Nebraska journalist says rural news outlets must boost Web presence for “hyperlocal” impact
By Al Cross
Hyperlocal journalism has become a buzzword in the search to save newspapers, but Mark Coddington of The Grand Island Independent in Nebraska says rural news organizations have been practicing hyperlocal journalism for decades. Coddington explains that most people talk about hyperlocal in urban and suburban contexts, but “Most of this journalism is being done by small-town weekly (and sometimes daily) newspapers, almost all of which have been doing hyperlocal journalism since decades before it became a buzzword.”
While rural journalists and theior news outlets may not be struggling as much as their urban counterparts, they are experiencing their own troubles and many rarely produce much more than “press-release journalism.” Good hyperlocal journalism is both harder and easier in rural areas, Coddington argues.
It’s easier in one respect, because rural papers don’t have to worry about creating a defined community, like new metro outlets do, since their township and county lines provide that already. The local news organization is already firmly attached to the community in rural areas, Coddington writes, and the “sense of community tied to one’s town is extremely deeply entrenched, making for fertile ground for local news organizations.”
But hyperlocal journalism as it’s being defined today is missing in some rural newspapers due to their lack of Web presence. In communities within metro areas, the hyperlocal approach brings residents to the news organization’s Web site to discuss the news of the area; in rural communities these conversations are, for the most part, not taking place online, Coddington writes: “In most small towns, the conversation surrounding the news lives at the cafe, at high school basketball games, at the bank, at church. It’s critical that small-town news orgs capture that conversation online, where they can grow from and be informed by it.” (Read more)
And, we would add, they can do that without giving away news content, a strategy that many rural papers have rejected for fear of cannibalizing their circulation revenue. It’s a matter of adding content that can’t be part of the printed product, such as blogs, extra photos and records databases. –Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog. Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.