How mobile devices are creating hyperlocal opportunities

EveryBlock’s recent resurrection raises hopes that digital media efforts can help stoke interest in hyperlocal news. Focusing tightly on Chicago neighborhoods, EveryBlock connects users to information about crime, civic developments and calendar events – down to the block level – and brings neighbors together to talk with each other virtually.

By narrowing its audience, EveryBlock provides an example of  journalistic opportunities that employ the concept of “place.” More refined than circulation area or broadcast territory or even “neighborhood,” place – in this context – refers to the physical space in which news happens, where hubs of heightened engagement with local audiences can be created.

Now that powerful mobile devices are ubiquitous, journalists could – and arguably should – be taking advantage of technologies that tailor interactive content to particular audiences in local settings. Such experimentation by news outlets, though, remain rare.

When your community hosts a popular annual festival, your news organization probably wouldn’t hesitate to devote significant resources to produce news about it. At a minimum, that could be a schedule of events or photographs of participants or an accounting of how many people attended.

Locative journalism, or place-based news, encompasses traditional coverage features like event calendars and pictures, but uses mobile technologies to allow exciting new reporting options to emerge.

For example, if the GPS hardware of a mobile phone recognizes that a viewer is on the festival grounds, the calendar of events could appear on his or her screen through a customized app. With real-time mapping, the app can create navigational, organizational and socializing tools.

The snapshots and short videos produced by the festival crowd circulating through social media channels could augment the professional photographs and video taken by news staff.

Broad coverage of an event can supplement and provide context to the place-based content that allow each spot, each distinct place, to create its own identity and social history.

Information about the grandstand area, for example, might include the times and dates of performances, but an app also could give audiences access to video clips and reviews of the performers. Past stories about the performers could be a part of the content mix, along with any related news stories that might contribute to immediate conversations, such as concerns about the festival’s environmental impact, ticket prices and traffic.

Place-based journalism could integrate various innovative forms of embodied news, or information that both informs and responds to your movements within the environment. Yet relatively few organizations, beyond EveryBlock and creators of a few isolated projects, have been exploring the intriguing potential of locative news. Why?

As a starting point, place-based journalism had been mostly irrelevant before smartphones. Media companies had few efficient ways to deliver customized information to people in particular locations.

But with the decline of traditional ways of distributing news – such as the daily newspaper’s heavy thud against a front door – other opportunities for audience engagement are emerging.

One of those ripening ideas is the tailoring of content to community gathering places, where news often occurs and large audiences tend to congregate. These locations are like communal connective tissue, binding people in deep and meaningful ways that are not necessarily understood, articulated or appreciated.

This focus on place is not a call for more chicken-dinner news, or information mechanically and mindlessly sliced and aggregated by GPS coordinate.

Place-based news instead integrates traditional journalism with the natural relationships audience members have to each other by sharing space and experiences. Together in one location, audiences have common ground – literally and figuratively – on which to generate, share and respond to ideas.

Technology is challenging traditional understanding of local news and information by giving us fresh ways to think about what “local” can mean. Filtered neighborhood news is one way; place-based news is another.

Multimedia artists, documentary filmmakers and scholars have been experimenting with nonfiction storytelling tied to specific spaces for more than a decade. Interactive narratives about local communities, such as HighRise, history as illustrated by Murder at Harvard, and musical backstory as presented by City Sonic are among the notable examples.

Though fewer in number, mainstream journalism’s efforts also have capitalized on place and mobile technologies. In 2009, for example, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle created Picture the Impossible in collaboration with the Lab for Social Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Through a mobile game, audience members in Rochester learned about local news and the issues of the community by participating in a variety of interactive activities, including citywide scavenger hunts prompted by clues in the printed newspaper. The project team monitored user engagement and were pleased with the responses: nearly 2,500 people actively participated in the mobile game, 6,500 comments were posted in the related online forums, and $17,000 in funds were raised for local charities.

But then the mobile game ended, and few news organizations have taken on such ambitious experiments since. Cost is a major factor.

Mobile apps generally take a lot of effort and resources to build. A novel prototype could easily cost $20,000, and there is no solid business model circulating right now that could cover such expenses.

Some experimenters have been exploring durable digital models, like those that could be used and reused, as a way to test the potential of journalistic mobile applications as locative news-delivery systems.

An early example of such paradigm-changing prototypes was LocaNews, an experiment intended to simulate the productive capacity of a typical Norwegian newspaper, only focused upon the creation of location-based digital content delivered through mobile devices.

Lars Nyre, Solveig Bjørnestad and Bjørnar Tessem of the University of Bergen and Kjetil Vaage Øie of Volda University College set up shop in Voss, Norway, during the annual Extreme Sports Festival in 2009. With a staff of 13, including five journalists working full time, they spent a week running a prototype news organization in the area using a responsive locative app tailoring information by both users’ locations and interests. The results were fascinating but not definitive enough to warrant the launch of a permanent locative operation.

Yet journalists cannot afford to wait around until someone else magically unlocks this location-based potential. Much of the mobile ecosystem remains open right now for low-barrier exploration. The technology exists and is readily available. Journalists, in short, have a window to claim this locative territory.

A variety of third-party platforms – such as Aurasma, Layar, and 7Scenes – are either free or have trial periods or cheap entry options. Whether by creating new programs, or using established systems, more place-related experimentation and examination needs to happen in the news business.

Media forms regularly keep emerging, particularly through mobile technologies. Entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes are exploring these nascent systems in all sorts of industries, and everyone, it seems, is becoming an information provider.

If journalists aren’t aggressively taking some of those same risks and chances, if journalists aren’t envisioning and making the new forms of journalism, then who will?

Brett Oppegaard is an assistant professor of communication at Washington State University-Vancouver and will be joining the University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty in the fall. His research into mobile place-oriented media has won him the George and Helen Hartzog Award and the John Wesley Powell Prize. He can be reached via Twitter: @brettoppegaard. Read more


Local reporting is suffering from a ‘gradual erosion’

The Washington Post | Association of Alternative Newsmedia

Local reporting is suffering from a “gradual erosion,” Paul Farhi writes in a piece bouncing off Pew’s new State of the News Media report. The economics of digital publishing are especially brutal to local news, Farhi writes:

In drawing readers and viewers from a relatively small pond, local news outlets struggle to attract enough traffic to generate ad dollars sufficient to support the cost of gathering the news in the first place. Conversely, sites that report and comment on national and international events draw from a worldwide audience, making it relatively easier to aggregate a large audience and the ad dollars that come with it.

Publishers that cover national and international news account for 60 percent of new jobs in digital publishing, Farhi writes, while newspapers continue to cut jobs, usually from their local staffs. Small operations and nonprofits can fill the gap — Scott Brodbeck’s Local News Now in the Washington, D.C., area, employs three journalists and sales director and is profitable — but many are “financially precarious.” And, of course, there’s the Patch saga.

But you don’t have to go back to Watergate, or even 2012, to find examples of local stories piercing the veil that separates them from national news. The Bergen Record pushed “Bridgegate” into the lights after a traffic reporter, John Cichowski, and a reporter who covers the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Shawn Boburg, connected the dots on an epic traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia was touted as a possible 2016 presidential candidate (and reportedly made Mitt Romney’s shortlist for veep) before Washington Post reporters unreeled the story of his ties to a wealthy donor. And West Virginia reporters rode point on the story of a chemical spill that affected 300,000 people’s drinking water.

Unfortunately, local news lacks the cachet of long-form or investigative journalism, both of which successful digital operations like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post have been able to subsidize as part of their overall bundles. The latter has “always been high-cost content that produced a very low — if any — return in increased circulation and advertising revenue,” Jack Shafer wrote in February in a column about the “new Medicis” funding journalism as a public good — Pierre Omidyar, Farhi’s boss Jeff Bezos, Neil Barsky of the Marshall Project (which just announced the hire of The Guardian’s Gabriel Dance). Read more

Copy-spaced image of a young man drinking morning coffee and reading the newspaper at home (Depositphotos)

Why is local news innovation struggling financially while national thrives?

On the national level, we’ve seen an exciting burst of investment and innovation in digital news.

The New York Times crowed that “Web News Is Thriving,” the evidence being that Ezra Klein, the wonk’s wonk, is starting an explanatory journalism venture at Vox Media. This comes soon after the news that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is doing a massive $250 million investment in a new journalism project. And the success of BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Huffington Post has showed that content oriented sites can be business successes.

But the headlines are bleaker when it comes to local news. With a fresh round of layoffs, Patch has now purged three-quarters of its workforce. Main Street Connect, a platform for local news that got much attention a few years ago, filed for bankruptcy in May 2013. Read more


In EveryBlock’s legacy, the promise and limits of hyperlocal success

Hyperlocal news and community discussion site EveryBlock closed Thursday, as NBC News announced it struggled to become profitable and was not a “strategic fit.”

The closing was a surprise to everyone outside the company, and many people immediately began discussing the journalism and technology legacy of EveryBlock and what, if anything, might succeed in its wake.

Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, says “we’re all living in Everyblock’s world now“:

The impact of Everyblock goes far beyond the traffic to the site itself. Everyblock is one of those ideas that bent the world in a new way when it came around. One of those ideas that felt both so obvious and so ingenious simultaneously, that it looked *easy* when it was anything but. Back when it launched in 2008, the idea of arcane civic data being of use to regular citizens didn’t really exist. The idea of geolocation-based information gathering didn’t really exist. The idea of (shudder) “hyperlocal” information at the street-level didn’t really exist. And yet today, five years later, these ideas are commonplace thanks in large part to Everyblock proving that they were possible and vital.

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The hard truths of hyperlocal journalism reveal themselves in Journatic trouble

It’s become clear that Journatic has some problems: Using incorrect or fictional bylines, plus plagiarism and fabrication of news.

But what if it didn’t?

Could Journatic’s model of cost-efficient outsourced journalism offer a viable future for hyperlocal news? If its ethics and standards of quality were exemplary, would it otherwise serve a community’s needs?

Most signs say: no.

You can’t be hyperlocal while hyperdistant

Journatic founder Brian Timpone told Poynter in April that “being based in the community is not beneficial” to local journalism.

But when I look around at hyperlocal success stories, many are driven by the will and personal commitment of a local individual. The Batavian is Howard Owens. Tracy Record is West Seattle Blog. That’s not to say others don’t contribute, but the sites wouldn’t exist or sustain themselves without individual dedication.

Of all the factors that shape coverage for West Seattle Blog, Record recently told Poynter, the most important is this: “We listen. When readers start to ask about a particular type of thing we hadn’t been covering … that’s a signal to us that it’s time to start covering. But that means you have to have a relationship with the community.”

Who’s in charge of listening at Journatic?

Many hyperlocal sites do not allow anonymous comments, because they believe online communities are built the same way offline ones are — real people with real identities connecting with each other consistently over time.

Relationships matter. They matter a lot on small sites in small communities.

But you can’t have a relationship with Journatic authors. They don’t know you; you don’t know them. You don’t know anyone in common or go to any of the same places. You can’t email them, and they don’t stick around to reply to article comments.

And then, of course, there’s some news that you really have to be on-location to cover well. Record told Poynter WSB’s most valuable crime coverage is not rewriting police press releases, but witnessing breaking news: “When something big happens, we’re there. In person. And we report on it as it unfolds.”

Each hyperlocal site has to be uniquely tailored to its community

Hyperlocal websites succeed not just by saying they target a specific underserved community, but by giving that community a unique, organic solution to its unique information needs.

This was one of the major lessons from the early years of the Knight News Challenge, which spent spent more than $2.8 million on at least nine hyperlocal community news projects.

“There’s a reason Front Porch Forum is in Vermont, there’s a reason Village Soup is in Maine, there’s a reason DavisWiki is in Davis [Calif.],” Knight Foundation senior adviser Eric Newton told me in 2011. “The thing about citizen media is, it’s all about the citizens — it’s all about the right thing in the right place at the right time, in the right combination for that particular community. One size does not fit all.”

Given these lessons, it’s very hard to see how hyperlocal could ever be successfully outsourced. Perhaps some minor clerical and production tasks can be farmed out cheaply, but the principal editorial decisions, product decisions and voice of the site must be authentically local.

Irrelevant and inconsistent content

Other aspects of Journatic’s approach to outsourcing also raise barriers to producing a successful local news site.

One major flaw is the focus on quantity.

When the Chicago Tribune hired Journatic to take over its hyperlocal sites, editor Gerould Kern said “we think we can do more of it [hyperlocal news] in this way.” When the Tribune decided last Friday to bring on a consultant to work with Journatic, an internal memo said “our goal was to increase the amount of hyper-local content we provide.” (Emphases added.)

Similarly, the content Journatic once produced for former client GateHouse newspapers “was based on an agreed number of stories that would be published each month,” David Arkin, vice president of content and audience, told Poynter by email.

The basic model is this: Newspaper companies pay Journatic to generate a certain quantity of stories. Journatic pays contracted writers to provide a certain quantity of stories.

Nobody is paying anyone anything based on quality.

As a result, Arkin said, “sometimes production goals got in the way of good content decisions.” These are among the problems that he said led GateHouse to stop using Journatic:

Some stories that were selected were of little use and didn’t meet our story-selection standards. Example from an editor in Illinois: A hotel chain has an offer for families, but there’s no indication if the chain has businesses in the community the brief appeared. Another example would be state press releases like “State fire marshal marks elevator safety week.” Not valuable content, but it’s content they would often move.

Some stories were completely untimely. For example, this brief was posted on our site 18 minutes after the event was supposed to start. …

From one of our Delaware newspapers: There were 27 lunch menus posted on one of our Delaware websites on a single day. The volume blocked out all other content and looked a bit ridiculous. We don’t have a fundamental problem with posting lunch menus, but perhaps one post a day that lists all of them, would be more appropriate and would allow Journatic to post other kinds of content.

In some of our communities, they did post police items, but sometimes struggled to be consistent, which is an issue when we would depend on the content in print, which would leave a significant hole in print. We made staffing decisions around what Journatic committed to doing and when we would go without blotter for an entire week in some communities, it was a significant issue.

To understand why Journatic coverage is inconsistent, you have to understand how it is assigned and produced.

Potential stories come in through “lead generators.” They are placed in a pool of story assignments, from which the dispersed army of freelancers each choose the ones they will write.

The writers, paid on a per-story basis, decide what to produce — likely driven by the primary consideration of “how fast can I finish this, get paid, and move on to the next thing?”

As a result, one day you get dozens of stories about school lunch menus, but the next week nothing on the cafeteria culinary scene. One day you get exhaustive write-ups of arrests by local police, but the next week your local bandits and vandals go unmentioned.

Consistency would require an editor in charge who determines the overall coverage needs and assigns each writer. Or it would require experienced, salaried writers who choose the best articles to create the best possible publication. But then you’re basically back to the newsroom hierarchy and planning model, which reintroduces the costs Journatic exists to eliminate.

The hard truth

The hard truth of hyperlocal is that it does not scale.

As Chicago Tribune reporters Peter Frost and Ameet Sachdev wrote this weekend, “Some of the largest, most influential newspapers and media companies in the country have tried it: The New York Times. The Washington Post. The Chicago Tribune. Gannett. AOL. None has succeeded.”

Hyperlocal is the opposite of scale. It is the antithesis of The Huffington Post’s formulaic colonization of every imaginable content vertical (a “Prom” section, really?).

Hyperlocal is news for 100 or 1,000 people at a time.

If you seek scale by making that news appeal to more people, it becomes less relevant to any of them.

If you seek scale by stamping dozens of identitical hyperlocal sites on dozens of communities, they all become too inorganic and inauthentic to take hold.

It’s time for any publisher who wants to move into hyperlocal to say to themselves, “This is the business we have chosen.” There’s some money there, in small chunks, but not a gold mine.

And so it is often produced by someone local who cares more about quality than money. Or sadly it may be produced by the Journatic alternative: Someone who cares enough about the money to ignore the quality.

Editor’s note: Portions of this story appeared in earlier reports on Poynter.org. Read more


How hyperlocal sites handle ‘micro-news’ in their communities

We’ve become familiar with the way Journatic — and the news organizations that outsource to it — are gathering and publishing local “micro-news” like school lunch menus, death notices, high school sports scores and real estate transactions. But we wondered: How else is this information being compiled?

To find out, I checked with some independent, online-only local news publishers. I asked them if they include this sort of content on their sites and how they collect it.

Tracy Record of West Seattle Blog said via email that her site handles this type of news in a variety of ways. High school sports coverage, for instance, is sometimes reported by attending games, or information might be pulled from schools’ websites and Twitter. Not every game can be covered, so Record said they depend on their own judgment and readers’ input to point them to the most newsworthy contests.

West Seattle Blog’s death notices come mostly from families themselves. A professional writer does the crime roundup, but Record stressed that their breaking crime coverage is often far more vital to the community. “When something big happens, we’re there. In person. And we report on it as it unfolds,” she explained.

The Batavian’s Howard Owens, also responding via email, said his site does paid death notices, which are provided by four of the six funeral homes in his site’s coverage area. It’s a self-serve process. The site’s event calendar is populated by Owens’ wife and a freelancer; community members can add events on their own if they register with the site. Announcements and milestones are also gathered by Owens’ wife.

Owens said he would love to have more of this sort of content on the site and has been trying to figure out a way to gather it using local employees.

Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent and Eugene Driscoll of the offshoot Valley Independent Sentinel echoed Record in underscoring the importance of strong contacts within the community to facilitate this type of coverage. Much of the information is uploaded by readers themselves or submitted on Facebook (here’s the Sentinel’s page, for example).

“For us, Facebook is the talking Rolodex,” Driscoll said. “We’re in constant, two-way communication with readers. We’re not the anonymous, omniscient newspaper reporter dropping in on your community and dumping cookie-cutter news stories on you.”

In general, decisions on “micro-news” coverage are made with the community in mind. If the information can be found elsewhere, links will point readers to it. High school sports, for instance, were once covered with freelance help. Eventually it was decided that the money would be better spent on hiring another full-time reporter and now the sites link out to other sources, including, Driscoll said, local blogs.

Other sites, like VTDigger, for instance, publish little to no micro-news. Editor Anne Galloway wrote via email that they have an events calendar for public meetings and hearings, press releases about issues of statewide interest and that’s it. When I asked why they don’t include things like real estate transactions, Galloway replied that it is not relevant to their core mission, which is to provide in-depth and investigative reporting on public policy matters. “We also don’t have the human resources,” she added. “I would prefer to invest in searchable databases of government data instead.”

Perhaps Tracy Record summed up best how sites like hers make decisions on which hyperlocal news to cover: “Most importantly of all: We listen. When readers start to ask about a particular type of thing we hadn’t been covering … that’s a signal to us that it’s time to start covering. But that means you have to have a relationship with the community.”

Related:A good local story is about connection. Connections exist between people” (Dan Haley/OakPark.com) | Outsourcing will be part of journalism’s future (Mathew Ingram/GigaOm) | 5 lessons from Journatic (David Cohn) Read more


Chicago Tribune discovers plagiarism, suspends work with Journatic

Vouchification | Chicago Tribune | Williamsburg Yorktown Daily | Illinois Times | Gazebo News
One of Journatic’s editorial leaders, Mike Fourcher, announced Saturday morning that he has resigned from the outsourcing company because he and the company’s founders “fundamentally disagree about ethical and management issues as they relate to a successful news business.” Journatic said late Saturday that it had planned to fire Fourcher before he resigned.

In a phone interview, Fourcher said, “I’m upset because I believe what Journatic was originally conceived to do was a good idea. It went off track.” Fourcher, who was with the company just 10 weeks, said “what we’re seeing is the result of a misguided set of priorities. Writers and editors are implicitly discouraged from doing high quality work for the sake of efficiency and making more money. … The only metrics that exist are to punish people for failure or to encourage them to fear embarrassment.”

That embarrassment arrived, for one particular writer and the company, Friday evening in a letter to readers from Chicago Tribune President Vince Casanova. The paper announced it would suspend its relationship with Journatic, the company it invested in and hired to take over its TribLocal websites after laying off about 20 journalists. The note reads:

We made the decision after it came to light Friday that a sports story published in this week’s Deerfield TribLocal contained elements that were plagiarized and fabricated. …

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Hyperlocal news sites mature as founders of Baristanet, Dallas South News move on

In as many months, two pioneers of hyper-local news websites have decided to leave those sites for jobs in the public sector. Debbie Galant, who launched Baristanet.com eight years ago, announced earlier this week that she’s accepted a job at Montclair State University, and last month Shawn P. Williams left the site he founded three years ago, DallasSouthNews.org, to work in the Dallas Mayor’s office as a digital media strategist.

What do the departures say about the maturity of independently owned and produced hyper-local news?

The sites are based on different business models: Dallas South News is a non-profit focusing mostly on blacks and Latinos living in the Southern sector of Dallas, Texas, while Baristanet – focused on several suburban towns in Northern New Jersey – has been profitable basically since year one, the founders told Poynter. They also offer two contrasting views on their future success.

Galant, a journalist and author, immediately handed over control to co-owner, Liz George, an editor and writer who Galant has worked with almost from the beginning; George is now CEO of Baristanet. Along with George, Galant leaves a team in place responsible for advertising, editorial and everything in between. Galant told Poynter in a telephone interview that she will remain co-owner of the site, may write occasionally and will make herself available to give advice. Operations at the site, which saw its strongest revenue month in history in May, will continue as they had under Galant, George told Poynter in a separate interview.

Nearly 1,600 miles away few, if any, updates have been made to Dallas South News since Williams’ departure in June. The board of directors that governs the site is still searching for a replacement –  people who are willing to work for no money, at least initially, board member Neil Foote told Poynter in a telephone interview.

Williams, a former pharmaceutical sales representative, served as both editor-in-chief and publisher of Dallas South News. Foote said the board will likely bring on two different people to fulfill the roles: An editor-in-chief dedicated to editorial content and a publisher in charge of fundraising.

“We’re in transition,” said Foote, who is President/CEO of Foote Communications, a public and media relations consultancy. Foote is also a senior lecturer at the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism and has worked with nationally syndicated radio host, Tom Joyner, for the past 12 years.

“As [Williams] expressed his desire to move on, no one on the board felt that it was time to shut down. Instead, it was a time to still figure out this model for the future,” Foote added.

“The major brands, primarily The Dallas Morning News and local TV stations, cover all parts of Dallas, but no one has really focused on the day-to-day coverage of Southern Dallas. There are probably eight to a dozen African American publications and probably as many Hispanic publications that are out there doing it at their level, but not with as sophisticated an online presence as Dallas South News.”

(Disclosure: I was an editor-in-chief of two of the African American publications in Dallas; Dallashapps.com went out of business after I left and the other still uses the website template that I created nearly 12 years ago.)

Williams declined to name the person being considered to take over the website. He did allow that the editor is someone with a journalism degree, but isn’t someone who is necessarily in the media business. “They are still somewhat of an outsider,” Williams said in a telephone interview.

Dallas South News relies on donations and advertising to cover operating costs; raising revenues has always been a challenge. The site will remain a non-profit. The site also relies on volunteers to do everything from writing, providing video, to administrative work and photography, Williams said. This year the site also received a grant that allowed Williams to hire some freelancers, and students at Southern Methodist University began providing content for the site as part of their curriculum through a partnership between Dallas South News and the school. Foote said the board wants to continue its partnerships with SMU and with the University of North Texas as well.

When the site first started, Williams did most of the work himself. Eventually about 30 volunteers contributed to the site. He left to take a job – a steadier source of income – where he could continue doing some of the same things he did with his website. Williams tweets about events happening in and around South Dallas and helps “make people aware of the growth and development taking place in the community.”

Like Williams, when Galant started Baristanet in 2004, she did most of the work herself. She did most of the writing, training of writers, and recruiting. She worked with the director of advertising by helping her with advertiser negotiations. Galant was involved with any site redesign and navigation, special pages and special projects. She was the tech liaison, communicating what the team wanted, which was then interpreted by someone who wrote code. “Basically it was sort of like running a pizzeria,” Galant said in a telephone interview. “… From taking out the trash to talking to the customers to dealing with the neighbors, every aspect of the business, large or small, I had a hand in.”

Baristanet covers a number of suburban towns in Northern New Jersey, receives more than 9,000 visits a day, and up until this week was run by both Galant and George, both journalists. Baristanet has inspired the launch of local news sites in Pittsburgh; Brooklyn; New Haven, Conn.; Watertown, Mass.; and Red Bank, New Jersey.

George declined to provide specific revenue numbers for the site, but said in May the site earned 1.5 times more than it typically does in monthly revenue. She also said that she doesn’t know whether her new role will become a full-time job. “I’ll wear all the hats [Galant] did plus the hats I already wore,” she said. “This is a seven-day commitment.”

In addition to leaving a strong team in place and stable ad revenues, Baristanet also benefits from a special program sponsored by the Patterson Foundation, which provided the team with a course on self-publishing and a coach who will continue to work with them through the current transition, Galant said.

If there is one bit of advice she could pass along to others running their own hyper-local websites, or those interested in running one, Galant said it would be to pace yourself and get help.

“Try to get as many people on your team as you can, even if that means splitting your profits with other people so that you don’t burn out, and so that you will have more eyes on the community,” Galant told Poynter in a telephone interview. “It really does take a village to build a hyperlocal website. I do know people who do it solo but I do fear for them, and their health and sanity because it is a lot of work. I would say be very excited, but pace yourself.” Read more

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Departure of Baristanet founder doesn’t portend changes, says editor

With founder Debbie Galant taking a new job at Montclair State University, where she’ll join “an ambitious effort to nurture digital and hyperlocal journalism in New Jersey,” Baristanet co-owner Liz George now has a busier summer ahead of her.

But George said she doesn’t expect major changes in the hyperlocal site’s coverage or approach.

“We have such a mix of voices, I don’t think there’s going to be a dramatic change,” she said in a phone interview. “We have a sensibility that we’ve worked on for eight years, throughout the site.”

In the past several months, George said she and Galant spent most of their time managing the business and handling editorial issues, with some writing interspersed. She said it wasn’t a full-time job for either of them, though of course it will be harder with Galant gone and contributors away on summer vacations. Read more


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: Read more

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