Earlier this week we posted on the strength of community newspapers, despite the current struggles of their national and regional counterparts. Part of the reason for their success is the lack of availability of hyper-local news online. Where do you go to find out about local events, local politics, and local businesses? Chances are, you turn to your weekly community newspaper. And chances are, you can only find them in print, as very few have complementary websites.
Though some people turn to local pages on Facebook for “news,” these groups contain posts that are not vetted, edited, nor are discussions monitored or moderated.
AOL made a pass at this with Patch, their “hyperlocal news network,” launched originally in 2007 and acquired in 2009. Patch struggled to achieve profitability and monetize their traffic, and according to a TechCrunch article from December 2013, the network lost AOL millions of dollars in their attempt to keep it alive.
According to the corporate website, AOL spun out Patch to Hale Global in January 2014. It seems the site now relies heavily on community member posting directly to the site, and the local staff writers and journalists in each location appear to be more regionally-based where one reporter may oversee a dozen or so sites. They operate 900+ local news sites in 23 states and as of when it was last reported on in 2014, had a staff of about 65. The “LocalStream” pulls social content from Facebook and Twitter, while the bottom of the page features popular national news stories.
The new management was able to turn the company profitable by May 2014, according to the New York Times. The biggest change, not surprisingly, was on the advertiser side. While the site used to rely heavily on local advertisers, and employed sales people to sell display ads to local businesses, it now has a $5k minimum spend. This almost certainly prices them out of reach for local advertisers. From what we observed on the sites, most ad space appears to be retargeted programmatic ads.
What does all this mean for the future of local news? NiemanLab reported last fall that after many local journalists were laid off by Patch when they were sold off by AOL and the company pivoted to become a leaner organization, many of those writers have gone on to launch their own local news sites.
Whether online or in print, “local” represents a huge opportunity for advertisers and allows brands to meet consumers where their heart is, at home.
Post by Darcy Mauke