Five ways to make Local News Technologies better

Local community news has always been hard to produce profitably with scale. Local news is only relevant to those who live within the community, and it makes cost per thousand based advertising models untenable when readership may log in the hundreds. Without a revenue model to hire editors and writers, the cheapest way to source local news content is either through volunteer reporters, or aggregation of local media by engines .

Problems with Local News Aggregation Technologies

ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick recently posed the question “Why haven’t neighborhood news technologies worked out?

I sure hope someone can nail it. Give me the news about my neighborhood, please... I care about what’s happening in the neighborhood around me and I want to see the fabulous new technologies of open government data, online news syndication, social networking and data mining all put to service to fulfill hyperlocal news wishes and dreams I didn’t even know I had yet.

From the article’s comment stream, it seems news aggregators like Outside.in, Fwix, and EveryBlock have three problems:

1) Local news presented by algorithm isn’t customized to the needs of the reader and therefore, sterile and/or irrelevant.

2) Most local news is inherently uninteresting. Ever watch a local TV station and care about anything about the car wrecks, murders or city council meetings covered? It’s lower grade information that doesn’t enrich or improve our lives as much as the content we generally seek on the web.

3) Aggregated local news lacks the social element, whether it be real reporters or people in the community engaged in local discussions.

1. Local News needs manual curation

The news needs to be right. Fwix often reports irrelevant news; Rocklin is 80 miles north of Modesto, CA (see image)

Engines query for local articles via RSS but they require a human team to identify the best feeds in every city and continually update these feeds. Feeds can be sourced not only from mainstream media, but also blogs, Twitter and other social media links, and eventually Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare and other geo-localized media sources as they attain credibility by reaching critical mass of local participants.

2. Local News needs more content

Again, it’s hard to produce content without somebody paying for it. However, there are new producers of local content that haven’t yet made an imprint as local media sources. Civic organizations, local companies and merchants like Whole Foods have websites and blogs that broadcast timely information people want to know about, but may not have RSS feeds for simple aggregation. Companies like Nozzl Media and DataSift are developing ways to aggregate and filter this kind of content. Finally, locals using Facebook groups, Yelp and Foursquare are documenting what’s happening in their city, and their reviews are starting to be included in sites like EveryBlock. People will eventually find where their friends are congregating and which stores are popular through the aggregation of these geolocational systems (see Checkinmedia image)

3. Local news needs personalization

Although some people may like crime reports for their city, all I really want to know about the 1/2 mile radius around where I live is 1) all the daily deals merchants in my neighborhood are offering, 2) what’s playing at the theaters, 3) the Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Safeway circulars, and 4) where all my friends are congregating around San Francisco. That’s it, at least for today. Once the content sources from deals services, supermarket chains and theaters, and geomedia are aggregated, this kind of personalized local portal becomes relevant to daily life.

4. Local News needs to be social

Readers are motivated to participate in social news for two reasons: visibility and content ownership. Just like yesteryear’s “Letters to the Editor”, readers comment frequently on mainstream media news sites like Huffington Post or LATimes simply because they know their input will get read by thousands. News aggregators (like EveryBlock, right image) have a hard time pulling in conversations simply because there is nobody to converse with!

To succeed in gaining participation, hyperlocal news sites need on-the-ground ringleaders in each city to engage their communities and promote participation. But ringleaders need compensation. Fwix and other news aggregators own every city and provide little incentive for others to own and grow content for them. We modeled The Breaking News Network as a kind of franchise that facilitates the creation of a local media resource by individuals and groups in a city, and gives them city/community ownership so they have vested interest to grow their properties.

Patch hires editors for each city who can spur participation in their community, but is currently burdened with a high expense / small revenue model that is under scrutiny by Business Insider among others.

5. Local News needs to be easy to read and digest

The  popular Flipboard for iPad validates the concept that people like reading aggregated and personalized news in a newspaper format. Reading within familiar typeset frames is easier than perusing streams of news that characterize news aggregators like Topix or EveryBlock. There’s opportunities for aggregation and presentation technologies like paper.li to make it easier for news to be curated and read in this more reader-friendly format. For example, BreakingSFNews.com (image below) embeds paper.li as another way to read about SF news.

About Pat Kitano

Patrick Kitano works with brands in developing hyperlocal engagement solutions and is administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of The Local Network on Street Fight, and is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email pkitano@gmail.com.

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