Articles about "Hyperlocal"

The rise and fall of Windy Citizen

Windy Citizen
Brad Flora is closing down Windy Citizen for a couple of reasons, “but the main one is that for some time now it has cost more to keep up than it’s been generating revenue-wise,” Flora writes in a note to readers. Also, he notes, “the internet is a lot different today than it was just over 4 years ago. …Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Everyblock, these sites do a great job of keeping people up to date on what’s happening in the communities they care about.”

Windy Citizen was something of a darling when it launched; Steve Johnson wrote a mostly positive review of the site after it changed its name from Chicago Methods Reporter. Tim McGuire of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication raved about Flora:

To my old media, hidebound mind he will make some savvy investor big-time money. I was blown away by his creativity, his practicality and his passion. He knows story-telling, he knows local news and he fits in no newspaper box of which I’m aware.

Read more

Why some hyperlocal sites struggle to attract audiences, generate revenue

Reports about the death of hyperlocal have been greatly exaggerated.

That was the takeaway from a panel of entrepreneurs and observers of hyperlocal and local news sites at a South by Southwest Interactive panel Monday.

Local news sites continue to pop up across the country, despite a high churn rate among small local sites. In 2007, one in eight Americans lived in a city or town with a local blog, panelist and Placeblogger Founder Lisa Williams said. Now, closer to half of Americans live in a city with a local blog. Data from Placeblogger, an index of local blogs, show that between 50 and 60 percent of the local blogs indexed by the site don’t make it, Williams said.

Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, wrote last month that of the 1,200 sites in J-Lab’s database of community news sites, about half are now inactive.

That doesn’t mean hyperlocal is doomed, panelists said. It does, however, mean that the conversations about hyperlocal need to be reframed.

Williams said the 4,100 independent hyperlocal sites indexed by Placeblogger — which greatly outnumber the nation’s 1,400 local dailies and the 800 venture- and foundation-funded local sites — are essentially small businesses, often with one or two employees bootstrapping to produce a local news product.

“The shape of capital really shapes our media,” Williams said. Few of the independent local sites have the capital that their larger counterparts have, so it makes sense that some would fail.

Good stats about the success rate of small businesses are hard to find, but the U.S. Small Business Administration does report closure rates of businesses that are also employers. (Mom-and-pop operations with an owner/editor/publisher model aren’t included.) According to the administration’s statistics, 30 percent of small business fail within two years, half within five years and 70 percent in 10 years.

The failure rate shouldn’t come as a surprise, panelists said, because many small news operations lack a revenue model. Williams said Placeblogger data show that only 4 percent of local and community sites have an advertising rate card.

Cory Bergman, co-founder of Next Door Media and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, said there’s a direct relationship between the amount of money spent gathering news and the size of the audience a site can draw.

If sites with lower cost of production, such as or EveryBlock, can figure out how to draw larger audiences without putting employees on the street to write stories, they’ll have a promising model. The same would be true, he said, if sites that put reporters on the street could trim costs by leveraging community content or technology.

Mark Briggs, director of digital media at KING-5 TV in Seattle and the Ford Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at Poynter, said many organizations that do have a revenue strategy are forging ahead in the hyperlocal space. He gave several examples of current models for supporting hyperlocal, all of which have had varying levels of success.

Some, Briggs said, are surviving on advertising, a media-funding mainstay. But many others are supplementing their incomes with innovative revenue strategies that aren’t typically seen at the local level.

Briggs pointed to the St. Louis Beacon’s successful business events, which have made more than $200,000, and the social media consulting by the Sacramento Press, which now accounts for half of the site’s revenue.

The multimillion dollar investments that large media companies are making in the hyperlocal space is a sign that hyperlocal is still alive. Patch, funded by AOL, has spent tens of millions building a network of local sites. And some local nonprofit sites have found news business success.

Mike Orren, who founded Pegasus News and now consults with several hyperlocal sites, said many of the small local news sites have something going for them that Patch doesn’t — passion. “A lot of these businesses are passion projects,” Orren said.

Panelists agreed that passion gives hyperlocal entrepreneurs a leg up, despite the financial advantages large, well-funded players in the space may have.

Join Jeremy Caplan, Mark Briggs, Bill Mitchell and Wendy Wallace for Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Journalism Entrepreneurs, May 18-19. You can join by webcast or in person for the workshop in St. Petersburg, Fla., with additional coaching available. Read more


Former Patch editor says wall between editorial & advertising was too high

Columbia Journalism Review
Sean Roach reflects on his stint as editor of Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow Patch. The 60-hour weeks were invigorating, he says, even if advertising was a frustration. Rather than feeling muscled by the folks in shiny suits, he wishes they’d asked him for more ideas: “It seemed I could control every aspect of my site’s being, but making it sustainable was out of my grasp.”

In many small-town publications there is a thin wall between advertising and editorial. At my previous job, with a twice-weekly newspaper, the wall literally had a doorway that connected the two departments. At Patch, the dividing wall between editorial and advertising seemed so high at times that it was impossible to know where we stood in relation to those on the other side.

Read more
1 Comment

Street Fight reports that the number of unique visitors to Patch sites more than tripled from December 2010 to 2011.

“Our first towns that we launched ranked high on our methodology, and we knew that we were going to see some good growth from there. … The big question was: if we launch hundreds of these, will they all follow the same or better trajectory? And the great thing is: yes they do. So while it would be possible to launch in some great towns, and some not so great, we’re seeing generally consistent growth across all of the different Patch sites.”

Patch Media president Warren Webster

1 Comment

Afternoon digest: Nov. 21, 2011

Additional news that developed Monday:

In case you missed it:

Evening reading:

Read more

4 lessons for hyperlocal media from inaugural Street Fight Summit

Deals don’t mean dollars. That was a point of consensus at the inaugural Street Fight Summit in New York City Oct. 25 and 26. Over two days, the summit’s 60 presenters and panelists analyzed their adventures in the trenches of hyperlocal media. Some panels addressed the evolution of daily deals and the looming impact of location-based services. Other sessions focused on the economics of local publishing and lessons learned by successful and failed independent journalism ventures.

A key question threaded throughout the conference was how best to turn local consumers into reliable revenue streams. The most valuable insights for independent publishers in attendance centered around new opportunities for better serving local businesses. Over the course of 20 sessions packed into two days, four themes emerged.

1. Local businesses need hand-holding, full-service partners. Local news sites may have an opportunity to fill that function.

Faye Penn, the founding editor of, a blog based in Brooklyn, NY, came away from the conference with new interest in, a platform publishers can use to help local businesses with everything from a landing page to social media and search engine optimization. She said it’s increasingly clear to her that the path forward for independent publishers is a challenging one.

“At all of these conferences, everyone is looking for an answer that no one really has,” she said. But for Penn, who says she has 60-70,000 unique visitors each month and has earned enough recently to hire an editor, the idea of selling a streamlined service to local businesses is promising.

Photos by Shana Wittenwyler Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, interviews Foursquare’s Evan Cohen

David Pachter, CEO of LocalVox, said that local businesses suffer from an information and skills gap. “They’re looking for an easy, affordable, online marketing solution that lets them feel like they’re accomplishing the transition to online marketing without spending a fortune,” he said, during a panel about alternative revenue models for publishers. LocalVox enables businesses to buy a suite of services for $250 a month, an amount Pachter said they can more than earn back through better local search results and a stronger Web presence.

Patrick Boylan, editor of Chicago’s Welles Park Bulldog, told me he was intrigued by the partnership model presented by, which helped raise the advertiser count for its first partner, Brooklyn’s seven-year-old blog, up past 400. BlankSlate manages sales for Brownstoner, allowing the editors to focus on content while outsourcing the sales process and splitting the revenue. Blankslate developed a service for Brownstoner that enables local businesses to establish an initial Web presence through the directory at $25 a month. Revenue also flows in through real-estate ads and other services for local merchants.

2. Geo-tagging may soon be as important as SEO for local publishers.

Numerous presenters described the imminent impact of location-based services. Alistair Goodman, CEO of Placecast, said it’s a matter of months before businesses will be bidding for passer-by attention. “We’re approaching a time where you’re going to be able to bid on a user on a street corner at a particular point in time in real time,” Goodman said. Placecast already allows businesses to target customers with relevant mobile ads based on their location and the time of day, the weather, the traffic, and other factors.

Given the developing opportunities for targeting readers interested in particular local content, has already made a concerted effort to geo-tag every piece of content it produces. Leela de Kretser, DNAInfo’s editorial director and publisher, said the news startup is on track toward its business goals, and that its sole investor, Joe Ricketts, believes in the long-term profitability of the news business. She and numerous other panelists emphasized that local sales efforts require a major effort to educate merchants on their online marketing options. The influx of short-term daily deals opportunities has added a complication to a market where merchants were already struggling to grasp the available advertising channels.

Panelists described local merchants in major cities as generally bewildered by daily-deal merchants and their persistent sales calls. If you’re a small business getting called upon three to four times a day by a wide range of deals startups, you may struggle to figure out what’s truly in your best interest. To combat this confusion, panelists argued, merchants need the guiding hand of a trusted local publisher to help them cut through the clutter and develop a coherent marketing strategy, reaching their local public through a combination of search, mobile and social advertising.

3. The Daily Deals honeymoon is over.

Rather than just diving deeper into the deals game alongside the 800 deal sites that have launched over the past few years, Perry Evans, CEO of, suggested that publishers and marketers adopt a new tact. Instead of focusing on dangling dangerously low-margin deals at new price-sensitive customers, why not reach out for repeat buyers by aiming special deals at those who have already bought something, to convert them into loyal buyers. Closely provides a customized dashboard for businesses. Evans likened it to a HootSuite for merchants. It allows them to vary the discounts they offer depending on their inventory or how busy they are, and to offer existing customers customized coupons.

The economics of daily deals have changed, said Yipit co-founder Vinicius Vacanti. Whereas Groupon could spend just $2 in marketing costs to acquire its early customers, it now has to spend between $8 and $12, given the changing dynamics of online advertising, Vacanti said. And given that only a quarter of those on its email list buy something, that signifies a cost of $40 per paying customer.

Groupon can’t make enough on the one or two deals that the average customer buys into, given that it splits revenue with merchants, who have already marked the price down by 50 percent. To compound the problem, merchants are finding that, as one panelist put it, signing up for a deal is like taking a high-interest loan. You get lots of money up front for the advance purchases, but then you have to deliver a significant amount of service/product to a subset of customers who are price-sensitive and historically less brand loyal than others who find the merchant through other channels. This rationale is what has led some, including Seth Priebatsch, of the mobile gaming service, to criticize what they call the “Grouponzi” phenomenon.

4. Hyperlocal publishing is as much about sales as about content.

Carll Tucker, CEO of Main Street Connect, said he sees great potential in mid-size, non-urban markets where 150 million Americans live. The 52 sites in his network of local news outlets now work with about 400 advertisers who spend an average of $8,000 a year on advertising with his sites. His sales team aims at hospitals, realtors, and car dealerships, among others, all of which need brand advertising.

For Shawn McGinness, the business manager for St. Louis Beacon, the key lesson from the site’s early progress has been to focus on a few goals and capitalize on internal strengths. The Beacon, which was founded in 2008 and now has 20 employees, including five on the business side, has a $1.5 million budget. McGinness says the Beacon made the mistake of diluting its early focus among too many projects and has since refocused its efforts around a few profitable efforts, including offline events. His three primary tips for independent news organizations were:

  • Ignore everyone else, because what works (or fails) in one place may not in another.
  • Focus on a unique value — what your organization does well.
  • Start out with small projects and gradually improve and expand upon them. 

Click here to see his slides. If you’d like to read more about the Street Fight Summit, I curated 300+ Tweets, photos, slides and other materials from the conference.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Joe Ricketts. Read more


Advice from hyperlocal journalist: ‘It’s not worth trying to be comprehensive’

The Richard Jones Journalism Blog
Richard Jones shares 13 things he has learned since starting Saddleworth News to cover his community near Manchester, England. Several focus on how a hyperlocal site is different from a newspaper website: “You can cover the same story as many times as you like,” without an editor saying “we did that last week/month/year.” He also advises, “It’s not worth trying to be comprehensive,” and “don’t cover the same things the local paper does, unless you can do it better.” A couple other important lessons for journalists operating independently: Read more


New trade group for hyperlocal news sites won’t include Patch

Street Fight | Vouchification
A group of 20-some hyperlocal news publishers around the country decided at last week’s Block by Block conference to form a trade group to provide business services such as liability and health insurance, sales training and revenue studies. Mike Fourcher, who runs Center Square Journal in Chicago, told Street Fight’s David Hirschman that the function, members and name of the organization are still in flux, but one thing isn’t: It won’t include corporate networks like Patch. “They have a completely different set of needs, and we’re not interested in serving their needs,” Fourcher said. Hirschman’s take on the group: “While previous incarnations of hyperlocal have focused more on journalists serving their communities than on CPMs, the launch of this group seems to further indicate that publishers are thinking about their sites as revenue-generating entities.” || Related: 15 Chicago-area community news sites create an advertising network (Nieman Journalism Lab) | Michele McLellan describes ‘newspaper replacement syndrome’ and other challenges facing independent publishers (Poynter) Read more

1 Comment

McLellan describes ‘newspaper replacement syndrome’ and other challenges facing independent publishers

Reynolds Journalism Institute
Michele McLellan describes the challenges journalists face as they build independent news sites. The first stage of grief, as she calls it, is “newspaper replacement syndrome,” in which people “visualize themselves creating a newspaper on the Web, ignoring the fact that this is a failed model. Instead, publishers who make it to the next stage focus early on about how to create community — and value around the content.” The other stages:

  • “Engagement stress disorder,” the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything publishers must do to connect with their audiences
  • “Sales-phobia,” as journalists deal with the reality that they must sell to survive
  • “Capacity conundrum,” the challenge of being able to expand to take advantage of opportunities
  • Growth

Related: Hyperlocal site RiverheadLocal looks for lessons in sustainability at Block by Block summit | How to: Lisa Williams lists 10 skills independent publishers should masterFollow Twitter conversation related to the Block by Block conference. Read more


Hyperlocal site RiverheadLocal looks for lessons in sustainability at Block by Block summit

The theme for the homecoming parade was board games, and Denise Civiletti, the publisher of, moved into the street to get a shot of the senior class’ Candyland float as it rumbled along Osborn Avenue in Riverhead, N.Y.

She had photographed the khaki-clad ranks of Riverhead High School’s Navy Junior ROTC, leaned into the window of a fire department rescue vehicle to greet the driver, joshed with the Riverhead Town Board as its members walked five abreast toward the high school. She stopped to chat with two little girls in blue-and-white pleated skirts, their hair tied up with matching ribbons, two specks in the stream of cheerleaders and fans heading north to Coach “Mike” McKillop Memorial Field for the Riverhead Blue Waves home opener.

At the field, Civiletti met up with her husband, Peter Blasl, with whom she started RiverheadLocal in January 2010. The hyperlocal site had been his idea. The couple had worked together for years at a group of weekly newspapers covering Riverhead and Long Island’s North Fork, Blasl shooting pictures and Civiletti co-publishing the group’s four papers and its website. They left those jobs in 2009, and Blasl had been freelancing, running around town shooting sports and fires and community events.

He saw an opportunity for a hyperlocal site that would, as Civiletti put it, offer a “through-the-lens view” of Riverhead.

Denise Civiletti works in the RiverheadLocal “newsroom,” a bedroom in her home. (Barbara Selvin)

“We argued about it for four months,” Blasl said. Civiletti, who’d taken a PR job at the local hospital, was resistant, knowing, she said, that she’d get sucked in. But she was getting bored at hospital meetings, and the pull of journalism was just too strong.

“On Dec. 29, we got into a big argument about it,” Blasl recalled. “The next morning, I got up and she had the whole site all designed and ready to go.”

Blasl, it turned out, had been spot-on about what Riverhead, population 33,500, was waiting for. The site attracted an average of nearly 20,000 unique visitors a month from January through August of this year, almost five times more than the same period in 2010. August was especially big, with just over 200,000 page views, almost 92,000 visits and nearly 38,500 unique visitors. Civiletti noted that the site had had a two-day exclusive on a Verizon picket-line fight, with a photo.

RiverheadLocal began running ads in March 2010. “We had to fight people off” while they got the site up and running, Civiletti said. “It kind of sells itself.”

After a year, site revenues began covering the couple’s monthly expenses. “A good thing, because we’d wiped out our savings, so…whew!” she wrote in an email.

Comparing notes at Block by Block

This week, Civiletti is taking a break, heading to Chicago for the second annual Block by Block Summit. Block by Block, a project of the Patterson Foundation’s New Media Journalism initiative, is an “ongoing network of independent, digital-native, born-on-the-Web news publishers,” said Jessica Durkin, its community manager.

On her blog, Durkin has indexed about 70 for-profit hyperlocal sites that look, she said, like they might be sustainable based on the newsiness of their posts, their geographic scope, the breadth of advertiser support, the attractiveness of their layout and the sophistication of their content management systems. When RiverheadLocal was brought to her attention, Durkin said, she thought it looked good.

“I thought, ‘This looks like she’s really getting in there in the community,’” Durkin said. “Lots of informational tabs, seemed like the depth of information was good, the breadth was good.”

The two-day summit is intended “to get these like-minded publishers in the same room and let them share ideas in person and understand where they might be in their business compared to others,” Durkin explained.

It is followed by an invitation-only, four-day “supercamp” where rising stars of independent hyperlocal sites will explore how to take their businesses to the next level, whether that be adding staff or expanding territory. Civiletti will be one of the 12 supercampers.

“It’s really the advanced class” in for-profit, online local journalism, said Michele McLellan, a former newspaper editor turned digital-media adviser who founded Block by Block and invited Civiletti to the supercamp.

Looking for lessons in sustainability

Civiletti said she’s eager for “a recipe for long-term sustainability because people are, by and large, all in the identical situation – that is, working constantly.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to take a shower,” she said, not quite joking and sounding like a new parent.

For example, she said, she’d like some insights into “how to tweak ad rates” to capitalize on the site’s most desirable spots, hoping to raise enough for “a somewhat larger newsroom.” Her current newsroom is a converted bedroom in her Riverhead ranch house next to a horse farm, set back among trees. She gets up at 3:30 a.m. most days to post the latest news.

There have been some tough lessons along the way. Civiletti said she’s rebuilt the site three times: once when it was hacked, again when she switched to Joomla, a more sophisticated content management system than the one she started with, and once when she accidentally deleted the entire site.

And when she moved from a shared to a dedicated server for faster page loads, she said, she resized all the images on the site and optimized them for the Web.

Immersed in the community

At the homecoming game, Theresa Drozd, a community activist, said she starts and ends every day with RiverheadLocal. Town Councilman John Dunleavy said the site keeps him informed with enough depth and immediacy that he sometimes forgets to buy the 168-year-old Riverhead News-Review, Civiletti’s former employer, when it comes out on Thursdays.

Christine Shay, who teaches creative crafts at Riverhead High, said, “The kids are addicted.” Cheerleaders warming up nearby agreed, saying they go on RiverheadLocal’s Facebook page every day.

“Pretty much everybody is ‘friends’ with them,” Kristen Gevinsky, 17, said.

Joanna Messina, 14, said she mostly follows school and sports news, adding, “and the new bond the school board is trying to pass.”

In a phone interview, Janine Nebons, general manager and marketing director for Tanger Outlets of Riverhead, a sprawling mall on the edge of town, said “the little site that could” was as effective as Tanger’s national site in driving consumers to download a Tanger voucher last winter.

While she doesn’t place digital ads with the News-Review, Nebons said she buys a lot of print ads and inserts in “the real, traditional newspaper.” The local Patch, less than a year old, offers an overview of the business community through its free directory but can’t compete journalistically with RiverheadLocal, she added.

Civiletti and Blasl seem to be enjoying their immersion in Riverhead, where Blasl grew up and where Civiletti served as a councilwoman before becoming a journalist. The keys to their success, she said, are their hometown roots and their journalism backgrounds: “knowing what’s important to the community because you live there,” she said. “There’s no substitute for that, and that’s what we have.”

Barbara Selvin is an assistant professor of journalism at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. She blogs about teaching journalism in the age of the Internet at Read more