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Hyperlocal or bust. Time for newspapers to take the plunge before they go out of business entirely. 3/28/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news.
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Just when it seemed like it could not get any worse, it has. Newspapers are reporting their biggest ad revenue plunge in more than 50 years, down more than 9% in 2007. As Jeff Jarvis notes, “Yes, some of this is as a result of the economic downturn, especially in real estate (and jobs will be next and cars after that and retail along for the ride down). But even when those segments rise again, newspapers will not…recover what they have lost.” Actually, it’s even worse than that. With audiences shifting to New Media, no one these days can even make a convincing case that there is a bottom.

There is only one feasible option for newspapers, and it is by no means a sure thing. To restore what they have lost — original news that people cannot get anywhere else, and advertisers who have no better place to go — they must shift to news of our communities, a.k.a. “hyperlocal news.” It is human nature for audiences to be most interested in news that affects their lives directly. Were it not for the limitations of technology that forced us to settle for metro area-wide news, we’d be steeped in news of our local government, schools, roads, businesses, school sports, shopping, neighbors, and neighborhoods. Hyperlocal news will also tap into the huge untapped potential of ad revenues from local businesses that could never afford the spending minimums for mass media — similar to Google’s formula. After all, what business would not want to advertise if they could afford to?

And there’s one more reason for newspapers to take this inevitable plunge now. They’ll get a headstart on another medium whose only option for long-term survival is also the hyperlocal news business — local TV stations. Think about it.

Comments»

1. Fresh Air - 3/29/08

There is so much to do and frankly, no time left in which to do it. The hyperlocal idea is wonderful, but is there even a recognition of its necessity? My own feeling, from digesting big-city reporting for many years, is that big metro papers are filled with self-important scribblers who believe they have something important to say.

You posted the clip from the idiot in Florida who said to Sam Zell, “The people want puppies!” He called her an example of journalistic arrogance, IIRC. He was right. She (presumably) wanted to write about great weighty matters like the Iraq War and global warming. It should be obvious to anyone that the Orlando Sentinel is not the place one immediately looks for information on these matters.

I’m afraid newspapers think of themselves as serving an editorial dish with several courses–but only they can select the main one for you. (This is not a successful format in most restaurants.) The reader may not be interested, as the Chicago Tribune deigned to trumpet the other day, “EPA to push for greater limits on smog.”

And the worst of it is that most publishers still think they have the gravitas to write/cover the vast, complex stories around the world. If they don’t have the resources in-house, they run wire copy. And wire copy is some of the most atrociously sourced, badly edited, tendentious, misleading and error-filled crap inked onto newsprint.

This worsens the problem considerably, as even a paper that gives fair coverage to state and local news will still be tainted by the awful AP and Reuters feeds and their international network of stringer/insurgents/Photoshop artists.

Can they leap into the chasm and do a high quality version of the South Loop News with a nice sports section, some weather and no wire copy? I don’t think so. Woodward & Bernstein killed all their careers. They just don’t realize it yet.

2. Steve Boriss - 3/29/08

Fresh Air, Unfortunately, I can’t argue with anything you said. You are even right about Woodward and Bernstein. The blindness of an industry that claims superiority for seeing the world as it really is is stunning.

3. Alex - 3/29/08

Nope. The question you pose is the right one: where will reporters go to give people information they can’t get anywhere else?

Why should hyperlocal be the answer to that? Yes, it is undercovered. Yes people care about it. But how does that translate into more revenue? You’re taking a big logical leap here.

4. Steve Boriss - 3/29/08

Alex, I was just providing newspapers’ best option. Can you think of a better one?

5. Fresh Air - 3/29/08

More revenue is not necessarily what newspapers need. It’s revenue, period–which they will have so little of in 10 years they won’t be able to stay in business.

With the Sun-Times Company, for example, it’s probably best to convert their string of “community” newspapers into professional operations with sports and weather than it is to keep bashing themselves on the rocks of readers indifferent to their front-page holy nuggets.

I have no idea what the Tribune will do. If the past pattern holds, they’ll start another free paper and give it away, too.

P.S. Personally, I’m starving for really good local information that I can read without fear of enduring a reference to Iraq or George Bush.

6. » Print-omzetdaling Amerikaanse kranten stort in 30-03-2008 RethinkingMedia - 3/30/08

[…] is de oplossing? Sommigen menen dat het ligt in ‘hyperlokaal’ nieuws. Nieuws vanuit de dakgoot. Dat zou ook nieuwe […]


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