Are Hyperlocal News Sites Replacing Newspapers?

As traditional newspapers wither, hyperlocal websites are taking over coverage of neighborhood news

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Illustration by Mr. Bingo for TIME

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Databases vs. Shoe Leather
Most hyperlocal sites don't have the budget for flashy graphics or searchable databases. Their content comes from observant neighbors (and local gadflies) who care about both large and small goings-on around town. Hyperlocal sites also frequently publish upbeat accounts of parades and high school sports, as well as information on which local vendors sell the best produce. Recent headlines on Record's site noted a "mega-low" tide and an upcoming garden tour.

Some traditional news organizations, in addition to partnering with hyperlocal sites and helping train their contributors, are creating their own local outlets. In 2009 the New York Times launched the Local, a project that involved two news sites, serving northern New Jersey and parts of Brooklyn, which were produced by residents and student journalists with oversight from Times staff. (The paper handed off its Jersey coverage to another hyperlocal site at the end of June; the Brooklyn site is now run by the City University of New York in partnership with the Times.) Next up for the Times is a collaboration with New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute to cover Manhattan's East Village. "Our goal is to support good journalism, be good partners to two of the leading journalism graduate schools in the country, and share information, ideas, resources and initiatives, with the goal of figuring out new relationships that will allow news organizations to extend their reach," says Mary Ann Giordano, the Times's deputy Metro editor, who oversees collaborative and hyper-local coverage. "The bonus is we also get to serve these two communities."

Record spent 30 years as a journalist, but it's her work on the West Seattle Blog — where she oversees (and pays) a handful of freelance contributors — that is earning her awards and teaching gigs. For two years, she has been teaching at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism training center in St. Petersburg, Fla. In May she was one of a dozen so-called digital entrepreneurs invited to participate in a News Entrepreneur Boot Camp at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she coached others on sustainable business models, revenue strategies and social-networking tactics.

But on a day-to-day basis, Record sits in her living room reinventing the role of an old-school newspaper editor. In June, when a "For sale" sign went up on a prominent, long-vacant building owned by the federal government, a devoted reader sent Record a quick e‑mail with an attached photo. Record then went to work reporting the story. "Not Woodward-Bernstein stuff," she says. "But this apartment building is now long abandoned, overgrown, boarded up, graffiti-vandalized, and thousands of people drive by it every week. They want to know what's happening with it. So this is a story, and we will continue to follow it."

The original version of this story said MSNBC bought EveryBlock. EveryBlock was bought by msnbc.com, a separate company from MSNBC.

This story appeared in the August 2, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.

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