the transition to digital journalism

Local

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.

General news stories have increasingly become a commodity, available at numerous websites such as Yahoo! News or Google News or a variety of other online news aggregators.

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

Newspapers

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.

Independent Startups

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.

Check out in particular BaristanetWest Seattle Blog, and the Batavian, which many point to as examples of successful local sites that are generating signficant revenue.

Students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism also run three local sites - Mission Local, Oakland North and Richmond Confidential.

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.

Community History

One particularly popular feature at many local sites is exploring the history of a community. Historic photos are especially popular.

Readings and Resources