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Regional news is too big to create a big market 7/29/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news.
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Mediaweek reports that ad buyers want newspapers to reinvent their business model — a pretty difficult trick to pull-off at the same time they are shrinking newsrooms and are covered in red ink.

In the article, many of those quoted have interesting insights, including Anne Gordon, one-time managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and now a partner at Dubilier & Co., a private equity firm. She says that the strategy of large regional papers to serve the whole of their sprawling markets with local news sections has been a bust. Instead, she suggests that “papers should leverage their depth of coverage by, for example, publishing e-newsletters on single topics like business or the arts.”

While I agree with Ms. Gordon that there may not be a market for regional news, why drop the idea altogether for business and the arts? Perhaps regional is just not small enough for people to see news that directly affects their lives. Hyperlocal news may be smaller, but its market is much bigger.

Hyperlocal news shifting focus from journalists’ to readers’ interests, but ultimately advertisers’ interests will come first. 7/2/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Advertising revenues, Hyperlocal news.
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It occurs to me that while much of the discussion in these days of newspaper cutbacks continues to be how to maintain content journalists want, those focused on hyperlocal news are focused on what readers want. For example, in this article by Steve Outing the hyperlocalists consider how to satisfy the news interests of a single person without kids to whom dog parks and train delays are the most important news items.

Focusing on readers is a step in the right direction, but not the final step. While it is painful for many journalists to hear, what will ultimately matter most in the no-paid-subscription, online-news-world to come is what is best for advertisers. If a train schedule can draw substantial advertising from the rail service or similar businesses related to train travel, it will be a candidate for inclusion. If dog park information can draw ads from sellers of pet products, it may also be a candidate. In journalism-think, news must be completely separate from the interests of advertisers. But in the emerging newspaper-business-think, in an environment where advertisers and not subscribers pay the bills, advertiser is king.

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.

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.

Current hyperlocal news efforts are based on overly pessimistic revenue models. The collapse of local TV will change everything 12/16/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news.
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Today’s experiments in hyperlocal, sub-metropolitan area news (summarized by MediaShift here) all seem to share a questionable assumption – that money will be tight compared to today’s mainstream news outlets. Most of the models are downright miserly when it comes to labor costs, typically assuming they must enlist volunteers or make heavy use of search engine robots as editors. This doesn’t seem right given that there should be even greater interest in hyperlocal news than the metropolitan-level news that dominates today – after all, what happens in our local neighborhoods, communities, schools, planning and zoning, roads, shopping areas, etc. has a much more direct impact on our day-to-day lives.

In fact, when you fully play-out the likely development of the Internet, there ought to be plenty of money to support full-time editorial hyperlocal talent. Local TV stations are going to be more and more questionable places for local advertisers to place their ad dollars. For one thing, TV networks are now cutting-out their local TV affiliates as middlemen in the distribution of primetime entertainment programming, through a combination of Internet distribution and wireless PC-to-TV technology. For another, these local TV stations will need to follow their audiences to the web where they will be competing for their audiences’ attention against multitudes of web sites, not just a handful of local TV channels. This is going to leave metropolitan-area-wide advertisers desperate for new places to place their ad dollars, and hyperlocal Internet news will be an obvious and highly-efficient choice. Moreover, just as Google uncovered a vast, untapped multitude of advertisers that never had the critical mass necessary to advertise nationally, hyperlocal sites will uncover multitudes of hyperlocal advertisers who never had an affordable advertising medium. So, let’s not sell hyperlocal news short. Hyperlocal will be the new Metro.

Could local news outlets use search engine technology instead of citizen journalists to create hyperlocal news? 12/5/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news, SearchEngines.
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In the dark cloud of the collapse of established news outlets, there is a silver lining for local newspapers and TV stations. The bad news is that audiences are beginning to shun local news outlets for national and international news, instead seeking the best national talent over the web. The good news is that when local outlets finally recognize that hyperlocal news is their only way out and get serious about it, they will find a pleasant surprise — their audiences will be more grateful than ever because this news more directly affects their lives, is less likely to have a persistent center-left bias, and is unavailable anywhere else.

Unfortunately, Old Media journalism culture is naturally resistant to hyperlocal news. Local stories are not as “glamorous” as national and international stories for those who entered journalism to “change the world.” Newspapers will want to avoid investing in in-depth coverage of a multitude of communities at a time when they are cutting costs and staff to survive. And, efforts to make hyperlocal reporting affordable by engaging un- or low-paid amateur “Citizen Journalists” are offensive to journalists’ egos, and diminish the quality of the news product.

Former newspaper executive, venture capitalist, and self-styled “Newsosaur” Alan D. Mutter has an intriguing solution that might help — marry the strengths of emerging search engine technology to the local knowledge and archive assets of local news outlets to create a variety of highly customized hyperlocal news services. These services might include personalized news by community, links to historical articles as background, the lowest prices at nearby stores, historical high school sports statistics, and a variety of other services limited only by the imagination. Emerging technologies that help search engines think more like humans will enable this, he contends. Pretty good thinking from an old, but not ordinary newsosaur, whose career shift suggests he knew years ago that the meteors were on their way.

Hyperlocal? Hyperpersonal? Whatever you want to call the future of news, it’s all about Hyper-Me. 7/30/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news, Hyperpersonal news.
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Jeff Jarvis and LostRemote were all over NowPublic CEO Len Brody today for making this puzzling observation, “I’m not a believer in local anymore…I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under…it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal [like Facebook].”

What Mr. Brody is missing is that hyperlocal and hyperpersonal news are the same thing. They are both news that more directly affects individuals’ lives than what we call “news” today. Hyperpersonal like Facebook and MySpace is news of friends, which of course will have more appeal to those under 35. Hyperlocal is news of neighborhood and community, which of course will have more appeal to those over 35 who are keenly interested in local zoning, shopping, crime, roads, neighborhood gossip, and their kids’ schools and soccer games. Hyperlocalites are the backbone of society, the people who vote in every election, the citizens with roots.

Our relative interest in hyperlocal vs. hyperpersonal news will not only vary among ourselves, but also between our selves across different stages in our lives. What will not vary is the evolution of news from YourNews to MyNews.

Hyperlocal News must pass an all-new standard: the “Tell-a-Friend Test.” New WaPo site comes up short. 7/17/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news, Washington Post.
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Scott Karp shares my view that the Washington Post took a big, admirable step into hyperlocal news with LoudounExtra.com, and yet somehow didn’t quite hit the mark. What exactly is “the mark”? Let me suggest a new standard by which to judge hyperlocal news sites — the “Tell-a-Friend Test.” This is about whether the news provided is sufficiently compelling to readers that they actually pass it on to someone in their household or hyperlocal community, whether in-person or electronically.

When hyperlocal news succeeds, it will be because it successfully re-created and upgraded the word-of-mouth, village-based communication processes of 500 years ago, before the printing press was invented. The human condition includes the irresistable urge to hear and spread news that directly affects us, our families, and our communities. That’s why many years from now, the printing press, broadcast towers, cable TV, and metro area-wide news will be seen as temporary bridges that solved problems of disseminating news quickly and widely, but were less than ideal because their news was about other people’s lives, and they made us observers, not participants in the news process. By contrast, the hyperlocal news experience will be like hearing and spreading the latest facts, opinions, and rumors that come from a village’s authorities, know-it-alls, eccentrics, gossip-mongers, friends, braggarts, neighbors, and people who just plain talk too much.

With LoudounExtra.com, the Washington Post is trying to force-fit what newspapers now do into smaller, more local areas. But the ultimate solution will arrive when someone figures out how to capture the content that neighborhood gossips and their listeners now spread, and expands this into larger areas.

The dilemma: Hyperlocal news will open the floodgates of ad revenues tomorrow, but can’t keep Backfence afloat today 7/6/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news.
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The news we’ve always wanted is the news that affects our lives directly. MySpace and Facebook have been phenomenally successful because they deliver the most important news — that of family and friends. But from there, you have to jump all the way up to the metro area level, where we get news from daily newspapers and local TV stations. And, the only news they provide regularly that affects us directly is weather and major league sports, both of which are delivered in more detail and on-demand on the Internet and cable TV. What’s left is stories about someone else’s community.

So, imagine a future like this. The young never pick-up the habit of getting news from either daily newspapers or local TV, and instead get all their news from the Internet using a variety of devices. Older people join them. Daily newspapers and local TV stations collapse because most cannot effectively compete online against other outlets that are now providing the national, international, sports, entertainment, and weather news that was once their staple. Classified advertisers yawn, because online classified ads are better and cheaper. But other local advertisers freak-out — how are they going to get the word out about their cars, casinos, tires, fashions, restaurants, etc.?

So suddenly, money will be burning holes in the pockets of advertisers anxious to fund the hyperlocal news we always wanted — news of neighborhoods, crime, roads, schools, sports, zoning, charitable events and more. The problem is, how can the pioneers of hyperlocal news, like the now-folding Backfence (see Jeff Jarvis), stay solvent before the advertiser freak-out occurs? The bad news is they won’t. The good news is the “freak-out” will happen sooner than anyone now thinks. The worst news is reserved for those who do nothing.

The NY Times clutters “City Room” with things of little value to online readers 6/19/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Hyperlocal news, NYTimes.
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If the purpose of the NY Times’ new “City Room” was to put all of the shallow cliches about the Internet, bloggers, and the future of news into one convenient location, it must be considered an enormous success. According to the Times, it is a “blog,” an “online community,” it will “respond quickly” to breaking news, will include “in-depth” reports from all “five boroughs of the city,” “encourage reader comments and discussion,” feature frequent “web videos,” include “news profiles on neighborhoods,” and contain “links to primary sources.”

After reviewing the City Room site, I have only one question — why would anyone actually visit it? Rather than having the feel, charm, and point-of-view that characterizes personal blogs, it offers a collection of unrelated stories that just happen to be entered in reverse chronological order. And, it does not offer the type of hyperlocal news that directly affects readers’ lives because the chances of a story actually being about a reader’s hyperlocal area are slim in a city as large and diverse as New York. So, by offering a collection of unrelated stories about someone else’s part of town, why would the Times expect readers to feel like they are part of a “community,” much less be inspired to submit online comments? I don’t get it, and I suspect Morgan Stanley and other shareholders seeking to unseat the controlling Sulzberger family might not either.

Hyperlocal news sites may not be financially viable now, but they will be after the collapse of metro area-wide news 6/5/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in AJR, Hyperlocal news, Local news, Metro.
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An otherwise excellent summary in the American Journalism Review on early hyperlocal online news sites falters when it suggests that their current, weak financial results might indicate their doubtful future. This erroneously assumes that, in the future, hyperlocal sites will continue to struggle against much larger, well-funded metro area-wide newspapers and TV outlets. Yet, a collapse of metro outlets seems inevitable. When there is a convergence of all news media onto the web, local metro media’s national, international, and weather-related news will be snatched-up by others, leaving them with…..what? News of the town’s major and minor league sports teams? The biggest news stories in the metro area, most of which happen outside news consumers’ communities, so have no direct impact on them? Faced with less interesting stories, former metro news audiences will flee to find hyperlocal news that more directly affects their lives, and advertisers’ dollars will be chasing after them, close behind. If metro area newspapers and local TV stations are serious about being around in the future, they have little choice but to make poor, short-term financial investments in hyperlocal news.