Sunday, July 29, 2007

More on the Reader and the myth of "hyperlocalism"

So the new owners of the Chicago Reader, Creative Loafing (ugh), have announced that the entire production of the paper is moving to Atlanta. The entire Reader production staff, along with its award-winning art director, will be out on the streets within six weeks. Additional rumors have the paper's printing being outsourced from long-time printer Newsweb in Chicago all the way out to North Carolina, where it will be trucked 14 hours cross-country. Once they're through, it's a safe bet that a good amount of the editorial will be produced out-of-town as well--after all, you don't have to live in a place to review a movie, right?

These moves away from Chicago by a company that claims to be "pioneering the opportunities offered by convergent print, web, and new media applications" (ugh) underscores why my bullshit detector goes up every time I hear someone talking about "hyperlocalism" as the savior of newspapers.

Hyperlocalism--for the three of you that don't already know--is the latest buzzword for locally-focused content that's combined with community-driven content. When you hear the investment brokers and money handlers talk about it, they always dredge up the example of junior-high school sports scores--traditional newspapers can't dedicate the space to print them, they say, even though plenty of parents want to know them. That junior-high sports scores have no real bearing on anyone's life (junior-high schoolers notwithstanding), and that real local news doesn't ever seem to register in analysis hasn't stopped the hyperlocalism bandwagon from picking up steam.

But there's always the question of production: Who's driving that wagon? In typical "convergence" fashion, it's big media companies, silicon valley startups, and cheerleaders from among the technoscenti. There's often not a damn local (let alone a hyper one) among them. And so hyperlocalism is bound to fail the same way the Creative Loafing (ugh) run Reader is bound to fail: "Local" is a word that still means something--you can't replicate it from 1,500 miles away, no matter how much money you spend.


Paul M. Davis said...

True enough. Look no further than, which often comes up as the number one Google listing for any BFE town you might look up but has on average two stories copied and pasted directly from the local TV affiliate's website.

This is another example of the fact that though, to paraphrase Google exec Eric Schmidt, tech companies aren't "in the content business" the alternative is going to be a graveyard of outdated Web 2.0 sites that none of the local people have any inclination to update. If someone wants to make hyperlocalism work, they better be planning on getting into the content business.

Of course, you could point to Yelp as an example of a hyperlocal success, but it only continues to prove what I suspect is true of most people online--not us media types or the technosenti, but the other 85% of the world that uses the internet--that all they really care about looking at online is pictures of their friends, recipes, gossip, classifieds and reviews of restaurants nearby. None of which qualify as hyperlocal news.