Hyperlocal Site Builds on Olympic Games

Friday, February 12, 2010

As newspapers face an uncertain future, an emerging news platform, the hyperlocal Web site, may be opening exciting doors for citizens to follow and showcase their communities.

Although hyperlocal Web sites have been steadily growing through the past year, I would not be surprised if my readers are unfamiliar with the new platform. Described by Cain Miller and Brad Stone in their April 2009 article for the New York Times, hyperlocal websites provide extremely localized information. Often the Web sites operate without hired journalists, but instead with input from those within the community. The content of a typical hyperlocal Web site ranges from links to external articles and blogs, local government news, arrests, home sales, road construction, and restaurant and event reviews. Also, many of these sites have the capability to cover and deliver news faster than larger news organizations.

While smaller local newspapers (such as those in rural Iowa) can usually cover all the above information, hyperlocals prove beneficial in bigger metro areas, whose papers cannot always dedicate the manpower to covering individual neighborhoods or suburbs. Many are becoming even more innovative, following the examples of sites like Outside.in, which has an iPhone app allowing users to locate news and events within a 1,000 foot radius of their location. Also, many supporters of hyperlocal Web sites praise its potential to bring local advertising dollars to the Web.

Clearly, hyperlocal Web sites serve a very defined audience. However, in a February 11, 2010 article at the Online Journalism Review, Dave Chase, owner and editor of the hyperlocal sunvallyonline.com, presented several ways in which sites can boost their viewership to a larger, perhaps even national level. Currently, his site, which covers the Wood River Valley region of Idaho, is capitalizing on the 2010 Winter Olympics. A local of the Wood River Valley area, Curtis Bacca currently works for snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis, Seth Wescott, and Shaun White and is with the team in Vancouver to prepare boards for competition. To help Chase and promote Sun Valley Online, Bacca shoots a video blog of his work with the team that is uploaded to the site. By doing this, Chase hopes to create a huge jump in short-term viewership as the games proceed that will lead to an increase in regular and steady viewers.

Examples of other national events or news that hyperlocals could connect to their own sites include natural disasters or local celebrity news. I certainly agree with Chase that hyperlocals provide an exciting new platform for news and I look forward to seeing them develop in the future. I do have one reservation however, and that is on the issue of quality. The downfall of the hyperlocal Web site will be when quality is ignored in an effort to produce fast content. As they develop, hyperlocals must be sure to adhere to high standards of quality and journalistic ethics.


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