Can newspapers compete with hyperlocal blogs?

In a gathering called The Pitch last night in Seattle, 30 new media types kicked around the following question:

Can an established newspaper provide better hyperlocal coverage than a well-managed neighborhood blog?

The collective answer at the end of the night was, yes, it’s possible for an established newspaper to provide better hyperlocal coverage than a neighborhood blog. It’s just not happening right now in very many places (if any).

Here are some reasons why, in my view:

  1. Coverage focus: Layoffs and buyouts mean less “feet on the street” for most newspapers. Most reporters are assigned topics instead of geography, anyway, making a push into neghborhood-level news today even more of a stretch than it was 10 years ago.
  2. Business priorities: Advertising departments at daily newspapers are not structured for hyperlocal business. Sales reps are expensive so it’s alwasy made sene to focus on large clients who can sign lucrative annual contracts. Few have anything to offer a small business that wants to spend $100 a month. Long Tail economics have yet to arrive.
  3. Audience participation: Online audiences are more likely to participate on a hyperlocal blog than an established, especially corporate-run, newspaper. This is largely the fault of newspapers who spent years building walls around their content. (We publish, you read.) Most are now trying to reverse the one-way communication chain, but they don’t get the immediate benefit of audience collaboration that powers any good hyperlocal news blog.

Each of the above weaknesses is an opportunity for established newspapers, from metro dailies to family-run weeklies. But, as many participants noted last night, it will take a radical shift in culture that is not well-suited to change.

  1. Coverage focus: Many newspapers have publicly expressed a commitment to local coverage in the past few years. But few have dramatically changed the way the newsrooms cover local communities. Take a page from the playbook of the hyperlocal bloggers: In order to cover a community, you must first connect with it.
  2. Business priorities: I remember having lunch in a taco shop with the director of a metro daily newspaper web site a few months ago who complained that the taco shop had no way to advertise on their site at an affordable rate. Daily newspapers need a new business model that connects local businesses to local audiences (since classified, real estate and auto dollars are gone). Family-run weeklies have always done this and many are still doing OK financially.
  3. Audience participation: Dedicate real staff resources to mining, weaving and embracing contributions from readers. This goes beyond story comments. It’s about building community. And it’s not about technology. I can point you to 10 successful hyperlocal blogs that are all using a different platform. It’s about the people who are committed to connection.

For other views, check out the Twitterstream from the gathering.

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One Response to “Can newspapers compete with hyperlocal blogs?”

  1. The police section in Tucson, Ariz. has produced raw online video footage within the digicam law enforcement officer Joel Mann was wearing when he brutally pummeled a female pupil who was strolling innocuously just off the campus from the University of Arizona.

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