Curley Q & A

Darned good story about Rob Curley, one of the two most creative people I know in the newspaper biz. Hyperlocal is where it’s at. And the big, old paper in the most trouble these days — the LA Times — reveals just why it’s in so much trouble. Read on.

: Speaking of hyperlocal, see this story about a trend in newspapers to get more local. At last.

The American newspaper is being forced to reinvent itself.

Virtually every major paper is making the shift to local coverage, often as it cuts deeper into editorial operations. Only recently, the Dallas Morning News announced it was closing its national bureaus while cutting 20 percent of its newsroom staff. It was becoming a local paper again after several decades of rising stature for its national and international coverage. More than 100 people were let go.

Similar, if less dramatic, changes are taking place at such papers as The Washington Post, New Jersey’s Bergen Record and Herald News, and the Richmond Times Dispatch. And joining them all is Gannett, the largest newspaper chain and publisher of USA Today.

“We’re going to get hyper-local,” says Tara Connell, a Gannett spokesperson.

  • Local, huh? What a wondeful idea for local newspapers to consider. What was the LA Times thinking that anyone in New York of Chicago or Boise ever thought that the LA Times had the mojo to cover Athens? It was the worst case of poor marketing and audience insight in the business (and all the while other LA papers were building their neighborhood business.)

    Jeff, as you know, its 80% local — we shop, eat, think local. For local newspapers, its 100%. National is, well, loco.

    As Marty Bartner, late publisher of the NJ Star-Ledger said… if you want a local audience, put pictures of people’s kids palying sports in the paper.

  • To all the big media execs jumping on the hyperlocal bandwagon, I say, “Welcome aboard. Where you been for the past 11 years?”

    But I wonder if they really undersant what hyperlocal means? Do they understand it the way Curley does?

  • Old Grouch

    Excuse me if I don’t get it, but how does one reconcile “become a local paper again” with cutting the newsroom staff by 20 percent? Does “becoming local” mean running more paid obituaries, rewritten press releases, and reader-submitted pet pictures? Or maybe the newsroom staff have been spending their time playing solitare on their terminals because the news hole is so shrunken that there’s only room for 25 local stories a week?

    Newspapers have (had?) important advantages over bloggers and other amateurs in the changing-media battle: Employees paid to make reporting a full-time job, and institutional memory. Owners trying to rely on their readers to “tell them what’s important” will fail, because (old cliche) “the public interest” isn’t just “what the public is interested in.”

    I need my news sources to watch for and make me aware of the “unknown unknowns;” to tell me that the water utility is trying to sneak a $1200/house “new construction infrastructure impact fee” past the Public Service Commission. If my newspaper fails at this, it’s less useful to me. If it drops the ball enough times, I won’t bother reading it (or visiting its website), no matter how many kitten photos it runs.

  • Hear hear, Old Grouch – my issue is the “either/or” mentality, “this is the newsroom of the future” with guys in no shoes stumbling around what sounds like a dorm room after hours.

    Maybe I’m an old grouch (reporter of 30 years, in all mediums) too, but we darn well better look at ways to extend what we do, not shift toward the Craze of the Day, or we’ll look like a 60-something groovy hipster in polyester trying pathetically to “get down with it.”

    Create a platform for hyper-local, neighborhood coverage? Sure, as long as it doesn’t keep you from covering that boring ol’ city council meeting. Because one without the other won’t be a news-gathering enterprise any more, it’ll be a diversion, not a key part of one’s day.

    Folks, we have to do BOTH – and while I love what Jeff says, I think the wave of “citizen journalism” can only go so far to truly inform. Ya gotta have folks who get paid to write and report well, get paid to write and report well. Believing that’s “yesterday’s form of news” (and yes, I do believe in “news as conversation”) will just be a sad turn of events.

  • What Old Grouch said, more or less. The problem with hyperlocal is that it takes lots of time and space — people may care what their kid’s soccer team did, but they probably don’t care what your kid’s team did, so papers have to have enough space for both results. As ad revenues decline, spaces declines. As space declines, reporting staffs decline. You end up with a bunch of clerks chasing down soccer scores (and printing them in ever tinier print) that readers already are getting on

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