There was a recent Nieman Labs blog about the future of local news. Josh talked about a wide swath of the local market, including TV and metro-based local news. He was generally pessimistic about the future of local news, although he did reserve some optimism for hyperlocal digital publishers. For example, he states:
Still, the hopeful belief of local publishers was that maybe their advantages might let them scratch out a decent business. Local advertisers would want to reach local readers, and a local newsroom doesn’t need to be as big as a national or global one.
This is right on the money, but he precedes this by stating sites such as BuzzFeed, Vox Media and Vice are examples of local news. These are not examples of local news! These are national platforms trying to reach a large national (or international) demographic. As he states, the beauty of the Internet is it dis-intermediates location. So (in theory), I can write an article about something going on in New Jersey and if it’s popular/viral enough, it can be viewed by people all over the world. This is fine, but it’s not local. And it doesn’t help the local advertiser that caters to a local audience and wants a way to hyper-target the people that live within 10-15 miles of their location.
His real nugget of wisdom comes from this comment:
and then blows it by following up with:
And 2015 has made it clear that scale is becoming everything.
Actually, no. With hyperlocal, scale is not everything. In fact, this is the problem in total. We are so consumed about things going viral, reaching millions of people, that we lose site of the fact that there is so much power in the local community. 98% of all businesses in the United States have less than 20 employees, and 85% of them serve a local market. Scale doesn’t mean a thing to the local pizzeria or florist. They only need to reach people within 10-15 miles of their location (or so, depending on location. Some areas are denser than others) – which happens to be the territory that most hyperlocal digital publishers cover.
In fact, there will never be a more targeted and intimate platform to reach hyperlocal consumers in a given community than the local digital site. By now you know (you better!) that organic reach on Facebook is reaching 0%. In other words, the only way to reach a targeted demographic on Facebook is to pay. Part of their rationale for this is that there is now so much content on Facebook they have no choice but to filter what people see, otherwise, the data coming out of the fire hose would simply be too great.
But your hyperlocal digital publisher? Their site will always target the same set of people – it may get incrementally bigger, but it will never get so big that your posts get totally washed out the way they do on social media. And the fact that the local publisher isn’t thinking “big enough” to get VC funding and grow to be the next startup millionaire? Great news for the local businesses, since that publisher doesn’t have to keep coming up with ways to generate exponential revenue to satisfy investors. They can make a very nice living serving the existing businesses and connecting them with readers and visitors who visit their community and find out what’s going on from their local site.
The focus and intimacy that the hyperlocal publisher brings to their community gives them all the advantage they need to totally OWN that community. This hyper-focus is why I predict that hyperlocal publishers will dominate in their community going forward and be the go-to site for all things hyperlocal.