Hyperlocality and small “j” journalism

More thoughts on the future of journalism

FastCompany this month published, “Hyper-local Hero,” about multimedia journalist Rob Curley. (Make sure you check out Curley’s response to the article.) It produced for me an epiphany regarding where online journalism is headed, one of those rare moments of clarity and excitement and fear. First the clarity.

indy jones

Chuck Salter’s story on Curley, “a nerd from Kansas” who has helped newspapers transition to online with dramatic results, has me returning to notions of locality, albeit in new, distributed contexts. A few Xs and Os from Curley’s playbook:

>>Make your site so cool and important to people that they talk about it they way they talk about having a great park near where they live . . . a local amenity.

>>Develop an uncanny feel for what matters to people and translate that knowledge into imaginative, indispensable tools that forge a connection and habit with readers.

>>Drill down, way down. There is no such thing as overkill. There is always room for more detail, more depth. Hyperlocality. Small “j” journalism. Faits divers. For us here in the Northwest hills of Georgia, where there is no local TV station, this would mean high school football, local politics, cycling and churches. Lots and lots and lots of it. (As Curley points out in his response, this doesn’t mean forgoing enterprise pieces or big “J” journalism; it does mean knowing what “local” means to your publication and out-localing everyone else.)

>>And one not in Curley’s playbook but fairly obvious: embrace social networking. YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, filesharing, blogs, Flickr . . . All are about social networking, mingling, connecting and sharing. Participation, conversation and interaction. This is the new ethos, a communal ethos. It has little to do with the command-and-control, top-down, “trust us” model of mainstream news media. It is exciting. Thrilling. It is the future, and the future is now, which is where the fear comes in.

13 Responses to Hyperlocality and small “j” journalism

  1. Hart says:

    I can definitely relate to the excitement you expressed for the Hyperlocality article on Curley. I find his work to be fascinating, especially in the sports arena. Sports always have been and always will be a huge part of small communites across the nation. To give such an in depth look and big city feel to local sports (even little league) is an incredible way to get the community involved. I can only hope that within the next few years Curley’s way of doing things will make its way to more places across the nation.

  2. Carly S. says:

    I agree that newspapers should know what is local to their readers, and then take it from there. But where do you draw the line so journalism doesn’t end up overshadowing Journalism? His response was interesting, but doesn’t make that quite clear…it relies on editors and reporters to step aside from their biases and opinions, and know whether to put the prom or the war on the front page. For the most part, people dislike having to look up anything on their own…so if you become too local with journalism, readers don’t learn of possibly more pressing issues. If you delve too much into Journalism, readers wonder why they didn’t see their neighbor’s daughter with her crown on the front page. It’s such a fine line, and I’m really interested in seeing how blogs and smaller online newspapers begin to deal with this issue, because while this is pivotal for print I can’t even begin to imagine making the decision at least a dozen times a day as to what gets posted and what stays down.

  3. Audrey says:

    In reading this hyperlocality piece, I couldn’t help but think over and over again about my hometown newspaper’s Web site, http://www.news-journal.com. This is a site that I check every day, not because I think it’s some well-put together or award-winning Web site, but because I care about the local news that it is so great at covering. This is local news that I can’t physically be apart of because I am not at home, but news that I can still interact with through their coverage of it on their site. The site, containing things discussed in the article like video clips from Friday football games and a story about Betty Sue’s famous chocolate cake, wouldn’t be successful with other people in Rome, Ga., but is a success with me because I care about their “local” news. I know that Curley’s idea of hyperlocality is a success because I have seen how my hometown paper’s adaptation of it on their Web site has me coming back every day.

  4. Stefanie says:

    I really liked this article, and I found Curley’s response to the article even more interesting. The paragraph that he discusses confused me as well when I first read the article, causing me to read it a couple of times in order to understand what he was trying to say. Ultimately, I do agree with the fact that papers should provide a balance of both journalism and Journalism. I was glad that Curley cleared up a couple of comments made in the article because he came across at times as preferring journalism to Journalism, which was not what he was trying to say at all. I am from Lawrenceville, GA, and high school football is a big deal in my town, and I use to think that our local newspaper did a great job of covering our local games and rivalries. After reading the article, I realize that there is so much more that local community newspapers could do to spark interest in readers.

  5. Rachel says:

    There is definitely a need for covering small “j” journalism but it’s almost always the last thing newspapers do. News Publishing Co. is a prime example. The papers in that chain started out by posting major stories on their websites, and later expanded to posting wedding announcements, community calendars and the like. My hometown newspaper’s website, http://www.dadesentinel.com, carries only the top stories from that week’s paper but the editor has wanted for a long time to expand the website. Since he lacks the time and money to do it, the website focuses on more of the uppercase “J” journalism.
    On another note, the editor at the newspaper where I interned this summer once told me that advertisers prefer positive, community news to hard-hitting and at times negative news. He said readers are more likely to react positively to the ads in the paper (and presumably online) when they’re surrounded by softer stuff. Maybe the financial questions about building and maintaining good websites would solve themselves if more news organizations took small “j” journalism seriously enough to do it online from the get-go.

  6. Mallorie says:

    I thought that the hyperlocality hero article was really interesting. Rob Curley is definitely on to something really big. I think that what he was doing with sports will attract a lot of attention in small towns. I know that where I grew up football is all that is talked about. More importantly, I think that his concept of how to report local news is great. I think the fact that he wants to cover the local Little League like the New York Yankees is awesome. That kind of material is what people love. What he is doing online is amazing, and I understand why he is in such high demand. Maybe the Rome News-Tribune should take some notes from Curley.

  7. Tricia says:

    Where it says that you should drill down and way down, and that there is no such thing as overkill, can be taken the wrong way. When I first read that, my mind pictured a site cluttered with all kinds of information, all important information but too much in a small space. To me, that is not appropriate for a functioning website. Simplicity is key. The nitty-gritty should be available to the reader/viewer, but it should not be in the manner that I initially pictured. There is a such thing as overkill, if it is done incorrectly.

  8. Laura says:

    This article and Curly’s response were very interesting. I liked the PrepZone Playbook as well, but I also like that Curly is listening to what the public wants. As mentioned in the aricle, print media is in decline and as sad as that is, newspapers should learn to accept the change. We live in a fast-paced world and online media fits our pace. Curly recognizes not only the need for local news, but also the need to listen to the public. Everyone wants to know what is going on in the country and the world, but in my personal opinion reading about people I know in the newspaper catches my attention a lot faster, then John Doe out in California. By combining local news with online speed, I really think Curly has come up with an idea that all news outlets should consider.

  9. andy says:

    24 hours a day, 7 days a week. that’s the amount of time we all have to use.
    I am careful to comment in regards to this, when I direct it towards the “student media” on campus. Shortcomings left & right, my own folly included. There are so many possibilities out there ripe for the picking, yet no one is going after that low hanging fruit.
    Personally I only have so much I can do. To develop an online site is one thing, to update it is another. Where is the tradeoff of pride in the ability to say, yes we developed, designed and update the content all in house, look how great we are. V Look at what we talked with X developer in what we wanted our site to look like, isn’t it cool?
    My internet-add has kicked in, but I would really love to be a part of a convergent student media. All the pieces are there, just someone needs to draw up the puzzle and put it together.

  10. Melissa says:

    After reading about the “Hyper-Local Hero” and his philosophy, I find myself in agreeance with Mr. Curley about our local newspapers and all the possibilities and opportunities they have by being online. By “mastering the obvious,” really emphasizing what makes a town, a city, or a county what it really is (one example Curley mentioned, “Twain in Hannibal”) helps to begin bridging the gap between print and online. “On the bottomless Web, there’s always room for more detail, more depth.” After reflecting on Curley’s thoughts, I get excited about what could happen if this philosophy was put into play in Rome, but more specifically, Berry College. By putting more online about what really affects us, what is happening right here at home, we are more interested and want to see and know more. As Berry College students and current residents of Rome, we could see some of the plays our basketball players use or take surveys about issues that matter to us that we have just read about in the paper. By emphasizing what really makes where we live unique on the internet, helps to engage us and helps us find what interests us (sports, the fine arts, history, etc…). If a newspaper really utilizes their online opportunities and “masters the obvious,” a more interested group of readers is likely to be created as well as readers that simply care more about where they live and what is going on there.

  11. […] Which brings me to Tricia’s warning, that perhaps there IS such thing as overkill. Too much content in too many places can confuse, and confusion results in the loss of readers. Agreed. This dramatizes a point from earlier in the course, that navigation isn’t a feature of a Web site, it IS the Web site. So both Tricia and Rob are correct. There is no such thing as overkill, provided it is organized and arrayed in meaningful, easily navigable ways. Excellent point, and I think Tricia for it. […]

  12. […] Audrey and Rachel each provide examples of newspapers with Web sites that are focusing on local fare. Rachel points out how difficult it is with painfully finite resources to do quality hyperlocal journalism when there are so many other demands on these small staffs’ time. She points to News Publishing Co.’s site in her hometown, http://www.dadesentinel.com, which carries only the top stories from that week’s paper. That’s sad, and think of how much better Curley’s Naples market has it than the Sentinel’s readership. […]

  13. Deryck Hodge says:

    I just discovered your blog here. Nice work!

    I’m lead programmer on Rob’s team at WPNI (and was also with him in Naples) and would like to comment on a couple of things and share some extra insight.

    Concerning this post’s inclusion of a social networking component — Rob (and our team) very much believe in this, too. Usually, Rob speaks of this as news as a dialog versus news as a monologue, but really, he’s just referring to the social, communal aspects of the news site for the community. We have lots of this built into our sites, from user profiles that track commenting and related interests to myspace-like peer networks. We’ll be doing even more of this with future projects. Stay tuned! :-)

    And regarding the concerns here about how to manage the relationship of local coverage to national news, it’s not that difficult a thing to do. Just thing of the difference like this… Take something like 9/11, the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, etc. are covering the event itself, and the hyper-local paper would cover the event in the context of the community, i.e. “how is this big thing affecting everyone where I live?” There’s no way not to cover the event itself, but the way you cover it is different. Since Rob speaks in exclamation points, lots of people assume it’s an either/or thing, but I don’t think that’s the case.

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