02 February 2010

What Is Ashland's Favorite Hyperlocal Paper?

A few years back, I helped launch a hyperlocal publication. I left the venture due to some dramatic differences of opinion and refusal to take any further abuse from my supposed partner. Those days are long behind me, but I continue to stay apprised of the hyperlocal movement.

The concept of hyperlocalism thrills me to no end, and I'm surprised that more people have not jumped on the hyperlocal bandwagon.

What does "hyperlocal" mean?
Put simply, hyperlocal refers to an extremely narrow regional focus. Most often, hyperlocal refers to news coverage. It is the answer to the all-too-often broad and non-regional news coverage common to most "News at 11:00" broadcasts.

About the most hyperlocal you can get is your home. I posit that a yearly family newsletter sent to friends and family around the holidays presents the most hyperlocal of all news coverage.

More notably, though, is the creation of publications - in print and online - that focus coverage only on a specific region. Some exceptions might include stories about a local's travels abroad, like a hometown soldier fighting in the Middle East or a doctor who has traveled to Haiti to offer humanitarian aid.

The exploitation of "hyperlocal"
A few (e)books and a rising number of professional blogs relating to hyperlocal publications have hit the market over the past couple years. I have one overriding problem with most of what the self-appointed hyperlocal gurus have presented.

In an attempt to exploit a blossoming sector of content distribution and new media, the "experts" have subjugated the editorial aspect as the dead-last concern when launching a hyperlocal publication.

Many of the hyperlocal gurus see the rising interest in hyperlocalism as a way to make their fortune. The primary mission for these individuals is not to revolutionize and democratize mainstream media. Their mission is not really to provide the news that the other outfits ignore in favor of national and international coverage.

Their primary mission is to create and produce a publication that will generate money, lots and lots of money. Content is almost always secondary, if not tertiary or beyond.

That said, not all hyperlocal publishers are out to exploit hyperlocalism for their own financial gain. In Ashland, however, money is the primary goal of the hyperlocal publishers.

Ad rags do not constitute a hyperlocal publication.
When I helped launch the aforementioned hyperlocal publication, my "partner" and I wanted to provide a voice to the stories that were being neglected... or so I thought. It soon became apparent that my "partner" had a more greedy motive.

As the months passed, each issue grew to have a greater and greater ad:content ratio. By the time I declared an end to my collaboration, the ratio had ballooned to 70:30. This was a top complaint of ours about our top competitor. That competitor never claimed to be a hyperlocal paper, but that's essentially what they were.

I tried to express to my "partner" the importance of maintaining no greater than a 55:45 ratio. But, he said we had to pay the bills so I went with it until I could handle no more.

There were many other issues involved that led to my departure, but that's not the focus of this particular article.

Hyperlocal publications must provide hyperlocal coverage.
Getting back to the definition, hyperlocal news should provide an alternative to mainstream media, which routinely ignores small stories taking placing in local regions. Hyperlocal news should focus on the people around you, the people you see all the time. Hyperlocal readers want content!

Growing ever disappointed with the direction the publication I helped start has headed, I decided to hit the streets. I wanted to validate my feelings and to verify that I wasn't the only one who felt the way I did. What I discovered was intriguing...

The Survey
I spent a little time writing up a brief survey and stood in front of Shop-N-Kart and Albertson's until I had gathered 20 unique responses. Here's what I asked and the responses I received:

1. Are you familiar with the term "hyperlocal"?
  • 38 out of 40 had no idea.
  • 1 gave an incorrect answer.
  • 1 gave an answer that was close enough to count.
  • I provided a definition to each person.
2. What is your favorite "hyperlocal" paper?
  • 9 cited the "Ashland Daily Tidings"
  • 7 cited the "Medford Mail Tribune"
  • 6 cited "Rogue Valley Parenting"
  • 4 cited "Sneak Preview"
  • 3 cited "LocalsGuide"
  • 2 cited "Sentient Times"
  • 9 cited "none" or "other"
3. Which paper do you think provides the most "hyperlocal" coverage?
  • 18 cited the "Ashland Daily Tidings" or the "Medford Mail Tribune"
  • 6 cited "Sneak Preview"
  • 2 cited "LocalsGuide"
  • 14 cited "none" or "other"
  • 4. Which do you like better: "Sneak Preview" or "LocalsGuide"?
  • 7 cited "Sneak Preview" (5 at Shop-N-Kart and 2 at Albertson's)
  • 6 cited "LocalsGuide" (3 at Shop-N-Kart and 3 at Albertson's)
  • 27 cited "neither"
5. How long do you keep your copies of "Sneak Preview" and "LocalsGuide"?
  • 11 cited "long enough to scan the articles"
  • 5 cited "until the next one arrives"
  • 18 cited "it goes straight into recycling/trash"
  • 6 cited not receiving either in the mail.
6. How do you feel about receiving copies of these publications each month? (I did not count those who said they don't receive it.)
  • 7 cited neutral feelings
  • 3 cited monthly anticipation for their arrival
  • 17 cited they wish they could opt out of receiving them each month
  • 7 cited outrage over the monthly deliveries as tantamount to junk mail and/or (as one respondent put it) "an abysmal and irresponsible misuse of natural resources."
At the end of the survey, I opened things up for further elaboration on answers. Here's a summary of the points people raised:
  • LocalsGuide has a terrific look, much better than Sneak Preview.
  • LocalsGuide can be a lot more fun and "whimsical," but has lost some of its joy over the past few months.
  • Locals Guide seems to one-sided in the articles it prints. (One respondent said, "The stories are also so stereotypical of what people see as the 'Ashland' type. It's too foo-foo.")
  • Sneak Preview has always felt like one giant advertorial.
  • Sneak Preview has gotten better at presenting the top issues facing our community.
  • Sneak Preview seems to be one-sided in the views and commentary it presents. (One respondent said, "They are way too conservative for a town like Ashland.")
The one thing most people stated was that both publications have way too many ads.

Perhaps the most damning sentiment that I received from respondents was when I asked them where they were most likely to look for local news. Other than "online," it was a tie between the Ashland Daily Tidings and Medford Mail Tribune. Only two people cited Sneak Preview as a good place to read commentary about one big issue facing the community and not one person cited LocalsGuide as a source for local news.

What makes those responses so damning? The editors of both Sneak Preview and LocalsGuide consistently attack the mainstream papers (Tidings and Mail Tribune) as not providing the type of coverage people want.

I need to point out that most of the people who cited the Tidings and Mail Tribune were not actually satisfied with the coverage those papers provide. "But," as one respondent said, "It's as good as it gets for this little town."

A Message for All Aspiring Hyperlocal Publishers
Readers want hyperlocal, relevant, and engaging content. They can see right through any attempts to cram ads down their throats. If you can't maintain a maximum of 50:50 ad:content ratio, don't even consider starting a hyperlocal publication or consider scaling back your ambitions.

To gain loyal and eager readers, you must give them what they want - great content!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was really interesting, thanks for posting. I provide content for the Tidings and this was a kind of shot in the arm! Thanks!