Claire Miller of the NY Times discusses the recent decision by the Washington Post to close LoudounExtra.com, a “hyper-local” news site. It was to be just one of several properties built by the WashingtonPost in a more ambitious effort that focused on smaller areas throughout its coverage area. According to a short post on the site, LoudounExtra will go from being a stand-alone site to a page within WashingtonPost.com:
Beginning Friday, Loudounextra.com will cease to exist in its current form. Many of the features you’ve come to enjoy and rely on will live on a new page on washingtonpost.com, including local news, your announcements and photos, a community calendar, youth sports and local entertainment information.
We want to be able to serve our Loudoun readers in the best way possible, and we believe we can do that more efficiently on washingtonpost.com. There’s no need to remember a new address; just go to www.loudounextra.com beginning Friday and you will be automatically re-routed to the new page.
And coming soon, a new home page on washingtonpost.com devoted to helping you navigate daily life in the Washington D.C. region, with more robust coverage of local breaking news, sports, traffic, weather, entertainment, shopping, real estate, tips and tools, local opinion, your contributions and more.
My guess is that the economic model didn’t work; costs were high and assumptions about revenues didn’t play out as anticipated. The company hadn’t “calibrated” the costs and the revenues correctly. Miller’s article quotes a Post spokesperson alluding to this:
“We found that our experiment with LoudounExtra.com as a separate site was not a sustainable model,” said Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for the Washington Post Company.
“Updating the large amount of special features and technologies” on the site, which was run by Post staff members, proved unsustainable, Ms. Coratti said. For now, the newspaper will not start other hyperlocal sites it had planned.
I think there’s clear demand for the local information, though “hyper-local” is clearly not a universal solution to what ails newspapers. Consumers are interested in a mix of local and non-local content and so the reintegration of the content into the broader WashPo site may prove to be successful. For these hyper local projects by publishers the difficult problem to solve involves finding the right balance between professional and community content, together with a cost structure that does make it sustainable.
Why do you think LoudounExtra failed and what do you think it says, if anything, about the broader effort to build out these sites? Do you think “sustainability” simply involves the right ad sales approach to the local market or is there something inherently wrong with the assumptions behind hyper-local news?
Where are the success stories? American Towns might say that it represents one such success. What are your thoughts?
Update: I got an email this morning from someone who pointed to the WSJ article written some time ago on LoudounExtra has a more accurate account of what caused the demise of the site and strategy, including a series of poor decisions and missteps. The email also said that the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal site is doing very well and “expanding like crazy.” The writer took issue with my “top of mind” example of AmericanTowns as an example of a hyper-local success.
I would add that hyper-local implies community involvement at a fundamental level. It also implies a more “utilitarian” approach with tools that help people accomplish tasks of one sort or another (e.g., where to go, who to do business with, etc.).
Update 2: The story of why LoudounExtra went down seems to be more about in-fighting, internal politics and incompetence rather than a flawed concept or model re hyper-local.