Missing Comma: The Hyperlocal is Political

One of the bigger media stories coming into 2014 is over whether Patch, AOL’s so-called hyperlocal news organization, will survive or bite the dust. While rumors of the controversial network’s demise were greatly exaggerated, it does appear that the future of the service is in flux – and what that means for hyperlocal.

For y’all keeping track at home, hyperlocal news means exactly what it sounds like: basically, a person or group of persons are covering events in a town, sometimes down to the individual street level, and publishing it for their friends and neighbors – and audiences beyond either – to see. (Sounds awfully like blogging.)

Almost every city in America has a website devoted to something along the lines of hyperlocalism, whether or not they call it that. Some consist of independent reporters covering things they’re passionate about. Others, like Journatic, are in the business of outsourcing hyperlocal, which has made for some interesting and sometimes cringeworthy times.

AOL wanted their network to be the largest in the country, which is not in itself a deplorable goal. Where they went wrong? Trying to flood out their smaller competitors and gouge advertisers for more than they could afford – natural, if you model yourself off your predecessors.

Media critic Jeff Jarvis wrote (“The Almost Post-Mortem for Patch”), “Hyperlocal works in town after town. What doesn’t work is trying to instantly scale it by trying to own every town in sight. That was Patch’s fatal error: acting like an old-media company.”

Instead of trying to own everything from the top down, new, hyperlocal media needs to be built from the bottom up. Stigmergic, decentralized outlets have already been proven to thrive and be as effective – if not more so – than old media sites.

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