I'm CEO of Newspeg.com, a social news-sharing platform. I've spent 20 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies. You can read more about me here.
As if big-city newspapers didn't have enough trouble, now they're about to get some interesting competition right in their own backyards.
Arianna Huffington has revealed that she's going to start a series of local versions of Huffington Post, beginning in Chicago. The model will apparently be a single local editor who, as in the national version, will assemble the best stories from a variety of local sources–and presumably create or contract for some original content as well.
HuffPost isn't the only one trying this model, which basically is a local riff on the Drudge Report. Very quietly, billionaire Phil Anschutz' Clarity Media, aka Examiner.com, has been hiring local editors–called, cleverly, "Examiners"–rolling out a series of local news aggregation sites in cities around the country. (Disclosure: I worked last year on Clarity's strategy for this.)
It's an obvious idea, and a little shocking it hasn't been tried before–especially by an existing local media organization. The key is to be agnostic about sources, tap into all of various local online news operations–newspapers, TV, radio, alternative weeklies, community papers, hyperlocal sites, local blogs, whatever–and create an ongoing best-of local news/information, regardless of where it comes from.
Topix and Outside.In, it might be argued, already do this in a crude, automated sort of way. But what HuffPost and Examiner are aiming for is an edited approach, sorting through all the local news available in a given city and highlighting the best stuff. And guess what: Taken altogether, there are a lot of unbundled sources of local news. The comprehensiveness of an aggregated local news site would dwarf any single traditional local news outlet.
No doubt, the traditionally competitive, "not-invented-here" approach to content will keep existing media entities from experimenting with this sort of local news aggregation. Too bad. Because a one-stop-shop for local news and info is going to be one hell of a competitor for the existing local media.