Denver Post Unveils ‘New’ YourHub. But Is It New Enough?

Whatever happened to YourHub?

Six years ago it was major media’s first big foray into hyperlocal. Created by the Rocky Mountain News, the flagship of the E.W. Scripps newspaper chain, YourHub called itself the “electronic town square” of Denver and 40 suburbs sprinkled across the Front Range. A couple of months after its launch, it claimed 50,000 unique visitors. By the next year, it had signed up newspaper franchisees from coast to coast.

To its advocates, YourHub was the answer to newspapers desperately looking to replace shrinking print  revenues with digital gold. But digital gold, like the real stuff, is not easy to find, even for big newspaper companies that think they’ve seen the future. What happened in Denver is a sobering case study about metro newspapers and what happens when they plunge into hyperlocal.

In 2008, three years after YourHub’s launch, spokes started flying off the wheel. The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee canceled its franchise because it was unhappy with the steady stream of press releases that YourHub pumped out, thanks to a lax registration system that permitted less-than-transparent signups. The next year the whole wheel went flying loose. Scripps shut the Rocky two months short of its 150th birthday. YourHub’s remaining franchise papers pulled out. What was left—YourHub in metro Denver—became the foster child of  MediaNews Group’s Denver Post, the surviving partner of the two dailies’ Denver Newspaper Agency, which owned the hyperlocal operation.

It was an awkward embrace. YourHub’s clunky content management software couldn’t be integrated into the  Post’s system.  Worse, YourHub’s anything-goes citizen journalism clashed with the Post’s own closely administered and moderated Neighbors community forum.

Fast forward to mid-2011.  YourHub is fully integrated into the Post’s new multi-platform content management system. Citizen journalism is balanced with more staff-produced content—a model  that the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal successfully adopted to replace fluff like parent-supplied reports on kiddie birthday parties. But while the Post has fixed some of YourHub’s worst flaws, it hasn’t created anything like well-connected electronic town squares throughout metro Denver.

The surviving citizen journalism can be weak.  Here’s the lead paragraph from a story in the Arvarda YourHub on Aug. 2 (and was  still being featured on the neighborhood homepage as of Aug. 18):

“Population growth impacts two important systems in the  Denver Metro Area—wastewater and transportation. The 25 July 2011 City Council Meeting had presentations on both of these matters that were both informative  and interesting, one on plans for the Ralston Road Corridor and the other  showing developments in the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District.”

Help is on the way, says YourHub Managing Editor Eric Lubbers.  “The  community managers we are hiring for each of our regions will be holding weekly sessions in the communities for anyone to drop by and talk about stories and  learn about the journalism process,” he says. “Those community managers will also be holding regular training  sessions at libraries/schools, etc.”

Asked about YourHub’s reputation for being a catch basin for  press releases masquerading as news stories, Lubbers said of the new system: “All content goes through my staff before it is available to the general public and they will contact users to explicitly  identify themselves and their relationship to the stories they are posting.”  But press releases and “articles” where home-based  business people promote their services and products still appear, like this recent one in the Golden YourHub making questionable health claims: “Easing  Menopause With Essential Oils.”

Meanwhile, YourHub has completely ignored perhaps the  biggest current story in metro Denver—the 47% increase in the growth of  Hispanic youth under 18 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.  In the once predominantly white suburbs—where YourHub’s flag is planted most firmly—the  growth of Hispanic youth has been especially dramatic: 62% in Douglas County,  60% in Jefferson County, 73% in Arapahoe County. The implications for the metro region are potentially enormous. Hispanics, overall, are lagging in academic achievement in metro Denver schools and dropping out at high rates. Schools aren’t doing enough fast enough to produce better outcomes, critics say. The achievement gap between Hispanic and white students regionally is one of the widest in the U.S. If these trends continue, metro Denver would be hard-pressed to meet its growing need for educated workers. The losers would not only be Hispanics but the whole region.

But to produce stories that bring to life trends like this one, YourHub needs passion, and that  doesn’t appear to be part of YourHub’s strategy to own the space occupied by the network’s reconfigured 11 hubs and 110 neighborhoods.  Maybe that’s why YourHub has only 80,556 unique visitors monthly, according to its media kit (56,291 in June 2011, according to  Compete with a big plunge to 18,671 in July).  Even if YourHub’s larger number is  accurate, that’s not even 2% of the 5,322,459 UV’s that the Post overall website  attracts.

So far, YourHub has been able to operate in a near-vacuum of  serious competition.  But it can’t be too  long before AOL’s Patch—already operating in many similar affluent suburban markets  in the East, Middle West and West Coast—is growing sites in metro  Denver.

YourHub does have one advantage no competitor can match—zoned inserts that  go into every Thursday copy of the Post and are also available free in racks.  This “dead-tree” product grosses about $3.5  million annually–90% of YourHub’s total revenues. As the Post’s print circulation continues to decline, that revenue share will shrink, but the Post is hoping  that the new YourHub website has enough “secret sauce” to gain traction and  make up any difference, and then some.

There’s this big question, though: Is the “new”  new enough to make that happen?

Tom Grubisich authors The  New News column, which appears Thursdays on Street Fight.  He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is  developing a Web site to rank communities on their livability across 20-plus  categories. The rankings will be dynamic, going up and down daily as they are  updated through a combination of open data, journalism and feedback from local  experts and users of the site.

Don’t miss the premiere hyperlocal industry event this fall! Register to reserve your place at the Street Fight Summit 2011 on Oct. 25-26 in New York City, and mingle with top minds in this business. Click here to learn more!

  1. Robreuteman
    August 18, 2011

    Your criticism is not wholly on the makr. The Denver Post has Viva Colorado, a separate insert aimed squarely at the growing Hispanic population here.

    1. August 18, 2011

      Rob, you’re right about Viva Colorado, which is published on Thursdays by the Denver Post, and is available free on racks at 1,200 locations in the region (total circulation over 48,000).  I did not see anything in Viva Colorado about the 2010 Census report on the rapid growth of young Hispanics in metro Denver, especially in the suburbs.  The report was published by the Piton Foundation of Denver — in June 2011.

      But even if Viva Colorado did publish anything on the report, YourHub should have done  zoned pieces, with charts, covering communities in all the suburbs, with a focus on the long-range economic implications of this growth, both for Hispanics, the individual communities and the entire metro region.   It would be a great reader, and, I’m sure, prompt feedback that YourHub needs.

  2. Robreuteman
    August 18, 2011

    Your criticism is not wholly on the mark. The Dennver Post addresses the growing Hispanic population with its insert Viva Colorado.

  3. Rob Reuteman
    August 18, 2011

    Your criticism is not wholly on the mark. The Denver Post
    addresses the growing Hispanic population here with its good insert, Viva Colorado.

    Like Reply

  4. Mark
    August 18, 2011

    And Patch’s content is any better? Really?

    1. August 18, 2011

      Relatively speaking, yes.  And Patch sites generally get much more community feedback than YourHub.

      1. Joe
        August 18, 2011

        Gee, comparing 800 Patch sites to one YourHub as a “general” indicator of more community feedback – that’s really going out on a limb. Of course, some Patch sites will have more. But some also have less than YourHub. And all those Patch sites don’t put out a print product. Therefore, they generate fewer eyeballs in that way.
        Patch sites are not much more than press releases either, all strung together by ONE harried, overworked employee per town on the beat. Now that’s in-depth quality!

      2. August 19, 2011

        Really?  I see quite a few stories on YourHub with comment figures 50+, 150+, 40+ which I almost never see on Patch.   Today the Newcity patch is quite popular, mostly due to the Verizon furor (NewCity is a hotbed for many Verizon employees).  Despite a very polarizing and contentious issue in the community (the Verizon strike), a letter to the editor about the strike got 80+ comments.  Once you remove the back and forth between 4 posters, you’re down to 15 other commentators.   An article on YourHub about the Denver Bronco’s ground game encouraged more unique commentators.

        So can you please post the numbers to back up this assertion of yours?  

        And just so you know, I am not a basher of Patch – I think they are trying something bold – mass marketing the community experience.  However, I just don’t understand your positioning of them and I scoff at the idea that anyone would see them as much of a threat.  Let’s face it, most of these community sites rarely garner more than half a percent of local eyeballs, so its not like there is anyone out there that can be considered the gorilla in the room.  Nobody has yet solved the problem of really penetrating local markets on a mass scale.

  5. August 18, 2011

    I agree with your critique – curation + voice are key.  

    When we started Bias Media (before YourHub, but still funded by MNG/Scripps and managed by the DNA), we knew that user-generated content was essential to the success of our publication. But we also knew that it needed to be well-curated and edited, and supplemented with our own smart, edgy, passionate ringers. When we watched YourHub’s rise (with exponentially more funding than they gave us), we were horrified at the lack of quality control. Of course, we were more horrified when BIAS was shut down after 17 months, just as we’d hit our stride, with a burgeoning membership base and nearing break-even. Six years later, my pals at the newspaper are still trying to figure it out…the new pay wall idea, a revamped YourHub…they still seem woefully far from a solution, but at least they’re trying a bunch of new approaches.

  6. August 18, 2011

    I like this kind of criticism and we need more of it to continually improve hybrid professional/ volunteer outfits.

    At The Sacramento Press we often avoid covering the “big” story simply because The Sacramento Bee does a commendable job covering it. We don’t want to waste our limited resources doubling up coverage.

    Our readers tend to be content omnivores. Hybrid operations work well supplementing rather than replacing newspapers of record – at least as long as legacy newsrooms still can and do cover “bog” local issues.

    All that said, we are finding ourselves covering some big issues ourselves. We have even had some great community contributions about “big” city hall issues. Our job is to grow into something better than we are and critiques like the one above will help the industry mature.

    1. August 19, 2011

      Hi Ben – One way we (The Hawaii Independent, at have found to cover ‘big’ issues is to focus on one major topic per month. It allows us to coordinate our editorial, marketing, and sales efforts. We call them our monthly “Focus” sections, and so far it’s been pretty successful. The challenge, from my perspective, is how to balance our editorial resources between our monthly focuses and our ongoing beat reporting. My conclusion: grow our editorial team. That’s my plan for the new year.

      Ikaika Hussey
      The Hawaii Independent

  7. Jen
    August 18, 2011

    The author of this piece apparently is unaware that Patch is currently a major money pit to its parent, AOL, and that there is serious speculation that the plug will be pulled on the whole operation within 12-18 months. See today’s piece on it by Bloomberg.

    1. August 18, 2011

      I’m aware of the speculation about a possible AOL breakup and the implications for Patch.  But what-if
      stories are just that.  In the meantime, metro Denver is one of the last
      few major markets that Patch hasn’t penetrated. 

      1. August 18, 2011

        So what.  Are they going gangbusters in any of the markets they have penetrated?  What in the world would frighten anyone about Patch?   A good metric to use for any of these sites is participation, and given that there rarely are comments left on articles for Patch sites, I just do not see the take up by the community that would leave anyone frightened by a patch entry into their city.  If one looks at the distinct number of commenters to any of  the sites, it leads you to believe that AOL has succeeded in spending $100k per site to garner 50-100 people in a cities of 50k plus.  That’s spending on a par with US fiscal stimulus but hardly sustainable.

    2. August 18, 2011

      Yea, I just posted the same question.  It seems like StreetFight has the hots for Patch, and I don’t understand why.  Its such an underwhelming product with not much of a future.

  8. chucolo
    August 18, 2011

    News & Tech wrote about the evolution of YourHub and other hyperlocal initiatives in its March 2011 edition. Here’s the link:
    Lots of high hopes for this concept when Rocky first introduced it, but, as Tom wrote, the death of the Rocky left it rootless. I think the YourHub pubs are better now than they were two years ago (faint praise) but the quality will always depend on how many citizen journalists want to contribute. And how long these “journalists” want to contribute for free…..

  9. August 18, 2011

    I am curious – the writers on StreetFight seem to tout Patch as the competitor to look out for.  I just don’t see it.  Their news coverage is lame – its general interest stories that can be distributed to multiple sites that generally interest no one and the most prominent writers (by a 90-10 basis) are the people they pay, who tend not to be great journalists either (the comment made here about the writing can be applied to many Patch sourced pieces).   More importantly, the cities they cover often have 50k+ citizens, yet comments on 95% of articles consist of 1 maybe 2 replies.  And for all this, AOL is pumping in $100k+ per site.  Given where the AOL stock price is and the money they are bleeding now that their connectivity business is in accelerated decline, I just don’t see Patch being a successful product with much of a future.

    So why does this site continue to tout them as the gorilla in the room?  Frankly, a site like Everyblock, which also has serious problems, seems to be more of a monster and that is being kind.

  10. August 20, 2011

    As the editor of the Rocky Mountain News who was one of the people responsible for creating, I think there are some points you’re missing about 

    First, if it wasn’t working financially six years later, it would have long ago been killed. was designed as a response to weekly newspapers, which were growing ad share in Denver as rates were increasing under the joint operating agreement between the Denver Post and Rocky. 

    It was conceived in the fall of 2004. To put that date into context, YouTube didn’t exist. Facebook was launched early that year. It was a different time. And the newspaper industry, and mainstream journalists as a whole, didn’t embrace citizen contributions the way they do now. CNN’s iReport didn’t exist. The New York Times didn’t publish citizen photos on its home page. 

    We knew we couldn’t staff up to compete with the weeklies. But we also knew that if we were inventing a local news organization from scratch we would start online first and reverse publish into print. So that’s what we did. It was a web first publication that got its revenue from print. (Sound like the Politico approach?)

    One of the big innovations with was that the public and the staff used exactly the same publishing system. All content first appeared online. What made it to the home page of each of the the initial 40 sites was placed there by an editor. In other words, the content was curated. People could post anything. But for it to gain visibility, an editor had to move it to a prominent position. Then we selected the best content for publication in weekly print sections.

    This might seem conventional today. But it was actually pretty radical in its day. Many news organizations visited to kick the tires on the project. Yes, you can find content on sites that you might think is worthless, but it was my experience that good things happened, too. I recall a meeting after our first year where we invited the most active contributors to come to the newspaper for a party to celebrate their work. One canceled a vacation to attend. Another cried as he spoke of what contributing to the site had meant for him.

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