The Guardian announced yesterday that it would be winding down its Local project, started two years ago, over the next month or so. The initiative aimed to provide regional news through three blogs, dedicated to Edinburgh, Leeds and Cardiff. Each of the locations has a dedicated "beatblogger", combining traditional journalism with social media.
According to the statement, the project is "not sustainable in its present form" financially, despite strong editorial importance and engaged local readerships. Otherwise the initiative appears to have been a success: the announcement included a long list of examples of how the blogs have had real impact in the localities.
According to Press Gazette, a spokesperson for The Guardian said that significant further investment would be needed for the project to grow and develop. "The nature of digital innovation means investing in and trying new things, but also knowing when to call it a day," the spokesperson said.
The three blogs will be closed in the near future, but their topics and communities will be integrated to the wider site coverage when possible, the announcement said. Nevertheless, the reactions to the project's closure range from disappointment to dismay, with many of the commenters on The Guardian's website lamenting the paper's decision.
PaidContent reported on the announcement, noting that the initiative never seemed destined to take off commercially. The income generated by local ad sales, for example, was particularly scant. PaidContent sees this as something typical for the hyperlocal trend in general: so far, there have been few examples of financially sustainable ventures into hyperlocal news, even though hype around the concept seems to only grow. Lately, AOL was reported as investing in Patch, its hyperlocal service, for example.
Several commenters on the Guardian's site expressed their support to the beatbloggers. Among the comments was also a message from Meg Pickard, head of digital engagement at The Guardian and the author of the announcement, in which she pondered whether the local communities or individuals affected would be able to carry on the blogs or raise money to fund them. A Twitter campaign to save the Cardiff blog already exists.
In light of The Guardian's decision, ZDNet's Tom Foremski discussed the problem of financing hyperlocal journalism in general. He believes that traffic levels of hyperlocal sites are too low to make ad-based funding profitable. They should look into developing multi-tiered business models instead.
Sarah Hartley, the editor of Guardian Local, collected some of the numerous reactions to the closure on Twitter, using Storify.