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Hyperlocal, Targeted News Web Sites Continue to Grow

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair,

Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

In my other blog, Musings of a New Media Maven, I have posted regularly the growth and potential — or not — of hyperlocal news blogs.  Last week, I did a post here about MarylandReporter.com, a news site and aggregator that will cover the state political/legislature beat.

And now we add two more players in the game.  First up is DNAInfo.com, which focuses on Manhattan local news.  It’s the brainchild of Joe Ricketts, founder of Ameritrade and a member of the family that now owns the Chicago Cubs.   Rickets says he used technology to take the financial services sector to the next level, and he wants to do the same to help distribute news, information, and advertising.  One of the contributing editors is Sree Sreenivasan,  dean of student affairs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a professor in the digital journalism program.  He is also co-founder and former president of the South Asian Journalists Association and speaks regularly on journalism and technology issues.  His seminars for media professionals on using social media and technology are always standing room only.

But I digress.  The site breaks down Manhattan by neighborhoods and subjects.  Looking at the beta site, it seems like DNAInfo is doing a pretty good job of offering a good mix of news for those who live in the borough.  For example, one of the front-page stories is entitled “NYPD Arrests Most Wanted Criminal in North Carolina.”  It’s an interesting story for Manhattan, and it only appeared in one other newspaper — the Rocky Mountain Telegraph.  The site has a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page, potentially expanding its reach.   The effort appears to have deep pockets in Ricketts but no advertising that I can see so far, so it will be interesting to see how this site will grow — and thrive — going forward.

Next is the Texas Tribune, which calls itself “a non-profit, nonpartisan public media organization” whose  “mission is to promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern.”  The online publication and blog covers all things Texas, including the legislature, political parties, universities and state departments, among other things.

The site also has a group of heavy hitters backing it — the chairman is Austin-based  venture capitalist John Thornton who believes in public media; editor-in-chief/CEO Evan Smith was the editor of Texas Monthly magazine for 18 years; and managing editor Ross Ramsey, formerly owner and  editor of Texas Weekly, a newsletter on politics and government.  The list of reporters and contributors reads like a who’s who of Texas media outlets, and it has the prerequisite social media presence, with blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts and a YouTube channel.

The principals say their site is a supplement to, not a replacement for local newspapers.   “The reason we started the Trib is not because your local paper doesn’t believe in journalism in the public interest. It does, and it produces as much as it can. But in this severely depressed economy, human and financial resources are not as plentiful as they once were. So papers have had to make hard choices. In the end, most of them have eliminated people and pages, and as a result, coverage of policy and politics has been cut way back. This has created a substantive void.”

And this mindset is illustrated in a Nov. 8 profile of the Texas Tribune done by the New York Times.  While media outlets around the country were responding to the shootings at Ft. Hood on Thursday, the Tribune instead lead with stories on the 50 highest-paid state employees and a local elected official who had switched parties.  Why?  “It wasn’t our story. Should we have just been one more news organization rushing to Fort Hood? I don’t think so,” reporter Matt Stiles told the Times.

The Texas Tribune has already raised $3.6 million in capital.  It will not take advertising, instead focusing on underwriters, similar to what’s done on public radio and television.  It is also soliciting its readers for donations to become founding members of the online publication.  The principals think the Texas Tribune is the future of journalism.  “But what we think doesn’t matter. If you and hundreds of thousands of people like you support this noble experiment, it will be.”

And last, but certainly not least, Digital Journalism Task Force member Dr. Michelle Ferrier has done part one of a review on her blog, Digital Content Architects, of CommunityQ, a web site that can be used by local newspapers to create hyperlocal sites and citizen journalism platforms.  Ferrier used CommunityQ to create and host the now defunct MyTopiaCafe.com, a hyperlocal site covering Florida’s Volusia and Flagler counties.  You can read Ferrier’s post-mortem on her site here.  She’s asking for your comments.

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Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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