Does “hyperlocal” have a future?

A bunch of people analyzed the death of Backfence last week — a massively overhyped (and overfunded) site from the very beginning, in my opinion, and nothing I’m going to shed any tears over.

Examining the idea of hyperlocal sites and approaches is worthwhile, though — and Pat Thornton did a nice job of it last Monday. Steve Yelvington also had some useful observations about risk and failure in the online world.

Update (July 17): There’s a good post about “lessons learned” by Backfence co-founder Mark Potts, at the MediaShift blog.

5 Comments on “Does “hyperlocal” have a future?

  1. I like it that they have local restaurants, places of worship and schools featured on the home page at the new Loudoun County site. The Post used to cover the outlying suburbs in the most perfunctory way — weak feature stories and precious little coverage of real issues like housing costs, health care and schools. They ought to be able to do this right. We’ll have to wait and see.

  2. Patrick, you beat me to it.

    Otherwise, every weekly newspaper in the country with no budget for a wire-feed subscription would laugh at the question. Of course hyperlocal has a future. It’s all they have in the small towns that some would argue is America.

    I should know, I was the photog for two small weeklies for 16 months. All we did was hyperlocal.

    Although I am not affiliated with The Selma Enterprise any longer, their entire paper including ads were pretty much 100% local.

    The biggest daily was 25 miles away and brought the small town all of the bigger, geographically diverse news to that small town.

    But when it came to wedding announcements, your child’s photo from the high school sports game last Friday or the local coffee shop placing an ad — it was/is hyperlocal.

    Small papers have nothing else in this world of no-competition, one newspaper towns.

    Just my collegiate two cents.

  3. It’s interesting that this topic should come to my attention. I just finished an article in Wired about a different kind of hyperlocal: think hyper as in linked and local as in location. It spoke of location aware smart devices, and services like Google Earth and other mapping technologies.

    In the case of extremely local news sites I’m inclined to strongly agree with Pat Thornton when he says that there are multiple components that must be aligned for a site (of any kind really, but especially “hyperlocal” sites). However, I disagree when he notes the components as tech, citizen and professional journalism. I would suggest that technology,a receptive audience and content are the important aspects of creating a news site of any kind in my eyes; blogs, media conglomerates and hyperlocal, grassroots sites alike.

    I think there is a great opportunity for existing media companies to expand into the online world and exploit their existing ties with a community. Weekly papers, and even dailies have this chance, but they need to take a pioneering role (arrows in the back will be a danger) in their approaches. They will not succeed by trying to mimic television or even their own newspapers. A new approach must be taken utilizing existing infrastructures of news gather.

  4. I think LoudounExtra might be a hyperlocal journalism site that makes it. I just wrote a blog post on the subject (http://patthorntonfiles.com/blog/?p=24).

    The things I like about it that Backfence didn’t do well are:

    It has real journalism and a lot of it. The site is regularly updated with whats going on in the area. They have several dedicated writers and editors for the site and print version.

    The site has a lot of quality database content. It has a lot of it, more so than just about any other I have ever seen.

    All that being said, there are a few things I don’t like:

    It doesn’t have social networking or user-generated content yet. The latter is promised for later this year (it does have some feedback features but nothing major), while the former may or may not happen. But even without those features, there is a reason to go to LoudounExtra.com.

    That was the problem with sites like Backfence. With those sites, unless you get a lot of people actively participating and generating content, the site will fail. LoudounExtra can succeed without user content, but will become that much better once those features are complete.

    Hopefully, the site does user-generated content in a meaningful way and embraces social networking. Social networking is the soul of hyperlocal.

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