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The news and online journalism industry through the eyes of a young Web publishist.

2009: The year of the community journalism boom?

I believe 2009 will mark a dramatic change in the way news organizations approach local news. There has to be a fundamental change in how it is approached. People still want news about their community. They still get excited reading about themselves in the paper, and when they send copies to all their friends relatives. That is still there. But what isn’t there is the relationship with the reader.

For community journalism to succeed, readers have to feel a tangible connection with the publication that represents their community. If they don’t, then why bother?

Where the mid-size titles have failed, smaller, online-only start-ups will take their place. Two examples of this come from the Boston area: Universal Hub and myDedham. These are online-only, hyperlocal news sites dedicated strictly to their communities. There are no AP wire stories or attempts to localize a large national story. The story is born in the city.

With tens of thousands of laid-off/semi-retired journalists now idling across the country, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that a handful of them will get their act together and put out an online, hyper-local product all their own.

A recent blog post by Seth Godin points out that it’s not terribly difficult to start a hyper-local publication on your own. In the post he says it’s all about reaching your local audience at a personal level. He’s right — that is critical to the survival of any community news organization.

Hopefully 2009 will be a watershed year in community journalism. The kind of change that affects the entire industry will come from these smaller titles: If it works for this title with their 20k readers, perhaps we can make it work for our regional title with 200k readers.

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Filed under: community journalism, newspaper websites, , ,

One Response

  1. Outside.in, the web’s leading platform for personalized hyperlocal news (news coverage of community-level events) and conversations, would like to bet on 2009 being the year of hyperlocal web sites, the only place where people will be able to find community news.

    In the past, the mainstream media has not covered news at the local level, e.g. a street repair on your street, because most people’s interest extends beyond their own neighborhood to their city, their state, their nation. The increased usage of digital media devices (e.g. photo and video cameras, audio recorders), blogs, new media, and participation in social media, has made hyperlocal media content more widely available.

    We already know newspapers small and large are seeking ways to reduce costs in the face of ongoing and accelerating drops in circulation, massive cutbacks in advertising revenue, and the worst economic climate in almost 80 years. And with the shift to a digital future, mainstream media moguls are becoming fascinated with the possibility that local-scale media availability, when multiplied by many small locales, will somehow come to their rescue, driving reader eyeballs and advertising dollars to their media sites.

    An explosion of content being created at the hyperlocal level — blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, and new platforms like neighborlogs — coupled with increased consumer demand for specific and targeted content, will lead to a new prototype for the future of journalism. This prototype will include a healthy does of aggregation, a wider range of contributors, and a growing offering of original reporting. Journalistic outlets will discover that embracing hyperlocal web sites will allow them to concentrate on developing expertise in a narrower set of issues and interests, while helping journalists from other places and publications find new audiences. It’s a win-win all around!

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