What does hyperlocal news look like? The answer is, it depends on where you look. MediaShift’s Mark Glaser has put together a useful guide to what constitutes hyperlocal news online, examining how it’s gathered, produced and sustained. He defines it simply:
Hyper-local news is the information relevant to small communities or neighborhoods that has been overlooked by traditional news outlets.
Glaser’s inventory includes self-moderated citizen media sites, “reverse publishing” sites backed by mainstream media, hyperlocal blogs, aggregation sites like Topix, annotated maps, mobile journalism, and even email lists and forums. The open question, he says, is whether any of these approaches can be profitable.
Northwest Voice and YourHub have been financially successful for their parent news organizations, but most of their revenue comes from reverse-published print editions. Hyper-local startups with venture capital funding such as Backfence and Bayosphere have flamed out because they couldn’t get enough locals online — and the advertising to support their businesses.
And what about pure “citizen media”? A study funded by the Ford Foundation in 2007 found more than 400 local news web sites with content built from community members. Most said they didn’t need money to keep going; essentially they’re labors of love. The study came to these conclusions:
- No one size fits all; there are many models.
- Instead of being comprehensive sources of news, sites are forming as fusions of news and schmooze.
- Most citizen sites don’t use measure their success in terms of audience or money; success is often defined as impact on their community.
- Finding ways to attract more contributors and some operating support are major challenges.
So far, only a handful of “citizen journalism” sites have been able to succeed financially. Those sites tend to be “hybrids,” like OhMyNews, based in South Korea, which has a staff of paid editors and pays a small amount for contributions. Current, the brainchild of former vice president Al Gore, is beginning to make money. It’s a hybrid, too, with a “journalism team” that decides if your video meets their standards for use on TV. But neither of these would qualify as strictly hyperlocal sites.