Street Fight Columnist Tom Grubisich’s recent piece about the trials and tribulations of the Denver Post’s YourHub hyperlocal network sparked plenty of debate among readers in our comments and over social media. Among those responding was John Temple, the former editor of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News who was among those behind the original incarnation of YourHub. Here’s his take:
As the editor of the Rocky Mountain News who was one of the people responsible for creating YourHub.com, I think there are some points you’re missing about YourHub.com.
First, if it wasn’t working financially six years later, it would have long ago been killed. YourHub.com 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 YourHub.com 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 YourHub.com 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.