Mission Local: A Hyperlocal that Does It Right

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Over the course of the past few weeks the Mission District of San Francisco has been rocked by two shootings. They may or may not have been gang related. Many of the founders of the startups you read about in TechCrunch, VentureBeat and other leading publications live in the Mission, as San Franciscans call it. Yet there are pockets of poverty in this gentrifying area.

When the shootings happened, Mission Local was all over it.The publication is a public-private partnership that publishes stories in English and Spanish focused on this district, which still has a strong Latino population. There is also a print edition. A young staff pumps out daily news and feature stories, painting a rich canvas of the varied and ever-changing cast of characters in the Mission. With the shooting, Local kicked into high gear, posting multiple stories quickly about the acts and providing context to give readers a fully rounded story. That included inside insights about why the shootings may have occurred, what the likely motives were, and potential reason for the location. In other words, rock-solid beat reporting.

With more than two-dozen mostly unpaid/lightly paid reporters and writers, the Local runs on a shoestring. Its Website uses the WordPress blogging framework and a free template built by the University of California, Berkeley journalism program. The Local, quite frankly, is a hyperlocal done right. I love the coverage. The stories are unique. The effort is clearly grass-roots driven. The editorial is not centered on the efforts of one 24/7 hero. It has captured some of the hyperlocal lighting in a bottle.

So how is it different than Patch.com or other for-profit hyperlocals? That’s a hard question to answer. Patch, when done well, pulls in regular content and uses columns posted by a variety of writers. Patch doesn’t do a paper version— something I think the company should consider, since it already has the content. Patch has a far more sophisticated infrastructure. But Patch editors are one-man shops that have to run the round-the-clock news cycle all by themselves. When they go on vacation or are somewhere else, coverage goes away.

For me, the moral is that it takes a community to make a publication work. In the best Patch demos, this is happening, although it’s fragile because it’s totally the work of one hardcore person. When the members of a community feel ownership and come together to build their paper, their news organization, the resulting media outlet can survive the comings and goings of staffers and other changes at an organization. Perhaps Patch can put together a tag-team approach to journalism that will allow them to spread institutional knowledge and community karma to multiple editors.

I check the Local every now and then to see what’s going on in the Mission, even though I live miles away. It’s not like Starbucks nor will it ever be—a formula that works and replicates across thousands of places. It’s got a soul and personality all its own and the words are far more than letters on a page. They are the record of life in a community scribed by the people who care about it the most. And if someone gets shot, they are going to tell you exactly what happened before anyone else does because they are on the beat and on the street.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every week on Street Fight.


Street Fight Daily: 09.12.11

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