July 19, 2012

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)

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Anna Tarkov is an independent journalist based in the Chicago area where she lives with her husband and baby boy. Getting her start in media…
Anna Tarkov

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