Category Archives: Hyper-local

Honoring Constitution Day — Ideas for Editors

Saturday is Sept. 17, Constitution Day. Some tips for prompts and coverage, including examples. Short url's included to encourage sharing.

Many schools will celebrate on Friday, including this one in California that is using contemporary cultural figures to help students learn: SpongeBob and Angry Birds to help teach the Constitution | students, school, constitution – News – The Orange County Register

Are you running a quiz? Here's one Constitution Quiz.

Another, for children from the US Mint (one screen down):H.I.P. Pocket Change Web Site – Constitution Day

A third from Scholastic News In-Depth Constitution Quiz:

A dive into your archives will find articles, photos or letters that may be worth running again:

Example: Constitution was born of compromise –

Example: LETTER: Republicans in Congress who signed Grover Norquist pledge violating U.S. Constitution – The New Haven Register –

With prompts on Facebook, Twitter and on your site, a quiz, a few selections from the archives, an online post of the entire document, and a guide to events, your instant Constitution Day package will stir conversation and spotlight our core legal document.

Possible prompts: What is your favorite part of the Constitution and why? Who has read the entire document? Do you have a favorite figure from that part of our nation's history? How do you describe the Constitution to young children? What is your school doing for Constitution Day?

Examples of guides to events:

*At least three events mark Constitution Day in Modesto – Bee Editorials –

*Constitution Day Events | TAMUtimes 

*Tech plans events for Constitution Day | The News Star 

My favorite part is the First Amendment. A new poll shows growing support among teenagers. Helping readers learn about the Constitution may help all of us protect our rights.



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Wanted: Managing Editor to Build 35-Person Westchester Team

A year ago, I posted a note about the need for Swiss-Army-Knife Journalists, multi-media reporters and editors who can use a range of skills to collect, process and distribute high-value information.

In 2011, more candidates than ever are walking into newsrooms with digital experience. Even more crucial, they are arriving with a digital attitude — the knowledge that they will use a variety of tools and platforms to gather and disseminate news and other information. Two foundations of that attitude: continuous innovation and continuous improvement.

Two months ago, I joined a digital startup company, Main Street Connect, that has developed a proven model for local coverage. We are ready to expand from our base in Fairfield County, CT, into Westchester County, NY.

In the next few days we will be posting an opening for the editor who will lead that expansion: A Westchester Managing Editor who will build a 35-person news team and use our demonstrated success to start dozens of new local news sites. The posting:

We're Main Street Connect – the leading innovator of hyper-local online news. This dynamic online local news team seeks an energetic Westchester County Managing Editor to lead the company's expansion into one of the most vibrant local news environments in the U.S.

Successful applicant will:

* Have a strong journalistic background
* Demonstrate deep experience with online news, social media, and SEO
* Report directly to the national managing editor, Carl Lavin.
* Receive generous benefits and equity

To apply:

Send resume, cover letter, and clips to, subject line: Managing Editor.

Our company

Main Street Connect ( is a fast-growing, web-based, start-up media company with 10 online news sites already up in Fairfield County, CT. This is an opportunity to be a part of building the next great American digital media company.

Visit our sites:











Learn about our company online at


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Shining A Light On Government

Anthony Dixon grew up in Montclair, N.J., the town where my wife and I raised our children. Anthony later joined the military and was in a transport vehicle in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded. Shrapnel pierced the floorboards, killing the 20-year-old soldier. When I was deputy managing editor for news at the Philadelphia Inquirer, we published an investigation showing that too little armor protected military vehicles in those years. Our reporters tracked down proof that steel companies in Pennsylvania and vehicle assembly lines in Ohio operated as directed by the military on a normal schedule, with weekends off, even while Pentagon officials were saying they were doing everything they could to safeguard the troops.

One order from Washington, one more shift at the assembly plant, one more armored vehicle in Baghdad, and Anthony would be alive today. Lawmakers, families and military officials read our articles and changed policies. Today, troops in the field are better protected.

Nothing can bring about positive change more quickly than quality journalism. Journalism is also the sector of our economy undergoing the most profound disruption. While others may lament the uncertainty and the erosion of incumbent business models, the same technologies that have been so disruptive also provide new opportunities —  opportunities for more people than ever before to use more powerful tools to create and distribute quality journalism.

A friend and neighbor, Steve Engelberg, spoke recently about his work as managing editor of Pro Publica, the non-profit newsroom based in New York that produces powerful investigations that serve the public. Steve talked about the intense data crunching that produced Dollars for Docs, a single database that lists doctors who received a total of $258 million from drug companies promoting pharmaceutical sales. Is your doctor on the list? Now you can find out with one click

Steve noted a stark example of what happens when news organizations are not providing scrutiny. He discussed the case of city employees in Bell, Calif., who were each paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salaries. Eventually, two reporters at the Los Angeles Times, Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, uncovered the sky-high payments and a web of corruption in the town. No community newspaper revealed the story for the simple reason that there was no community newspaper in Bell.

Terry Francke, an open government consultant, described the long decline in his article, Why the Bell Scandal Happened and What Can Be Done:

These multi-community publications attempted to be the same watchdogs over local councils and school boards that their individual predecessors had been but were spread far more thin.

The former Industrial Post (last known as the Community News) went through several chain companies' hands until disappearing as even an independent name. And whatever close coverage of local news it had into the 1990s has been gone for the past decade.

Some newsrooms are taking an important step and developing ambitious goals for local coverage, with rollouts planned nationally by Patch and MainStreetConnect, state efforts from Oregon to Texas, and more focused efforts dotted across the nation, from Philadelphia to San Diego

Then there are the tools, new software that citizens can use to pinpoint problems in their own communities. Companies that offer such tools include CitySourced and SeeClickFix. Outside the United States, I Paid A Bribe is just one website that puts similar tools in the hands of people who want better government. President Obama praised that site during his trip to India this month. 

Even the most ordinary acts of government have an extraordinary impact on the lives of ordinary people. With the right vision and tools, journalists can continue to shine a light on these actions. One way to pay tribute to Anthony Dixon is to make sure that light shines brightly.



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Filed under Business models, Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local, Web/Tech

Pockets of hope

The people at the Citizen Media conference kicking off the ONA meeting in Toronto are from independent web sites and from start ups but also from big media companies. Jennifer Carroll at Gannett gets it. Rob Curley with gets it. Steve Yelvington with Morris Communications gets it. Experiment, get a conversation going with the community, balance hot news with evergreen content, balance work by pros with work by amateurs, make the tech side highly functional. Test, teach, try something, evaluate, make it better. Hire tinkerers. Use Flickr. Aggregate. Make connections.

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Filed under Business models, Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local, Social networking, User-generated content

Local, local, local: Page views, page views, page views

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.


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Give thanks for sugar-free Red Bull

Rob Curley talked for about six hours to two diverse groups from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News, and executives, reporters, web people, photographers, editors, ad sales folks, producers, tech gurus, graphics experts. He inspired, he amazed, he energized. He demonstrated what can be done and he demonstrated what can be done to make money. He drank a lot of Red Bull. A Curley intern, Amanda Finnegan, who was traveling with him, said it’s a good thing that stuff is available sugar free.
Curley’s Seven Commandments (as I distilled the six hours):
1. Own breaking news, and make sure your audience knows it.
2. Go hyper-local, deeper than you ever imagined. Don’t just build a container, fill it. (Plenty of photos of youth sports? Yes!)
3. Database like crazy.
4. Multimedia overkill.
5. Evergreen content. Examples: Mark Twin (for Hannibal, Mo.), KU sports history (Lawrence, Kan.)
6. Platform independent: paper, web, sms text to cell phones, X-box, Wii, I-pod and more.
7. It’s a conversation. Leverage the wisdom of the crowd and make sure the audience is participating.

What scares him — or what inspires him? Facebook. (I had some satisfaction that our Philadelphia Sports News Feed group on Facebook, after one week, is up to about 120 members.) In the afternoon, Rob paid our own Jennifer Musser-Metz a great compliment. He said he was a new reporter when he first found Black Hawk Down on The Inquirer’s website — with source documents, bios on the people in the story, reader comments, multimedia. "This is journalism on steroids," Rob remembers thinking. That was when he decided to become an online journalist. We had a chance to applaud Jennifer again for making all that happen.

Beyond Red Bull, how is Rob’s work powered? One force is internology — the power of committed, hard-working paid interns, including Amanda. Who calls 300 restaurants to ask each of them 20 questions (children’s menu? hours you serve meals? vegetarian choices?) Who shoots dozens of digital stills? Who covers the county fair? The permanent Curley staff is five full-time editors-producers-developers. Amanda is one of about 11 interns on the Curley team at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. Her training, from Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., is on display in this student project on war.

And the tech power? In Kansas, in Florida and in Washington, Curley uses Ellington CMS. Here’s the person to contact: Dean Royal toll-free at 866-454-5774 or

Special thanks to Adrian!

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Filed under Business models, DataBank, Hyper-local, User-generated content

Curley, Loudon Extra, and HuffPo comments

Welcome to Rob Curley’s latest project: Loudon Extra, a hyper-local feature of the Washington Post. It’s hyper local only in contrast to the huge reach of the mother paper. Loudon County is not one small community with one stop light and one high school. It’s diverse and spread across a vast area. But the Extra project is meant to bring local search and local information to users and to involve users in keeping the site current. The ratio of pro content to am content is expected to start at about 99:1, but that could change. Right now data is at the core. From the welcome page:

We are currently building searchable databases of building permits, homes sales, and many other publicly available records. We also will be covering high school sports like this area has never seen.

I like the house of worship lookup and the web cams. The section’s story about the launch reviews Curley’s history increasing page views at other publication and asks a core question about the Post effort:

Curley’s revamping of the Lawrence site gained national attention because of the audience it attracted. In 2000 — before remaking its site — the Lawrence paper got 14 million page views, said Ralph Gage, chief operating officer of the World Co., which owns the paper. In 2006, that number had grown to 247 million, and the site booked about $2 million in revenue. The population of Lawrence is about 80,000, and the Journal’s circulation is 20,000.

Page views at the Naples Web site are up 17 percent in the first six months of this year compared with 2006, when the site was revamped, said editor Phil Lewis, with unique monthly users up 26 percent. The Web site is responsible for more than 10 percent revenue, Lewis said, which is above the industry average.

The question has always been whether a major metropolitan newspaper can successfully run a hyperlocal site like this, and how both local and national advertisers will react.

Those examples of page view increases can be enticing. More from the business story (on the data example 07newsroom discussed in this February post):

In December, Gannett Co.’s Asbury Park (N.J.) Press dumped three huge public-record databases onto its Web site: local property sales and ownership, and state employees’ salaries. By May, the paper had added searchable databases for local crime, school test scores, state deaths and public school employees.

In December, the paper’s Web site recorded 1.5 million page views. By May, the site was averaging more than 5 million page views per month, according to data from a Newspaper Association of America study, with a high of more than 9 million page views in April.

Curley is also known for welcoming user-generated content. More from the Loudon Extra welcome page:

We also will be adding a powerful community-publishing section to the site, allowing readers to share their stories, photos and videos.

No sign yet that the material shared — or posted — by readers will be filtered, tagged or rated by readers, too. Various models exist for this, including the Digg model (users can add one positive — or negative vote), the Plime model (users can increase their own rating, and thus their own voting power), and — starting today — the HuffingtonPost model. [update Freedom Interactive will go live next month with their own version, with SiteLife software from Pluck.] Paul Berry, the chief tech officer of HuffPo, explains all:

We’ve added a commenter profile page which includes your bio and lists all comments you’ve posted. To add a bio, simply click on the Your Account link on the upper right hand corner of every page.

We also have a new I’m A Fan Of feature which lets you vote for your favorite commenters. They can also vote for you. Your fans will be listed on your profile page. We’ll soon be able to alert you when your fans comment on stories and when your favorite bloggers post on the site.

But we’re most excited to announce a new initiative where we will choose one commenter a month to become a featured blogger at HuffPost. Yes, a blogger! Reading through the comments on our site, we realized that our readers are an underutilized resource – smart and opinionated. Our decisions will be based on how many fans a commenter has, how often their comment is selected as a favorite and our moderators’ favorites.

Even Paul’s dad is "a blogger!" Now Paul is making it possible for others to try their hand. Who wouldn’t be excited? The wisdom of the crowds, unleashed. And for the crowds in Loudon County, the power of local journalism has also been given free rein. May success blossom in many gardens.

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