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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Future of Newspapers

The future of newspapers appears increasingly to lie in hyperlocal journalism delivered online.  That’s a point I made today as a panelist at an iBreakfast Club meeting in midtown Manhattan that attracted about 50 attendees from high tech, advertising, journalism, publishing and related fields.

Other panelists included Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and now a partner in Journalism Online; Stephen E. Arnold of Arnold IT; Myles Fuchs, president for North America of PresSmart Media Ltd.; and Mo Krochmal, a journalist and assistant professor of journalism at Hofstra University.

I based my assessment on personal experience publishing an e-newsletter for four years, focusing on news of interest to residents of Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, New York.  Begun before “hyperlocal” was a fashionable phrase, Hastings News gained a broad following because it

― focused on local issues;
― avoided town, county, regional, state and national issues;
― stressed information, not opinion;
― presented the various sides of an issue;
― used an uncluttered layout;
― filled a void.

The publication was a hit with readers.  They not only praised it but provided me with the names of friends and spouses to add to my distribution list.  The comments below are a sampling of their warm reception:

― Please sign me up. I would gladly take the money I give for my community weekly subscription and hand it over to you.

― Will you be taking ads?  I am interested in a small website ad.

― I shall stop buying the community newspaper, which is so full of trivia, and look forward to receiving you wonderful and informative newsletters.

― By the way, I have sent you a small check. 

― Thanks so much.  A check will be in the mail shortly.

― Your newsletter is terrific; wish we had someone like you in [adjoining] Dobbs Ferry!

― Is there an amount of $$ that I can pay for the privilege to receive your fine newsletter?  I would be happy to pay it.

― This is a fabulous service, and I have been meaning to let you know how much I appreciate getting news about our village.  We long ago let our subscription lapse to the community newspaper, and this is such a welcome relief.

― Hello, pls add my neighbor to your list.  Love your site and think it’s essential to informing oneself in this town. 

― I live in [nearby] Irvington and believe the residents could be better informed.  Please, add my email address to your Hastings News subscribers.

I slowed publication and finally ceased it when I became president of Columbia Journalism School’s Alumni Association because there wasn’t enough time to handle both activities and still pursue my public relations consulting business.  Since I didn’t announce I was suspending publication (I might resume it someday), readers constantly asked me if they had been dropped from the mailing list.  For example, early one morning during rush hour in Grand Central Terminal, I was approached by a Hastings resident whom I didn’t know.  “You’re the publisher of Hastings News,” he said.  I admitted that I was.  “Well, I haven’t seen it lately,” he said.  “Am I still on your email list?”  And just last month-- two and one-half years since the last issue--I received an email from two more people asking that they be added to the mailing list.  Talk about staying power and lasting impressions!

What factors have led to this pent-up demand for hyper local journalism?  How can it be monetized?  More on those topics in my next posting.

-- Jeff Bogart

8:17 pm edt          Comments

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