Rethinking Hyperlocal: Not Just a Paper, Not an Address

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By now many of you have read that the Washington Post is closing all of its local bureaus aside from Richmond and Annapolis. The move was not really a huge surprise. The Post, like many other papers, is struggling with declining revenues. Unlike the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, which are viewed as truly national papers, the Post has specifically decided to cover foreign policy and inside the Washington D.C. Metro Area. So what would seem to be a big pull back on its regional strategy is mildly shocking. Unless you think of it another way and take what the Post said quite literally. Post editor Marcus Brauchli said they would continue local coverage but reporters would do it without an office (more or less).

This makes a tremendous amount of sense and moves us further along the continuum towards a new reality when the news doesn’t have an office and hyperlocal is also hypermobile. In fact, I’d venture to say that real estate is something that the traditional dailies should ditch, pronto, as part of their transition into a new kind of news organization. Many dailies have started down this path. Gannett is aggressively pursuing a reporter-in-your-’hood strategy where they enable feet on the beat with backpack reporting kits (video, the like) and tell them not to show up in HQ, for example. And in Honolulu where I lived, this was effective. And we also saw with InJersey that stellar reporter who set up shop in a local cafe and literally hung out a shingle. (Totally awesome — make the stories come to you!).

In fact, in this future without an office (which has largely been embraced by the small-scale hyperlocal startups), the office will be a selling point rather than cost-center. As part of promos and sales efforts, for example, dailies could agree to have a reporter on premises holding office hours (sacrilegious? not really) and that could be part of advertising deals. What’s more, the dailies are also slowly but surely embracing the idea that they are equally parts curation and ideation. Most major metros have a handful of really good food bloggers who cover the landscape, collectively, far better than any single food writer (most metros only have one or two these days). And in the past, the blog networks in the papers have been nice but considered an ugly stepchild.

That is going to change as the dailies ditch the office, move more towards a reality that the news is a state of mind, not an address, and that anyone who shares that state of mind and fulfills a function as a useful content creator or curator, can play the game, too. So, I’ve dragged this discussion quite a ways from the Post closing its suburban bureaus to what the new newspaper looks like. And I don’t profess to be the first person to say any of things (in fact, I’m a late-comer). But I see the Post decision as having a nice silver lining for a robust media institution that I hope can make a nice comeback. Real estate is a liability and the faster big papers come to that conclusion and rethink what it means to be a publication without a fixed address, the faster their recovery and reformation will pick up steam.