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The fluidity of ‘local’ and ‘hyperlocal’

August 5, 2009

What does “hyperlocal” really mean? In most instances, sure, we’re talking about news that’s happening in your unofficially incorporated neighborhood (if not the street you live on), but there seem to be some variations floating about.

NBC, for example, has launched a handful of Web sites in large city markets and dubbed those “hyperlocal.” I’m sure to international powerhouse NBC, Chicago and L.A. really are hyperlocal. The Seattle-area TV crowd, on the other hand, seems to get that an entire city doesn’t necessarily have a blanket “personality.”

But arguably, you can be hyperlocal (or at least pretty local) at the city level when you take the “news” tag out of your focus. Example: ESPN Chicago, ESPN’s venture into the “local” sports market that focuses on just one city. It swept into town like a juggernaut, becoming the most popular sports site inside three months. (That link, by the way, is via Dan Shanoff, who composed a fantastic analysis of ESPN’s local plan.) ESPN! It’s the antithesis of local and yet it’s got a stranglehold on Chicago (and, judging by the NYT link, New York, Dallas and a major metropolitan area near you soon enough).

The point? Maybe hyperlocal isn’t really defined by geographic locations so much as preferential niches. ESPN’s move could conceivably be duplicated in another niche subject, by another national entity; say, business and CNBC. Or music and MTV. The driving force behind hyperlocal is that people have something in common. I live in Ballard, but I can relate to a guy in Cle Elum if we both like the M’s.

The problem with big metro newspapers (and their Web presence) is that they’re too disjointed. Log on to your big metro’s Web site any day of the week: Here’s something that happened on Capitol Hill (a section of Seattle); here’s the Mariners final score; hey look—movie reviews and summertime recipes! (etc.). It seems to me that the only thing lacking in major metro areas is coverage of the major metro area. If I were running a big metro in Seattle, I’d (more or less) wall off coverage south of Safeco Field, north of the Space Needle, west of the waterfront and east of the Denny Way/I-5 overpass. Stick to the downtown area and downtown happenings—no one else is doing that. You can be a big city paper and still be hyperlocal.

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