Does Hyperlocal Work?

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Hyperlocal journalism is coverage of events on a very small, local scale. A hyperlocal website, for example, may cover a specific neighborhood rather than an entire city. The focus of hyperlocal journalism is news that doesn’t get attention in larger media outlets, like Little League scores, the sale of a historic home, or an interview with a neighborhood ”celebrity” like the coffee shop owner that everyone in the district sees when they get their morning cuppa.

A local barista's new menu offering may be a good topic for a hyperlocal news website.
A local barista’s new menu offering may be a good topic for a hyperlocal news website.

Weekly community print newspapers are similar to online hyperlocal coverage, but hyperlocal gets even more granular, and is almost always digital rather than print-based. Finally, hyperlocal news emphasizes reader input and interaction more than typical news media sites and may include online videos or blogs created by readers.

What Happened with AOL and Patch?

Patch.com is a nationwide network of sites owned by AOL. Previously numbering more than 900, AOL recently purged about 400 Patch sites, keeping the remaining 500 or so under AOL’s corporate umbrella. The culled sites will be sold off, shuttered, or transferred to partners other than AOL. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong plans to take a more active role in overseeing the Patch sites that are left, having said that the sites suffered due to lack of leadership. Armstrong singled out Patch’s CEO and chief content officer to be let go in the Patch purge. So if AOL can’t make hyperlocal work, can anyone?

The Evolution of the Hyperlocal Business Market

The business model for hyperlocal journalism is evolving, and is still considered a tough market in which to succeed. Here are a few hyperlocal ventures that failed to succeed despite incubation under major publishers:

  • Backfence – founded by a co-founder of the Washington Post‘s digital division, this collection of 13 local news websites launched with high hopes in 2005, but was shuttered by 2007.
  • Everyblock – launched in 2008 by Adrian Holovaty, Everyblock had roots in 19 cities and features crime, home sales, restaurant closings, and other hyperlocal topics, but after being acquired by MSNBC.com in 2009 it was eventually shuttered in February 2013.
  • Daily Voice – a network of local sites in suburban New York and Connecticut, the Daily Voice filed for bankruptcy after closing down its Massachusetts sites, despite financial backing by George Soros.

No one denies that people love hyperlocal news, and small merchants can target their ads very effectively without sitting alongside bigger competitors in major metro news advertisements. Hyperlocal is still considered an underserved market, but revenue development – specifically digital ad dollars – are insufficient.

Many of hyperlocal’s problems are not specific to hyperlocal media. Digital publishers of all sizes have trouble with revenue development, and it’s taking time for a profitable business model to emerge in most levels of digital journalism. The good news is, there are still plenty of independent hyperlocal outposts, and in fact, too much growth in too short a time may have been part of the problem with some of the shuttered hyperlocal networks, including Patch.

Success With Hyperlocal Journalism

Many smaller community news sites that are locally-owned rather than owned by huge corporations are succeeding. With lower overhead and smaller scale, these sites are becoming profitable and sustainable, though challenges remain.

Hyperlocal business
The hyperlocal business model is still evolving.

Denise Civiletti, the editor and publisher of the successful RiverheadLOCAL.com in Long Island stated it bluntly to AdAge: “Local doesn’t scale.” In other words, it is the strong bond between the hyperlocal site and the community that gives successful hyperlocal sites an advantage over ”top-down” sites like Patch, which failed to get traction in her market. Furthermore, Civiletti says that keeping overhead down is critical to hyperlocal success: “I don’t see a network of hyperlocal sites supporting a corporate structure that has a lot of middle management,” she told AdAge.

Smaller hyperlocal sites have more flexibility with regard to advertisers. If a small, locally owned hyperlocal site has an advertiser request an unorthodox arrangement, it’s easier for that decision to be made by a small staff than by a corporation with layer upon layer of approvals to get through. Local display ads, sponsored content, job boards, and other revenue development methods that are a good fit for hyperlocal publishers are how these sites stay running.

Though print publications are diminishing in importance, the ad market still exists, and hyperlocal sites are learning how to capture parts of that ad market and benefit both the advertiser and their publication. Hyperlocal may be more fragmented with the decline of Patch.com, but the opportunities for success are definitely still around, especially for smaller, independent hyperlocal sites that have strong community bonds with both readers and advertisers.

RealMatch can be a powerful partner in the success of your hyperlocal publication, with recruitment advertising solutions that are customized and targeted to your local audience. We invite you to learn more about our exciting revenue development opportunities.

Photo Credits: Sura Nualpradid/freedigitalphotos.net, adamr/freedigitalphotos.net

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