Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Taking A Look at Hyperlocal Web Sites

I've done several blog posts on how hyperlocal web sites are popping up to fill a gap being created as newspapers continue to cut staffs and their focus on local news. The big question with hyperlocal sites is although overhead costs can be low, how do you make enough money to be financially viable?

The answer could be what's happening at
WestSeattleBlog.com, a hyperlocal site that covers "the bedroom community of West Seattle (over 65,000 residents) seven days a week, 365 days a year," reports the News Innovation blog, run by the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

The site is run by a husband-and-wife team where Tracy Record handles editorial and Patrick Sand handles advertising.
The site now has 60 regular advertisers, just enough to support their family, including a teenage son, and to pay for an occasional freelancer. But the work is hard, said Record in the interview.

Sand has worked very closely with the blog's advertisers by being active in the community, including joining the local chamber of commerce, offering free seminars to help local businesses use the Internet to help with sales and work with them to explain how advertising works on a hyperlocal site.

"Also, when people join, we offer them the chance to have a little advertorial story published, just a couple of paragraphs and a picture. We thought the most interesting reaction came from readers who say it helps them learn about local businesses they didn’t know were here," Record told News Innovation.

Unlike other hyperlocal sites. WestSeattleBlog.com takes pride in the fact that they don't depend on unpaid volunteers to help write news for the site, said Record, noting that her local newspaper does do this. "If you’re going to write something for us then we’re going to pay you. So, if there’s something that needs news coverage that’s what we do, or we’ll pay a freelancer," she told the blog.

And recently, NPR news station WAMU-FM, 88.5, did a
lively segment on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show"on hyperlocal sites in the Washington, D.C. area to write about specific neighborhoods. All three panelists emphasized that the local newspapers did not really do much coverage of their specific neighborhoods, so they created their sites to fill that gap.

What will be interesting is what the NABJ board and staff will do to accommodate those who may want to take this track to mix entrepreneurship with journalism. I'm pleased to note that
this year's convention has several workshops to address this very question, including:
But these and other topics and training need to be included as part of the permanent structure of how NABJ does business. The NABJ Media Institute, championed by current VP/Broadcast (and NABJ presidential candidate) Kathy Times, is the perfect vehicle to do just that. As Regions II director, I will work with the board and local chapters to ensure that members have all the tools they need to survive -- and thrive -- in this rapidly changing industry.