional newspapers but with much deep and richer "evergreen" content (stories supplemented by databases and background information). See for example the Online Journalism Review story urging local newspaper sites to create online sections on health care reform - Newspaper websites offer no cure on health-care reform.
Besides newspapers, the local market has attracted many independent community news site startups, as well as companies that have rolled out platforms for creating hyperlocal websites across the country.
These sites are often filling a void in neighborhood coverage left by metro newspapers as their staffs have shrunk.
In some areas, such as Sacramento, Calfornia, the independent sites are now partnering with local metro papers.
But many ventures in the local online news space also have failed - see Rem Rieder's list in USA Today of some of the notable failures.
Other Local Site Ventures
Many other companies are targeting the local space, from aggregators of local news feeds and companies starting networks of local news sites to social networks adding location based features. They include:
- AOL's Patch sites, about 900 of which were rolled out in communities around the U.S. after AOL bought Patch in 2009. However in August 2013 AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced that up to 400 of the unprofitable Patch sites were being closed or turned over to partnerships with other media companies.
- DNAinfo, a chain of neighborhood news sites in New York, Chicago and elsewhere staffed by professional journalists.
- Yahoo Local, including Yahoo's purchase of Associated Content to provide stories about local concerns
- Facebook, which in August 2010 launched its Facebook Places initiative.
Lists of Local Sites
Several online sites are trying to catalog the local community news sites that are proliferating around the country:
- Placeblogger - a database of more than 7,000 local blogs, put together by Lisa Williams and Tish Grier, and supported by a Knight News Challenge Grant from the Knight Foundation.
- Go Hyperlocal has a directory that showcases local online news sites
- Michele McLellan has compiled a list of promising local news sites, categorized by type of site.
- See this list we've put together of several hundred hyperlocal websites, and this list of stories about and profiles of individual local sites.
- Bay News Network, a site we run, tracks local independent online news sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.
One particularly popular feature at many local sites is exploring the history of a community. Historic photos are especially popular.
- The claycord.com blog posted a series of historical photos, one of a old store that prompted 51 comments, a photo slideshow that drew 49 comments, a restaurant menu from the 1950s that 52 people commented on, an unidentified old photograph, which 27 people weighed in on trying to trace its origin, and a old photo of a new house for sale that drew 36 comments from people trying to identify where the house was located.
- The claycord site followed up with another regular feature in which a current photo of an area in the community is published and residents are asked to fill in the history with their comments. This too has been very popular.
- The Berkeleyside local news blog ran this photo of downtown Berkeley in 1962 that prompted 16 comments from readers, mostly about how the city had changed over the years.
- The Oakland North site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism did a photo slideshow Q&A game on the history of Oakland's Lake Merritt.
Readings and Resources
- Knight Citizen News Network - a "self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites and that assembles news innovations and research on community media projects." Part of the J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism, funded by the Knight Foundation.
- New Business Models for News: Hyperlocal - City University of New York website with studies and resources on local news sites
- The Hub: Resource Center for Community-Based and Nonprofit Journalism - Created by the Voice of San Diego as a clearinghouse for useful information for community news orgnizations.
- Rolling the Dice - Paul Farhi, American Journalism Review, 7/2007
- Backfence: Lessons Learned - Mark Potts, Recovering Journalist, 7/15/2007
- Citizen Media - The State of the News Media 2008, Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008 - overview of citizen media news sites, especially local sites.
- How News Happens: A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City - Project for Excellence in Journalism, 1/11/2010. A report on the Baltimore area.
- Community Journalism - The State of the News Media, Project for Excellence in Journalism, March 2010. Includes summaries of the findings of two PEJ studies of citizen journalism sites in 2007 and 2009.
- Close-up on Seattle: Local Blogs and Community Collaboration - study on how neighborhood blogs are covering the news in Seattle, New America Foundation, 5/11/2010.
- Networks Aim to Solve Local Ad Puzzle for Hyper-Local Sites - MediaShift, 5/17/2010
- Neighbors Online: How Americans learn about community issues - Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, 6/9/2010
- Citizen Journalism vs. Legacy News: The Battle for News Supremacy: MU Researchers Say Citizen Journalism Does Not Match Void Left by Legacy News Organizations - Missouri School of Journalism, 7/8/2010. See also Steve Buttry's critique of the study.
- With Sacramento Connect, The Bee taps the power of partnerships - News Leadership 3.0, Knight Digital Media Center
- The New News 2010 - Community Media Workshop, August 2010. Report on online news and blog sites in the Chicago area.
- Coffeeshop Newsrooms Yield Stories, Sources, Understanding of Journalism - Poynter Online, 8/6/2010
- The Hazards of Hyperlocal - American Journalism Review, September 2010
- New survey: Community news site users more satisfied compared to their local mainstream news sources - Reynolds Journalism Institute, Missouri School of Journalism, September 2010
- New Voices: What Works - J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism, 9/30/2010. An analysis by the J-Lab of the 55 community news startups they have funded since 2005.
- Post BxB2010 Roundup: Patch, Revenue, Efficiency - Michele McLellan, News Leadership 3.0, Knight Digital Media Center at USC, 10/11/2010
- Working with community volunteers: Tips from Kwan Booth - Amy Gahran, News Leadership 3.0, Knight Digital Media Center at USC, 10/14/2010
- Entrepreneurial journalists should pursue several revenue streams - Steve Butry, The Buttry Diary, 10/31/2010
- The top 10 key lessons for hyperlocal journalism startups from ONA10 - Online Journalism Review, 11/4/2010
- Medill Students: Audience Research Should Drive Hyperlocal Revenue Strategy - Rich Gordon, IdeaLab, 12/1/2010
- Study Questions Quality of Local Site Traffic - NetNewsCheck, 2/16/2011. Story about Borrell Associates study that found a significant percentage of a local site's traffic is from people who don't live in the site's market or visit the site very rarely.
- 'Localists' Turn to TV, Newspapers, Radio Before Hyperlocal Sites, Study Shows - Ad Age, 3/2/2011
- Emerging Economics of Community News - Michele McLellan, State of the News Media 2011
- Less of less: FCC-commissioned report finds a “surprisingly small audience for local news traffic” - Nieman Journalism Lab, 6/15/2011
- Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism - J-Lab, 7/2011
- Independent New Sites: The Pendulum is Swinging Both Ways - J-Lab, 2/15/2012
- Hyperlocals Diverge on How to Mine Rich Lode of Digital Ads - StreetFight, 2/23/2012
- The newsonomics of hyperlocal’s next round: Patch, Digital First, and more - Ken Doctor, Nieman Journalism Lab, 2/23/2012
- Most adults follow local news closely, relying on local newspapers and other sources - Pew Internet & American Life Project, 4/12/2012
- Billions in Local Ad Dollars Surge to Online — But Just a Trickle to News - Street Fight, 7/19/2012
- How people get local news and information in different communities - Pew Internet & American Life Project, 9/26/2012
- Why do community news sites, once hailed as the future of journalism, so often flop? - Ad Week, 1/8/2013
- 21 Things I Learned Running Hyperlocal News Site - Mike Fourcher, Vouchification, 1/11/2013
- Solving the Hyperlocal Puzzle - Cary Spivak, American Journalism Review, 4/2013. An article about the DNAinfo.com local sites.
- Google is testing a local news product for Google Now - Quartz, 7/31/2013
- AOL's Patch Is Purging Staff, But Here's How 'Hyperlocal' Can Work - AdAge, 8/15/2013
- The newsonomics of Patch’s unquilting - Ken Doctor, Nieman Journalism Lab, 8/19/2013
- Tough times for Patch, hyperlocal news - Rem Rieder, USA Today, 8/21/2013