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October 22, 2009

Hyperlocal News Buzz: Newsday Follows PG+'s Lead

Long Island (lohng-eye-land) newspaper Newsday will move their website to a $5/week subscription-based model on Wednesday. Most of their content will go behind the wall, with some minor content (home page, school closings, weather) available to all.

If you subscribe to the dead-trees Newsday, or get your cable service from local ISP Cablevision, you're in for free. The cable company crossover is an interesting crossover that gives them 2.5 million "subscribers" from Day One — although they're all passive, no-marginal-charge accounts that are likely to artificially inflate the numbers like a Vietnam body-bag count (now in XML format!)

What's most interesting to me is that they're flogging the hyperlocal news buzztheme:
"We are excited about this model because in addition to a unique ability to immediately reach about 75 percent of Long Island households, we believe the hyper-local approach is right for Long Island," said Debby Krenek, Newsday managing editor and senior vice president/digital.

The Washington Post just shut down their hyperlocal news experiment in Loudoun County, Va.
“We found that our experiment with as a separate site was not a sustainable model,” said Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for the Washington Post Company. “Updating the large amount of special features and technologies” on the site, which was run by Post staff members, proved unsustainable...

To a certain extent, hyperlocal news is the news industry's dot-com bubble: the industry is failing and both legacy powers and new entrants are throwing money into a possible web front with no indication of probability. If the bubble collapses in a progression of mergers, the last man standing may have enough eyeballs to either save a local paper, or drive the local paper out of business.

The nascent hyperlocal news bubble will give legacy players something to do while they're burning through their cash reserves, it'll keep the outsourced web shops busy, it'll give the new journalism grads a casual dress sort-of-job while they're working on their screenplays, and in the end the hyperlocal news fad will probably be another nail in the coffin for newspapers.

Features that would be truly game changing would be Google Earth mashups with local crime and accident reports and real estate - in other words, co-opt the CraigsList ads and the OpenGov movement - but that's already a crowded webspace without an established path to profitability. It's going to be very hard for a local newspaper to cost-justify building their own geo-news service, so the national startups may have a foothold: the legacy papers have the local touch, and the national players have the applications.

My PG Plus Wishlist

Here's what I'd like the Post Gazette Plus to do for me - help me to visualize the hyperlocal news within Pittsburgh's somewhat unique geographic context. Pittsburgh is a hodgepodge of overlapping backwater municipalities, and although I've been consuming local news since I moved here in 1985 I still end up wondering "where is that, exactly" when I see a news story about Lincoln-Lemington or Blawnox. I'd love to see box-in-a-box imagery that shows me, on maps, where these stories are happening. Stratification by niche neighborhoods isn't exclusive to Pittsburgh - I think about Dumbo, for instance, in Brooklyn - but it is an established attribute of Pittsburgh that the web channel could exploit.


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