The false promise of hyperlocal

A couple of years ago, the newspaper industry went ga-ga over hyperlocal coverage.

Remember that?

All e-paper sites had to do was create web site channels specific to their individual communities. Not only would audience skyrocket, but locals would be so happy with this new product they’d contribute photos, events and news tidbits to a site that would be chock full of local information.

E-paper sites quickly jumped on the bandwagon, creating, in some cases, dozens of these hyperlocal sites. And guess what? They really don’t work.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. People do like to read about the communities they care about, but those same users don’t post much information. Newspaper staffs, stretched as they are, don’t have the resources to sustain a vibrant hyperlocal site. While the site might do okay audience wise, the lack of consistent and new information means the site can’t grow to the levels the e-paper thought it could.

Then there’s the advertising issue. Few hyperlocal sites make money. The New York Times noted this in a recent story. I’m aware of a couple of hyperlocal sites that have significant audience and make money — and Here’s the kicker — both are independently owned and not tied to a newspaper. They’ve each figured out what their communities want, they give it to them, and they’ve convinced local advertisers they’re the authoritative, hyperlocal voice.

Instead of trying to focus on hyperlocal, e-paper sites should focus on two things: being the breaking news leader in their markets, and differentiating between their products. Breaking news that keeps users up to date will also keep them coming back. Differentiating between what news we put in the newspaper, online and on mobile helps push users to all of your different offering on all of your different platforms. The more eyeballs to our various platforms, the more money we’ll make.

Both of those are much better options that continually chasing the false promise of hyperlocal.


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