Ignore the bungalow extension at your peril

Hyperlocal news is a real buzzword around journalism right now, especially in relation to the web. In a way, it’s exactly the kind of thing that should be a match made in heaven for local newspapers and the web. Sadly, it’s not always the case.

The Grey Cardigan blog at the Press Gazette bemoans the lack of space given over the the planning notices and Martin Stabe adds his two pence worth.

“Why aren’t local papers providing clever online services like this? It’s certainly a medium more appropriate to reporting planning applications than a weekly digest in 6pt type.

Services mapping local information to readers’ location like this are a tiny part of a bigger trend to develop the geographic web and its ancillary, local search — where the relevance of information is measured by its proximity to readers’ current location or to places significant to them. The mobile phone operators understand the commercial significance of this, as does Google. Why do you think they are investing so much money in cartography?

They’re coming after the local papers that no longer offer the most efficient way of getting local information to their readers.”

Martin’s spot on. The closer something like this is to your home, the more likely you are to take an interest in it.

For newspapers with a wider, more general audience, it obviously doesn’t make sense to devote huge swathes of space in the paper to small planning issues (unles particularly contentious) but the web is ideal for this kind of thing, along with any other hyperlocal stories that perhaps are a bit too local to put into the paper itself, or perhaps a small extension of a hyperlocal NIB. That way the website becomes a useful brand extension of the paper itself rather than a repetition of what’s in the paper.

As I’ve said before, slowly but surely there are products creeping onto the web that will do these jobs for potential readers, especially the older and tech-savvy readers. And while these may not yet have widespread take up, as Paul Bradshaw rightly points out today, these users aren’t geeks, they’re early adopters:

“Five years ago people who downloaded mp3s were seen as geeky. Now it’s a mainstream activity, and expected to make up the majority of record sales within a further five years.

Twitter has only been going for two years; YouTube is 3 years old and Flickr 4. MySpace is 5. blogging services like Blogger.com are still not even a decade old.

Do I need to labour the point?

Distribution has always been about getting your content to where the reader is. Guess where they are now?

And if they’re not there already…”

There’s no guarantee that all these sites currently floating around will take off, but it’s still worth an editor’s time to get familiar with some of the tools out there.

Local newspapers’ web offerings aren’t just competing with other newspapers – they’re competing with the whole web.  Now, if a paper can nip some of these potential competitors in the bud – or even adopt them themselves – they’re going to be in much better stead.

The majority of web users are still inherently conservative and trust brands they know; for the current time being local newspapers are still a known brand. If they can offer a similar service to these unknown upstarts, then they’re giving readers more incentive to stick with them.

So whether this is a map mashup showing planning applications in your area, an invitation to upload livestreams of hyper-local events, setting up a Flickr stream or just getting in a few hyperlocal bloggers and encouraging them to be active online, you’re still enhancing the two-way relationship between you and your readers/users without affecting the content elsewhere – a win-win situation.

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