How to Start a Hyperlocal News Website

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on December 20, 2011
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Print newspapers may be in a downward spiral, but hyperlocal websites seem to be heating up. Online independent community news sites — West Seattle Blog, The Batavian, and Baristanet, to name a few — have built substantial readerships and profitable relationships with advertisers in some very small geographic regions.

Want to start your own hyperlocal news site? Here’s how:

Size up the competition. Your rivals may include big-city daily newspapers, smaller regional weekly publications, and local branches of large websites such as Patch.com. Look for anything that may be lacking in their content. Can you top their crime coverage or provide more sports scores in your community? Spend some time researching their editorial coverage and advertisers to determine which areas to target.

Distinguish yourself. Once you’ve identified competitors’ weak spots, map out your goals for your hyperlocal publication, focusing on filling a void. Mission Local, for instance, publishes stories in Spanish and English to cater to the San Francisco neighborhood’s large Latino population. If your community already has several comprehensive news publications, a niche approach may be your best bet: For instance, Cities on the Cheap provides daily updates on free or low-cost things to do in various burgs, and Hulafrog focuses on events for children happening around New Jersey.

Start small. Unless you plan to seek venture funding, keep your expenses to a minimum. You might start the site independently or with a partner, then gradually take on freelance writers and photographers as your audience and advertising revenues grow. Running a hyperlocal news site involves a combination of writing, editing, producing photographs and videos, and dealing with advertisers and readers. The learning curve can be steep: Consider taking classes in the subjects you’re less familiar with, and spend some time browsing the industry site Street Fight to stay on top of the latest hyperlocal trends.

Focus on local marketing efforts. Grab the attention of your community by promoting your stories and interacting with others on Facebook and Twitter. Invest in business cards for your site — and leave a handful every time you visit local restaurants and other establishments. Reach out to other local news sources to ask them about featuring your new publication in a story, particularly if you’re in a niche field that they won’t see as competition. Tell everyone you meet about your site: Given its local focus, word-of-mouth around the neighborhood will likely be the most effective form of marketing.

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