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Washington Post’s failed hyperlocal news site was not a hyperlocal news site 6/5/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news.
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When last July the Washington Post launched its LoudounExtra.com “hyperlocal” news site, covering a county of 270,000 residents, something didn’t seem right. Apparently, something wasn’t. After less than a year, the Wall Street Journal has declared it a failure.

My concern at the time it was launched was that it failed to meet a standard that I invented (unfairly) on-the-spot — the “Tell-a-Friend Test.” For me, the gold standard for online hyperlocal news is the news that must have been spread in medieval villages before the printing press. Everyone was a sender and receiver of news, and news was about people and places that everyone personally knew — remarkably similar to some Internet developments, like social computing. Stories were so close to the people’s lives that they felt compelled to pass them on. On the other hand, stories that LoudounExtra.com was likely to run — those that all of the diverse county residents had in common, like county government and major road construction — didn’t seem nearly as compelling.

It would be a mistake to view the failure of LoudounExtra.com as a failure of hyperlocal news because it never was hyperlocal news in the first place — it was sub-metro news. What we probably have learned is that news outlets are unlikely to succeed with more local audiences if they simply shrink-down news-as-we-know-it into smaller geographies, no matter how much gee-whiz technology they add. It takes a village to make hyperlocal news work.

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