Watching the numbers: Hyper-local news can mean whatever you think your neighbors will talk about — a house fire on the next block? a new school principal? street closing? It also can mean that readers will visit your web site again and again, increasing traffic by 50 percent or more. The Record in Parsippany, N.J., is edited by Dennis Lyons. He talked to Editor & Publisher about the success of the hyper-local strategy, which includes very frequent web updates:
"It is less of a print-driven approach," Lyons says
while chatting in his office, "being absolutely as local as we can be
and getting readers involved as often as possible." The early jump on
the Web is key, he adds, noting that the paper’s monthly page views
jumped from 3.3 million in March 2006 to 4.9 million in March 2007.
"We started out with baby steps, doing about five
updates each day," he says of his 58-person news staff, which includes
18 reporters. "Now we are up to 35 or 40." The site now covers such
events as school closings, "which we had never done before."
Reporters say they are getting used to providing
online updates throughout the day, rather than saving a story for the
print edition. Vidya Padmanabhan recalls a February fire in nearby
Washington Township, which she heard about at 6 a.m. through a tip.
Once confirmed, she posted a story, then made more calls to get
comment. She then learned a 5-year-old girl in the home had awoken her
parents to the blaze and helped them escape, and that detail was added
at 9 a.m.
Later in the day, a second reporter arranged for an
interview with the family, which was shot by a staff videographer and
posted online by the afternoon. The second reporter then wrote it up
for the next day’s paper.
Do the math: that’s a 48 percent increase in page views over one year. All that’s required: New assignments, new hours but most of all a new attitude in the newsroom. (Do the other math: 40 posts a day, from 18 reporters, means three posts per working reporter per day.) One step is to use pre-qualified community news providers. At The Inquirer, we took one small step last week, posting text and a photo submitted by the Cherry Hill Fire Department. Over the course of a few days, it received a couple of hundred page views, about what a similar staff story would receive.