The New York Times has given an update on its hyperlocal experiment and says that while the content is flowing it has “been harder to figure out the business model”.
In one of its regular Talk to The Times slots Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives, spoke about hyperlocals and the New York Times pilot, called The Local, in response to a question from Lynn Smith, a former Los Angeles Times journalist.
Schachter said that The Local (the NY Times has two: one in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, the other in the New Jersey towns of South Orange, Maplewood and Millburn) had been what a pilot is supposed to be: “a learning experience for us on every front”.
Each of the NY Times hyperlocal projects is led by a full-time Metro reporter who has a dual role of covering stories and finding ways to help those communities to cover themselves.
On that front Schachter that both Locals had been a successes with local contributors coming forward and producing more than half of the posts on each site. This has turned out to be the easy bit.
He said citizen journalists were doing things as varied as covering meetings, analysing data, creating Google maps, making videos and writing a variety of columns and blogs.
“People in the news business talk all the time about “increasing reader engagement” as a key to our future success. I can’t think of any better measure of engagement than the frequency with which readers actually undertake to report the news and create high-quality content to share with one another,” Schachter said.
But on the other front, of turning these pilots into viable businesses, the NY Times is having less success.
“Not surprisingly, it has been harder to figure out the business model for all of this. An explosion of interest among local merchants in advertising on hyperlocal sites has been just around the corner for a number of years now.”
But despite that Schachter said that the hyperlocal advertising market is a hard one for an “established organisation like The Times to enter; for now, the potential revenues don’t match up very well with the cost of acquiring customers, even using a low-cost system like self-service advertising”.
He said the Times was looking at other ideas for generating revenue streams from its hyperlocal efforts and that it has the support of the New York Times Company to explore this further.
The lack of revenues is not stopping more and more players entering the market. With expansion in places like Seattle where Fisher Communications has launched 44 hyperlocal sites in the Seattle area and 38 in Oregon making it the largest in the US.
Hyperlocal website WikiCity was recently snapped up by Nebraskan newspaper group The Omaha World-Herald.
MSNBC has Everyblock.com which sits alongside other established players big and small such as Patch.com and Baristanet.
In the coming months more and more players will enter this market in the US not to mention the UK where the interest (from the likes of Guardian News & Media, Associated Newspapers and Trinity Mirror) and challenges in making hyperlocal work are similar.