The newspaper industry has taken quite a hit in the last few years with many papers, especially smaller ones, folding. This leaves smaller communities and suburbs without their traditional main source of news.
However, a new trend of local-themed web sites has sprung up to try and fill the void. It is called “hyperlocal” news, with some examples including sites like EveryBlock, Spot.us, Outside.in, Placeblogger and Patch. The goal: provide readers with the kind of information that news won’t make it into a major metropolitan daily, such as city council meetings, school events, high school sports, crime reports, street repairs and human interest stories.
Unlike traditional news media entities, hyperlocal news sites don’t rely exclusively on professional journalists. Instead, many of the sites use a mix of freelance and in-house content to fill up the web pages. The belief is that sometimes the best-informed residents of a community aren’t employees of a news organization – the community’s residents are the true experts. This is part of a wider shift in news coverage and even the very definition of news itself.
Hyperlocal sites also vary widely in look and function – some are closer to a traditional news organization with a full-blown news staff that produces stories and interviews. The look and feel is very much like a traditional newspaper, with the only exception being there is no printed product. For example, Patch hires reporters and operates community-focused sites that feel very much like a regular news site (they’re even still hiring if you are looking for one way to get more involved). Outside.in takes an even different approach, presenting the user with a list of nearby crimes or events after typing in an address.
Other sites create something closer to a community calendar that highlights local happenings and activities. Instead of hard news coverage, the site may contain a lot of human interest features and profiles of various community members. Placeblogger, however, is a collection of local blogs about your community. The site organizes the blogs by similar content and functions as a guide to help you find interesting blogs to read. EveryBlock, meanwhile, aggregates content by individual neighborhood, including listings for not just events but real estate, restaurants, businesses, and even other odd items like pothole repairs.
Whichever format wins out, it is pretty apparent that local news, especially in suburbs or smaller communities, is moving to the web. Combine that with the explosion in social networking tools, and news is a far more scattered and dynamic category than it used to be. While it means there is a magnitude of content available for consumption, it is currently spread across the web at a variety of sites. So what that means for users is instead of answering the question of “what’s going on in the neighborhood?” through opening the local paper, several sites are harnessing the power of the web and user-generated content to inform residents. While the loss of long-standing news organizations is certainly nothing to celebrate, it is exciting to see so many different forces converging to fill the gap. And for you this means more of an opportunity to shape how news is covered in your community.