In my last two posts, I had a couple of comments critiquing my praise of “hyperlocal news” coming to The Tampa Tribune and asking me what I thought about LoudounExtra.com.
Based on the actual article, I don’t think LoudounExtra is really presented as a failed project. It seems to be fairly shown as a hyperlocal project that just wasn’t as good as it could have been because of a few key elements overlooked by Curley.
In Curley’s blog post about the article, he mentions that Russell Adams, the reporter, was concerned about the headline. As we all know, sometimes headlines don’t reflect the story as well as they could. Adams and Curley both agree on this point – Loudoun was not a “flop,” but it could have been a lot better.
Also in Curley’s post are the three missing elements that lead to LoudounExtra’s downfall: promotion, integration and communication.
I think we can all agree that if you don’t promote a Web site, link it to its mother Web site or communicate the site’s use to the community, there isn’t a good chance it’s going to develop a steady flow of visitors. LoudounExtra didn’t have an audience mostly because Curley didn’t connect the audience to the site, which he took full responsibility for.
The way I see it, there are other reasons that Loudoun wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Namely, the fact that the county is too large and diversified. As it says in the WSJ article, “Loudoun County is a 520 square-mile area with seven towns whose residents share little else besides a county government.”
This project of following a large county is really just doing the job of a regular regional newspaper. While I wouldn’t consider this a traditional hyperlocal experiment, it’s hyperlocal in comparison to The Washington Post’s average readership.
Still, look at that site! It’s a masterpiece of local journalism. I wish all local newspapers had a site like that.
For it to truly be hyperlocal, the site should be broken down even further to cities or even neighborhoods. This would require the same amount of extreme reporting effort focused on much smaller demographic areas.
I think that would be a great move for local journalism. If news organizations could evaluate the population of the community they’re serving, that could lead people to figure out what kind of news to play up. What’s the biggest group? Young families? The elderly? College students? News Web sites could easily play up issues or features that relate to the community the best.
That’s what the audience editors are for in the new structure at the Trib. They’re supposed to evaluate the demographic and what news it values. To me, that’s what hyperlocal is: Finding out who your readership is and getting them the news that relates to their lives.
Of course, the news won’t solely be tailored to the demographic. The readership needs its meat and potatoes news, too. But when it comes to placement on the Web site, audience information might make all the difference.
I was talking to some of my fellow interns over dinner last Friday, and they brought up a valid point. If the Trib is really committed to going hyperlocal, they’re going to have to rely on the bureaus a lot more. Because most of the layoffs came from those, I would hope to see more reporters distributed there from the main news center.
And to really make TBO a local information powerhouse like LoudounExtra, Internet training is a must. If it’s only to get people thinking in terms of Web site potential, even that would help. But it’s going to require a lot of footwork and database building. That data team in the reorganization is going to be the crux of the hyperlocal movement.
Also, I think TBO needs to find a few designers to come up with a site design that’s cleaner and easier to navigate. The site has all this great content and tons of great packages, and they get lost in the complexity of the design. It needs to be simple and effortless.
So while LoudounExtra might not have worked as well as it could have, that doesn’t speak for the entire hyperlocal movement. Local news is part of the job, but breaking it down into the hyperlocal will make it more personal to the audience.
It’s a move that could really improve coverage and the relationship with the audience, so long as a true commitment to it is made.