News Leadership 3.0

June 09, 2008

Hyperlocal: It’s the people, stupid

Discussion of underscores
importance of connecting with community
What’s your hyperlocal strategy?

Journalism blogs are abuzz following a Wall Street Journal article dissecting, a less than successful Washington Post/Rob Curley experiment in hyperlocal news. It appears to be another case where the journalist/developers overlooked the people factor while they chased digital success.

Curley, the uber nerd of local news, acknowledges as much:

“From the second I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for the story, I knew exactly what I wanted to say in the interview, which was to point out that I thought the two biggest problems with were poor integration of the site with and not enough outreach into the community ... ala basically me speaking with every community group that would have me.

“And that both of those problems were my fault. Completely.”

Looking for specifics on how to connect with community, I found these two posts particularly insightful and useful:

John Hassell of The Newark Star-Ledger at the exploding newsroom:

“If we’ve learned anything from our own hyperlocal experiment at, it’s the importance of that consistent local engagement. The site is built as a collection of blogs written by members of the community, including a local attorney and politico named Paul Bangiola and a jeweller named Bill Braunschweiger.  It’s orchestrated by veteran Star-Ledger reporter and Morristown resident Kevin Coughlin, who spends virtually every waking hour running around town, reporting, recruiting contributors and organizing events.

Kevin is always bursting with ideas to give people in town more ways to share their stories, but one of my favorites was his inspired notion to donate two Flip video cameras to the Morristown & Morris Township Library so residents could check them out and record videos to upload to our site. When it became clear after a couple of months that no one was taking us up on this, he persuaded the library staff to produce a short movie with one of the cameras and then throw a world premier party at the library.’‘

Check out Hassell’s post for photos of the premier.

Michelle Ferrier at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, recalls her experience living in a small rural community where people waved at neighbors whether they knew them or not. She relates this to her approach as managing editor of for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

“I regularly do what (I) consider to be the online equivalent of waving to my neighbors—logging on and ‘stroking’ (via comments) contributors who have shared their content. I publicly acknowledge their participation. Also, I use contests and rewards to encourage participation. And I pick up the phone to talk to users about their posts. I ask them whether they’ve encountered any technical obstacles with the site, and let them know that we are listening for their feedback.

“Even more often, I’m out in the ‘real world’—at field trips, photographing school dance troupes, talking to nonprofit organizations about partnering on events, in K-12 classrooms and higher education lectures talking to everyone about and what it can do for them—and, especially, listening for their responses.

“I’ve found that ‘What do you want?’ is not the right question to ask your community. Instead, I ask ‘What do you want to do?’ I also look for ways to use existing functions or build new ones to service my neighbors and new friends. And that takes a listening posture, without agenda and with humility, that many mainstream journalists and sites lack.”

Coughlin and Ferrier are meeting the community in energetic ways that most journalists probably wouldn’t consider. No doubt Curley will be doing the same in his next assignment.

Has your news organization found ways to connect with and gather community? Please share your experiences in the comments.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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