As more and more efforts to provide news with a hyperlocal approach materialise, a pattern seems to be emerging. On the one hand, there are websites and newspapers that have sprung up from more or less local circumstances and that operate on a modest budget. On the other, there are big endeavours that attempt to cover several communities, AOL's Patch being the most notable example.
The Guardian discussed this pattern, noting that there seems to be another pattern when it comes to hyperlocal failures and successes. Using the Chingford Times as an example, it argued that small hyperlocal efforts done bottom-up have the best chance of succeeding. The Chingford Times, a fortnightly newspaper, belongs to Tindle Newspaper Group and costs £0.30 an issue. Although both the Chingford Times and Patch are in the hyperlocal news business, a quick comparison of numbers reveals how different they are from one another. The latter requires $120 million (£74 million) investment every year - compared to this, the Chingford Times's budget is miniscule, with the paper's profit per issue being currently at £2,000.
The profits may be small, but they are also encouraging when contrasted with the growing scepticism over Patch's chances of becoming profitable. Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review argued recently that it would be hard for top-down, corporate-drive hyperlocal efforts to create enough revenue to become sustainable. Based on recent developments in the hyperlocal field, there seems to be some truth in the claim.
Earlier this month it was reported that InJersey, a community-centred news portal owned by Gannett, didn't take off as had been hoped and had to close. One of the main problems was said to be that many editors didn't live in the area they covered and therefore didn't get the feel of the communities. Previously, the Guardian's Local project was wound down due to being unsustainable. And many have questioned Patch's possibilities of becoming profitable, among them a Patch editor, according to Business Insider.
When seen against this background, the Chingford Times's modest success is a reason for optimism. And it isn't the only small hyperlocal news site showing promise: last week, the Alternative Press, which covers New Jersey communities, was reported as having had successful first three years and expecting to pull in a $100,000 profit by 2013. Also an effective use of new technology, such as in the form of iPad and smartphone apps such as TapIn, will presumably give low-budget hyperlocal news outlets a boost.
Street Fight's Michael Meyer discussed what new news websites should bear in mind when preparing for a sustainable future. His advices apply especially to hyperlocal news efforts.
It is too early to dismiss Patch, but when contrasted with smaller hyperlocals, it seems apparent that it can be harder for such big endeavours to engage effectively with their audiences and to become financially sustainable. In contrast, smaller news outlets are able to operate on smaller budgets and may stand a better chance at becoming a more integral part of their communities.