Tomorrow Gannett – my company – is expected to report some awful numbers for the first quarter.  Today, Sam Zell admitted buying Tribune when he did was a mistake.

    So naturally the number of people questioning whether hyperlocal journalism can survive without newspapers continues to grow.  The latest article I saw on the topic came from the New York Times, whose headline to me is more of a question.

    I want to split this issue into content and sales.  The article, which is worth reading, brings in some national hyperlocal sites and asks them where they get their content from.  Here in West Michigan, we have a possible solution pending – if the community gets totally behind it.  I am, of course, talking about the Neighborhood News Bureaus now in development at the Community Media Center here in Grand Rapids. 

    Now, I am not saying these NNB’s will replace the Grand Rapids Press.  What I am saying is, if these Bureaus are staffed by true community journalists, we as citizens would still have coverage of these neighborhoods.  Now, I see a better short-term future for most TV newsrooms.   They will play a big role in this but, I’ll be the first to admit, the Press has more reporters in Grand Rapids on an average day than I do.  TV covers the big stories and has more immediacy, the Press and newspapers have always had a breadth of coverage.

    The other issue, which affects almost all content-gathering organizations, is revenue.  I want to pull one quote from the Times article.  The quote is from a hyperlocal market analyst named Greg Sterling:

When you slice further and further down, you get smaller and smaller audiences… Advertisers want that kind of targeting, but they also want to reach more people, so there’s a paradox.

    So the organizations many people are looking to as newspapers are downsized also have money problems?  It is an issue for the local NNB’s.  While the Knight Foundation and Grand Rapids Community Foundation have provided 3 years worth of funding, sustainability is an issue the organizers are rightly addressing now.

    So let me ask you this:  if the content is the quality you expect, would you pay for it?  And, would you accept the content if surrounded by some ads?  Whether you comment here or on the project’s Facebook page, give Laurie and Roberta some feedback.  I’ll start: bring the ads on!

Now it seems I can’t go a day without finding another example of a commercial media company going hyper-local.  Today, on a NAPTE newsletter, I found this:

Hearst-Argyle’s goal is to allow local residents to discuss news topics important to their community and to upload their own photos and videos. The first u local area was launched in Dec ’08 by WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire and according to Hearst-Argyle generated tens of thousands of submissions in the first week alone.

I took a look at WMUR’s site.  It definately has a lot of photos and comments from local customers.  But it’s no different, to me, than what we (WZZM), WOOD and a lot of other TV stations and newspapers are already offering.

I do think the NY Times’ Local is one example of truly hyper-local; so is Google’s Patch.  And that’s why I am so excited Grand Rapids will have its own hyper-local journalists soon (join this Facebook page to be a part of the discussion.)

As we’re working toward creating Grand Rapids’ first 4 Neighborhood News Bureaus, some of our industry’s biggest names are getting into the hyper-local game as well.

Today, the New York Times launched ‘The Local’.   ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’ is now using bloggers to try to win over the people who live in the Fort Greene and Clinton hill areas of New York City.

For those of you who missed it, Google’s Tim Armstrong is funding several news ‘Patches‘ in New Jersey.   And, from Seattle to, soon, Grand Rapids, citizens are deciding they can also cover their community.

While I wrote about Patch before, to me, the New York Times getting into the hyper-local game shows just how much the big boys see this as an opportunity (if you doubt that, read the Q&A in the first link).

I think many of us waited a bit too long, giving Google, Yahoo! and dozens of smaller companies an early heads start.  I also don’t think any company will succeed doing this alone.  As we’ve said at any NNB planning meeting, this will not succeed if only a select few run it.  It has to be what the people want and what they think is news.  (For more detail on the Grand Rapids effort, check this page out.)