About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 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 and startups. You can read more about me here.

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September 13, 2008


Danny Sanchez

I think the industry is a bit down on geographic communities on news sites because they haven't turned into the big revenue-maker that folks dreamed of. However, the key difference with interest-based communities is that they tend to scale better. For instance, the blogs that tend to do the best on news sites are the ones that cover a topic that isn't limited to the geographic coverage area of the site. I think there's still potential for so-called hyperlocal sites, it's just that the advertising world just isn't quite there yet.

Rosh Sillars

I was going to give you heck, until I read your last paragraph. Because the online world has helped to enlarge the definition of community. We all belong to multiple communities these days.

You are very right, in my opinion. The local community is a very powerful niche. Traditional papers have to learn how to build online communities. Something I think most don't understand. Sad print leftovers on a static web site will not do.

If a media outlet, especially print, is to survive than they need to offer content that is not found on Yahoo's front page.



I have to make a comment here, because I keep seeing this example around the tubes and throughout the industry. The time has come for people to stop holding Bluffton Today up as an example of pioneering journalism. The idea behind it looks good on paper of course, but the product itself is terrible. Terr. I. Ble. No one in the new media world ever seems to actually read it, and if they did, they might think twice.
I should add that they do have a print product that's distributed to driveways and free boxes across town. And they occasionally get caught doing lazy things like plagiarizing from other pubs (including us). But that's a different topic.

Yes, I work for another publication in the area, so I've got a pretty firm opinion of them. But no one in the community takes it seriously, and we stopped having to actually compete with them long ago. "Kitties and car wrecks," is how some people refer to it.
I think what they do is fine, actually, it's just not the same thing we do: they have a print product that's shiny and well-designed (usually better designed than ours) and they get a good laugh by printing anonymous phone messages from their hotline. They get better participation on their blogs than a lot of sites, and we have yet to even attempt to catch up. Readers submissions of photos and whatnot seem to do well.

There was a time when they made an effort at real journalism -- now that effort has unfortunately descended into writing up press releases and parroting the official town line on some topics. And their favorite topic to write about seems to be themselves.

Yes, it's a great idea to have blogs and places to share your pictures and all that. But that's about all it is. And if you like to read blogs about dogs, other people's dogs, homeless dogs and dog chow, you're in luck. Their actual news stories are hard to read and unsearchable, meaning any looking for archived information is near impossible -- a key element necessary for any relevant news site.

I think there is clearly a place in the world for hyperlocal journalism. But there has to be at least some "journalism" aspect to it — reporting, researching, acting the watchdog, not just covering the fluff of the day and publishing blogs in the print edition. If the Bluffton Today example is a look at the future of the industry, we all need to reevaluate what our goals are as journalists.

Mark Potts

SCReporter: It's not an either/or issue between a Bluffton Today and a traditional news site (or paper). As you acknowledge, there are some things (user-generated photos, light stories) that Bluffton does very well. That's serving a market niche that traditional newspaper sites don't serve. Nobody is suggesting that that's a replacement for professional coverage of an area. But it's a very important complement, and it provides something to audiences that aren't finding what they want in a more traditional product.

Incidentally, I happen to think that, as a product, Bluffton Today has fallen off sharply from where it was a couple years ago--it's not very attractive and a bit hard to figure out what's going on. By standards of "real journalism," as you put it, it's a whole different animal. But it's providing a connection and service to its audience that traditional news sources need to emulate in some way.

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