Schachter: ‘Hyperlocal is not what the New York Times’ business is about’

Capital New York | Nieman Journalism Lab
Capital New York’s Joe Pompeo reports that The New York Times will end “The Local,” its two hyperlocal collaborations with New York University and CUNY, and the schools will take over the two sites.

The Times started The Local, Pompeo writes, “at a time when ‘hyperlocal’ was becoming the industry buzzword of the moment. This was back in March 2009, when AOL’s Patch was still in its infancy and there seemed to be lots of promise for a new breed of community news sites that would scale by selling targeted local online advertising, an end that has proven more difficult to achieve in practice.”

Pompeo’s take on what happened:

The sites ceased to be a priority for a news organization with no shortage of priorities, including a growing list of new web initiatives that have been rolling out as readers continue to adapt to the paid digital model implemented by the Times last year.

Jim Schachter, the Times associate managing editor who oversaw The Local and other partnerships, told me in a phone interview that Pompeo’s assessment was accurate:

This particular set of experiments was something that the digital leadership at the Times was very hot about when we started, and there’s been many turns of the screw since then. … Clearly, hyperlocal is not what the New York Times’ business is about. … I think the New York Times should not be investing a lot of editorial energy in hyperlocal in New York City.

Schachter goes into more detail on the lessons learned in an interview with Nieman Journalism Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance.

The Times had pulled back on its involvement in The Local already. In January 2010, it handed over day-to-day editorial oversight of the site in Brooklyn to an editor employed by CUNY, and CUNY students started to work on the project as part of a class.

Six months later, the Times ceded its hyperlocal effort in New Jersey to Baristanet, which expanded to cover the three towns covered by the Times.

Schachter, who is headed to WNYC as its vice president of news, emphasized that the Times will continue to support both of the hyperlocal projects, editorially and technologically, at least through the end of the year.

Schachter said that the Times has not abandoned hyperlocal completely, calling its Schoolbook site, which has a page for each one of the city’s 2,100 schools, “hyper-hyper-local.”

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  • Tim Schreier

    Question for Mr. Schachter:  Was there ever an effort to make these Hyperlocals financially viable?  Or was the Times worried about “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in the advertising market?  Did the Times ever promote, within the paper and online editions the Hyperlocals?  I will hold my breath for an answer…