Generating a steady stream of locally-focused articles, without skimping on quality (or hitting ethical snags), is a challenge that even the most successful hyperlocal publications are still working to overcome.
Appealing to a hyperlocal audience means going beyond repackaged press releases and community events listings, to uncover truly newsworthy stories happening in individual neighborhoods. We consulted with experts from some of the country’s top hyperlocal publications to round up the best strategies for developing stories for local audiences on a regular basis. Here are their best tips.
1. Comb emerging networks for unusual story tips. One danger for reporters is relying only on mainstream social media tools. Intrepid reporters can get a lot out of following emerging social media tools like 4Chan, Vine, or SnapChat. Although Twitter and Facebook skew older, some of these social media tools are havens for teenagers and younger users, and may yield unusual story tips. Reporters at DNAinfo.com also consistently look at sub-Reddits that cover the individual neighborhoods on their beats. —Carla Zanoni, DNAinfo.com
2. Tap the right databases. Public records databases break down into two buckets. First, you’ve got databases that any reporter can tap to report a strong local story, though it may only be something you can hit once a year. For local news outlets such as Patch, there’s a category of public records databases that can serve as a bottomless wellspring of stories. It’s a long list that varies from state to state, depending on government structures — building permit applications, health inspection reports, civil suit filings, water testing results, regulatory action reports such as for nursing homes or any business certified by a state agency — and reporters who check these areas and keep regular tabs are positioned to unearth bigger stories first. —Michael Dinan, Patch
3. Leverage maps and infographics. We use maps and infographics to localize bigger news stories. For example, a story about Hispanic New Yorkers being stopped-and-frisked included a map where readers could see the top ‘stop and frisk’ locations in neighborhoods throughout the city. These tools are also helpful with education stories, and they have allowed us to develop infographics that show where students have the best chance of getting into pre-k programs by neighborhood. —Michael Ventura, DNAinfo.com
4. Keep an eye on hashtags. At AZCentral.com’s hyperlocal sites, we go through Facebook and Twitter by searching hashtags or popular profiles. Based on what’s trending, we’ll find some way to give the topic a local appeal and include a call-to-action asking readers to share their stories. For example, a Women’s Day article about national volunteer organizations was trending, so I made a post about local organizations and ways to help out in your own neighborhood. —Melissa Farley, The Arizona Republic
5. Encourage readers to act as correspondents. Average citizens can make great correspondents. At The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we have a section of our website called Stopped.Watched, which includes very short observations made by ‘correspondents,’ mostly in the course of their daily routines. Citizen correspondents file these observations via email, text, or by shooting us an at-reply on Twitter. The fact that readers submit the items, as opposed to posting them with no editorial intervention, provides a buffer against the wackier side of the internet. —Dave Askins, The Ann Arbor Chronicle
6. Develop content partners. Reporters should be developing relationships with content partners — folks who know what’s going on — and neighbors who want to improve their community news site with their own suggestions and contributions. We post a ‘Home of the Day’ in our real estate section using information that’s easily available from our advertisers, and the Chamber of Commerce lets us know about business openings and closings. —Carll Tucker, Daily Voice
7. Take a walk. Before West Seattle Blog was even a news service, many of the topics I wrote about were things I saw while out taking walks with our son. Now, we drive around to make sure we’re not missing anything — a new sign, a home teardown, or roadwork, for example. We also take the time to follow up on tips and sightings that come in via email, phone, text message, Facebook, Twitter, comments, and forum posts. —Tracy Record, West Seattle Blog
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.