Topix Expands Emphasis on Local Races in Runup to Election

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In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election coming in the near future. Actually, there are thousands of them on tap in November. And that means local interest (and local advertising dollars).

And with just a few weeks remaining, hyperlocal news aggregator Topix is going all in — covering the smaller elections that don’t get national press or, for that matter, any press at all. In July, the company recruited David Mark from Politico to be editor-in-chief of its local politics coverage. Last week, the company launched a new offering that gives a granular look at local races. Street Fight recently caught up with Topix CEO Chris Tolles to talk about his site’s deepening focus on local politics.

Why the renewed push into local politics?
Politics does really well from a local standpoint. Here is the thing: We have really the only large-scale set of community sites on the web. Craigslist is probably No. 2 in terms of actual comments, but they have the major metros. They dominate. Clearly, they are bigger than we are in all the major metros.

But if you want to go to little towns like Auburn, Calif., or Corbin, Ky., we are the dominant player. Politics is local, and there are a lot of different issues there. We have the inner conversations in these places where no one else is.

We have a product that we have built called Politix. We have reporters working for us, and it’s an editorial-driven site. It is a different model, and it is a more engaged model. You have to sign in as opposed to Topix where you write a comment and click. At Politix, you have a relationship with us. It is moving toward a more community-focused place where people have consistent identity.

Is this ‘consistent identity’ important specifically because people get so fired up about local elections?
They do, but we have also found that local politics are frequently not as personal. It is emotional, but weirdly — unless you know the candidate personally — it is actually less vitriolic than other the local stuff, which devolves into “he said, she said.”

So what are you planning for the remaining weeks before the election?
We figured we were going to start on the national political side, and then we were going to bridge that with local offerings.

Two years ago on Topix we put up the local races, and asked what people thought about their local Congressional race or their local assembly race. We have a whole new framework now. We built a local core group of people who are interested in the national issues, and now we are building out all the local races and the interactive functionality around the local races. We can leverage the Topix audience to that. That is going to come out soon. With all the focus on the national election, a lot of people are just now starting to follow the local races.

I had a friend who was running in a primary for a local representative position and it was one of the first times I’ve ever paid attention to the local election.
I think informing people about something like that and giving them a place to talk about it is really interesting and important.

We did a little research a year ago in which we tried to find the relationship between online sites like ours and people’s political decisions. At least according to our survey it seems like about a quarter of the electorate actually formulates the political opinion online. That is so cool. There are a fair number of people who get online to discuss things. It actually helps formulate which way to go to vote.

I think we have an interesting place to go there. As soon as you get below the national level, you have to bisect things into 40,000 places where people vote. That’s where we are headed.

Noah Davis is a senior editor for Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Related content: Topix Launches New Site, Politix, to Capitalize on Election Interest

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