Independent news sites, including hyperlocal sites, generally fared better in 2013 than did corporate news operations, according to an article on Street Fight. Other news sources have echoed out the positive outlook for smaller, indie publishers, including USA Today.
The term ''indie news site'' is broad. It covers non-profits, small businesses, sites that cover individual neighborhoods, sites that focus on in-depth investigative pieces, and sites that focus on local politics. It also includes sites that focus on local sports at the college, high school, and younger levels. An interesting trend in audience development among local and hyperlocal sites is that many of the sites started by big corporations have faltered, while at the same time, many small, independent news operations are busy and thriving.
Challenges of Hyperlocal
Hyperlocal sites have all the challenges of other news sites, plus many challenges the big sites don't. For example, sites that use untrained journalists have higher risks of running afoul of defamation and libel laws, as well as risking lower writing quality in terms of content, grammar, and spelling. Continuity may be more difficult at independent news sites, because often the people who run them have ''day jobs'' and may not be able to devote the necessary time to having smooth continuity in news coverage. But the biggest challenge of any news site (and one might argue that this is true for both independent and corporate sites) is the challenge of generating revenue.
SEE ALSO: Does Hyperlocal Work?
Top-Down Approaches Have Struggled
Two advantages that indie news publishers often have over corporate sites are 1) lower overhead; and 2) genuine passion for local news. Declining revenue and circulation numbers for traditional news organizations, particularly those under large corporate structures, mean that these newspapers often don't have the resources for covering local (particularly hyperlocal) news to the degree local residents want. Top-heavy management structures can often siphon money out of the very towns and neighborhoods where local coverage is in demand. In recent years, NBC Universal's EveryBlock, a nationwide network of local sites, was shut down, while two other corporate networks of local sites, Patch, and Daily Voice, underwent major staff reductions and downsizing efforts in order to stay operational.
Grass-Roots Approaches Have in Many Cases Succeeded
Independent sites, however, often devote the resources needed to these tasks, even on very slim budgets. Web platforms like WordPress and Ning have made publishing more accessible to independent sites, helping keep overhead costs down, and new organizations like Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers bring together independent news practitioners to pool resources and offer practical support.
The Batavian, run by Howard Owens in western New York State, and The Tucson Sentinel, operated by Dylan Smith, are two examples of local, independent sites that have gained significant respect, and that are starting to see some monetary success as well. Both were launched by journalists after corporate news sites pulled support from these locations, and both have succeeded in audience development largely through long hours, hard work, and commitment.
There's no ''go-to'' sustainable model for how to do local independent news at this point, but these bottom-up approaches are finding their way, developing revenue streams, and successfully encouraging audience development despite lack of corporate support.
Why Indie and Hyperlocal Are a Good Fit
Because there is no recipe for local, independent news success, the very flexibility and alacrity with which local news organizations deal with news gathering, revenue development, and audience development make independent organizations a better fit for local and hyperlocal than big organizations. The profits aren't huge, but they're there, unlike the results from many corporate, top-down local efforts.
A study of LION members by the University of Missouri found that publishers bring in an average of $4,000 per month in revenue, 60% of which comes from advertising. Most of that money goes toward operations and salaries. Over 70% of survey respondents said that traffic is growing, with a median monthly visitor total of 46,500, and median monthly page views at 120,000. Uriah Kiser of Virginia's PotomacLocal sums it up for NetNewsCheck.com by saying, ''Not everything fits in every market. You have to find the need and scale to fit that need.''
The biggest publishers with the most resources are not always the ones that triumph in local news coverage. Independent news organizations had a strong year in 2013, while many corporate-driven local initiatives faltered. Flexibility, nimbleness, innovation, and a willingness to try new things have been the keys to independent news site successes. With audience development taking precedence over the traditional news business model, several indie news publishers are gaining respect and starting to turn profits in what has traditionally been a very challenging market.
RealMatch offers recruitment advertising solutions to digital news publishers and media companies that address both revenue development and audience development. With exciting revenue sharing opportunities, even small independent news organizations can develop a new revenue stream to support the important work of local journalism.