Have you gone hyperlocal?

By Matter

During the past few years buzz has been building around the idea of hyperlocal journalism and the PR industry has followed suit, seeking out ways to pitch these outlets. The execution of hyperlocal coverage varies slightly by outlet, but in general it appears to be a mix of user-generated and professional edited content. Media watchers, including those of us in the PR game, are waiting to see which services will emerge as the strongest – with the biggest backing to hire staff and / or with the largest readership and / or commanding the biggest ad revenue.

The Columbia Journalism Review this past fall noted in a lengthy piece on the reconstruction of American journalism that, “Reporting is becoming more participatory and collaborative.” Indeed, USA Today publisher Gannett recently announced plans for hyperlocal sites in 10 markets across the U.S. while it’s been reported that AOL will pour $50 million into Patch this year. Even YouTube is throwing its hat into the ring, last month launching its test CitizenTube news feed.

Locally, in Massachusetts, GateHouse Media has been ramping up its WickedLocal.com site during the past several years to be a “portal” site representing featured content from 158 individual community websites.

Advertising Age recently detailed some of the bigger players on the hyperlocal scene:

The big story about the news business these days, as a matter of fact, revolves around companies that generate news and information using big networks of cheap freelancers. They include Associated Content, which Yahoo bought last month for about $100 million; Demand Media, which is reportedly considering going public this summer; Seed, where writers, photographers and others can submit their content for publication on AOL; and Examiner.com, which says it has 40,000 freelance “Examiners.”

They’ve already got big traction with readers. Examiner’s sites got more than 14.4 million visitors in May, according to ComScore — more than the 14 million people who visited all the McClatchy newspaper sites combined, or the 13.4 million people who visited MediaNews sites, or the 12 million who visited Hearst newspaper sites.

AOL and Yahoo have separately been staffing up their original blogs and news sections; Yahoo is currently advertising for a blog editor for Yahoo Finance, who will report original stories plus hire a team of bloggers. And sites that aggregate local content are also mixing things up. Last year MSNBC.com acquired EveryBlock, giving it a new ability to horn in on newspapers’ role as local information centers.

Newspapers have, meanwhile, been cutting reporters, thinning the distinction between their products and those of their rivals.

However, even The Gray Lady has stumbled in its foray into the hyperlocal market. The New York Times just last week shuttered its hyperlocal and collaborative journalism experiment called, appropriately, The Local, and hooked up with the New Jersey-based Baristanet.com which now has free reign to link to The Local archives.

As PR professionals we should all be on the look-out to make sure any articles we submit or post are transparent in their origin and clear in their objective. While sites such as these or Allvoices.com, NowPublic.com or Helium make it easier than ever for PR pros to submit news and feature stories we’ve still got to rely on some of our tried-and-true pitching strategies: know who we are pitching and make the info clear and relevant for their readers. In Matter’s own backyard, The Cape Cod Times recently cautioned readers of hyperlocal sites to look closely at and consider the source of their news. Newsroom ombudsman Jayne M. Iafrate wrote, “Citizen journalists are reporters and editors with little, if any, professional journalism training who write and publish news. Many practitioners have a specific point of view they wish to promote; others mean well, but fall short of professional ethics and standards simply because they lack training. And other citizen journalists flourish because they provide unvarnished glimpses into their worlds — places and ideas left unexplored by or unavailable to trained journalists.”

Have you been pitching hyperlocal or user-generated sites? What tips would you share with other PR pros for dealing with this new breed of media?