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Do hyperlocal community papers really work?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by forever_town, Sep 25, 2008.

  1. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I've been the managing editor of a weekly community newspaper for over two years now. In that time, I've been following the lead of those who believe the local community paper should focus exclusively on LOCAL issues and not touch national issues, big time sports teams, etc.

    However, I have to wonder if that approach even works. Declining circulations and readership have seemingly been part of EVERY newspaper large and small. Our paper's no exception. The county I'm in is right next door to the nation's capital. My paper faces competition from a free weekly paper with the the resources of a major daily behind it. People who pick up newspapers often pick up said major daily newspaper and that's pretty much it.

    When I look at the stories that have gotten the most hits on our Web site, it's invariably the sports stories that have had national import (such as a local high school product who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft) or it's been criminal cases that have become national news that dominate. That, and a 19-month-old story about a puppy scam that always remains one of the most widely read stories every month no matter what.

    Oh, and not only that, but I see people regularly slam the hyperlocal approach on here. Does that slam extend to the community papers that don't have the resources to compete with the big boys?

    What do I do? Do I ditch the hyperlocal approach and try to get more state or *gulp* national stories? Do I try to localize major national stories? Do I continue to try to beat that hyperlocal drum?


  2. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Active Member

    I've had enough of the hyperlocal drum. It's understandable if you're a non-daily ... the readership seems to understand that a combination of resources, newshole and lack of timeliness don't make for a good attempt at being a full-service publication.

    But I've yet to understand that about hyperlocal dailies. I worked at one for more than a year. The fact that regional, state and national stories that were widely discussed, yet not published because the founder and publisher didn't think that was their aim, was puzzling. Maybe even frustrating.

    It's all about balance. Don't stray from local ... goodness knows no one needs to give a reason for a customer to take McPaper. But there are times that the boots on ground spent to appease maybe 8-10 people, if that, can be used on a much bigger story. One that a much bigger portion of your readership really does care about. One that your writer, who would love the bigger clip and the chance at a bigger story, cares about. One that gives more of your readership a chance to care.

    On a personal note, I believe the hyperlocal just means that some stories that aren't worth it are beaten to death for spacekill on slow days. Focusing on balance gives the publication a much better chance at quality every day.
  3. Moondoggy

    Moondoggy Member

    No. It doesn't work.

    "Hyperlocal" is a made-up phrase by publishers who wouldn't know a real story if it bit them on the ass. Now, web sites around the country are turning to "citizen journalists" and "reader-generated copy" because they think it will send the community stampeding to their web site.

    They are wrong.

    Most of that crap is boring and bordering on subliterate. I don't want to see a picture of their dog or their adorable little league team that tried really hard and finished fourth in the league. I don't want to hear about their boring, mundane lives.

    I am not alone.

    If hyperlocal worked, all we'd have to do is print the phone book each day.

    Find real stories. Stories that interest more than one person.

    Put those stories in the paper.

    You'll thank me for this advice.
  4. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Active Member

    The first few graphs of Moondoggy's point: Those things are great to discuss at neighborhood or church picnics. That doesn't mean they're newsworthy to thousands of readers.

    Publishers who think hyperlocal is everything think phone-booking stories will draw in readers. They're wrong. And localizing every story that is relevant regionally or nationally is laughable.
  5. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I was listening to "The Conversation" out of KUOW in Seattle and the show mentioned a new site trying to exploit hyperlocal. The premise of http://spot.us/ is that individuals would group together and pony up to pay a journalist's fee. The article would be published on a blog or Web site, and also given to newspapers for free.

    David Cohn, the founder of the site, said that parents in a given area would all chip in and pay for coverage of how the clean the local school cafeteria is for example.

    Too bad I couldn't call in and say BS because I don't think 20 parents would pay for cross country coverage in a given area.
  6. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I had an interview where the publisher said that I'd be covering church picnics. That alone was enough to take my name out of the hat.
  7. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Hyperlocal was the first job interview I ever had -- where the hamster races at the local Ben Franklin were on the front page of the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch... I didn't get the job and have been thankful ever since...
  8. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Hyperlocal, as a concept, is super flawed. It requires that people be interested not just in their neighbors (which many people are), but also in their neighbors' neighbors. And that's not really the case.

    People do care about what's happening in their back yards. They don't care about what's happening in someone's back yard in the next town over, unless it threatens to affect them in some way.

    So, what is needed here is not hyperlocal coverage. That crap's meaningless, for the most part.

    What's needed ... is news judgment. Good, solid, human- and community-interest news judgment. About stories that are interesting, that matter and that people care about, in that order.

    (People will read about things that don't matter, if they are interesting. And people will read about things that matter, even if they don't care about them. But nobody will read something that's not interesting and doesn't matter. ... Like hyperlocal crap.)
  9. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    The biggest flaw with hyperlocal is that covering a church picnic or a pancake breakfast still requires you to tell the reader WHY you are covering such a small scale event, otherwise you just piss off the other "hyperlocal" events that don't get coverage. You can reinvent a newspaper, but you can't reinvent what people think a newspaper should be.
  10. ScribePharisee

    ScribePharisee New Member

    Doesn't all of this point to the core problem that it has never been about local, never been about the internet, but always about a publisher singing for a larger ownership group when told to and the cost of paper? It used to be that newspapers cut national to go local because everyone was already getting the local. Then they started cutting resources and going back to wire copy because it was cheaper and they didn't have the staff they once did. Now they're cutting pages again, citing the cost of paper. Maybe the real problem is you have too many people waving machetes who should be cutting themselves out of the picture.
  11. Wonderlic

    Wonderlic Member

    This right here is the mother fucking truth.

    Buckweaver for President!
  12. CM Punk

    CM Punk Guest

    I've seen 200 people come out for a Class 5A football team with a winning record. But they'll bitch if the Monday Night Football game isn't on the section front. I've seen 10 people come to a city council meeting regarding doubling water rates. But they'll bitch if the candidate's debate didn't go on A1. Sometimes, you may live in a bumfuck community full of people who just don't give a shit about the community.
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