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Hyperlocal overkill?

Hyperlocal OverkillSeptember 24: The phrase hyperlocal has been tossed around by media over the last couple of years, becoming an often-used catch phrase, as well as a mission in community news. Its origins are spotty, but date only as far back as the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, the concept has gained new ground.

A news model that continues to grow, hyperlocal has been embraced by corporate, independent, big and small media as well as citizen journalists. As hyperlocal sites enter markets already supporting a local newspaper and other community-focused sites, is it possible the news industry is on hyperlocal overload?

One of the biggest players is Aol’s Patch.com. In September alone, Patch launched 63 sites in Illinois, California, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, working toward their goal of infiltrating 500 neighborhoods by the end of the year.

Although merely a sampling of the hyperlocal ventures that exist, some of the most notable include the New York Times, which partnered with New York University to launch The Local East Village earlier this month. Meanwhile, Yahoo! is reportedly planning to launch a site in San Francisco, an already highly covered area. The Journal Register Company recently announced plans to launch a hyperlocal news and advertising portal in the Philadelphia area, while Boston.com is slated to expand its local coverage with six new Your Town sites in Boston neighborhoods. Main Street Connect, which currently consists of nine sites in Connecticut, promises to launch sites in 3,000 communities before the end of 2013. And last but not least, Washington, D.C.’s TBD.com made headlines when it launched with a refreshing hyperlocal business model.

Citing recent stats, Barb Palser, director of digital media for McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Company, questioned whether these sites can be sustainable in an American Journalism Review article. According to Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, only 20 percent of American adults in the past year reported using digital tools to stay informed about local issues or keep in touch with neighbors. Meanwhile, only 10 percent reported visiting a community blog in the last year. “Now consider the competition of multiple hyperlocal sites and bloggers, established community newspapers, and aggregators such as Topix.com and Outside.in. Not to mention other sources of local information such as online directories, event calendars and government sites. The math suggests a very stiff challenge,” she wrote.

According to Mel Taylor of Mel Taylor Media, a hyperlocal media consultancy, there can never be too many hyperlocal enterprises. “It’s always a good thing when you see so many players coming into a space because it’s proof that there’s an opportunity there,” he said. For multiple hyperlocal sites to endure in one market, he suggested they create an editorial niche and follow a business plan that concentrates its efforts more on profitability as opposed to content, technology and audience.

Although this hyperlocal explosion may be healthy, they can’t all survive. “Some will fall away and some will be taken over, which is quite healthy. There is no such thing as too much news coverage,” Taylor said. “The local consumer makes the decision on who to trust and who to follow; there is no downside to it.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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