The Little Hyperlocal NewspaperThat Could
Small hometown hyperlocal is beating their own best estimates.
When four local citizen "journalists" set out in 2008 to create their own online local newspaper, expectations weren't part of the thought process. None of the fledging writers had any connections to the newpaper business nor were any professionally trained in journalism. Three of the group had written for several years for another local start up hyperlocal, but an independent streak struck when the second owner of the original start up offered to sell at a price which was too high. The youngest of the group of four, this writer, then at 58 years of age and a retired mailman was joined by fellow retirees, a school teacher, hospital administrator, and civil engineer. With no business plan, and only a longing to write, the group hired one of writer's sons to build a website. With several thousand dollars in start up costs split between writers, the first edition of the HollistonReporter.com made its premiere on Memorial Day 2008. Unlike the previous startup they had written for which published once a week, the group opted to publish with a daily model of at least several articles.
Publicity for the new startup at first was limited to yard signs such as the one above, and later to a hand delivered flyer in neighborhoods throughout town. While initial statistics of 400-500 unique visitors per day were encouraging, those numbers soon faded with the onset of the summer months, good weather keeping readers away from their computers. In a town of 15,000 twenty four miles southwest of Boston where the sidewalks roll up at 8 p.m. each evening, there can be some very slow news days.
Meeting each week on Fridays at 8 a.m. at each other's homes on a rotating basis, we would plot the forthcoming week's coverage and trade the local gossip in town. Offering to take a photo of local business signs along with a link to their web-site brought us our first advertising. Our statistics began to grow, and start up costs were paid back. Small stipends this year and last were paid to writers along with contributions to local non-profits. Financial profits weren't and most likely never will be a factor of this 45-month old venture. Community building and coverage of stories that the regional daily either can't or won't do is our priority.
When a new competitor arrived on our block less than two years ago, we took a wait- and-see approach to the AOL backed Patch. Would there be room for two local hyperlocal onlines in town we asked ourselves? Three lead editors later, none of whom lived in town, along with a freelancer/townie who for all intents and purposes was the Patch and recently left, the new kid on the block seems destined for relative obscurity for the time being anyway. What the Patch may pack in firepower in the way of financial backing from AOL, our online hyperlocal levels the playing field with a group of writers all living in the town for a substantial number of years. While not destined to make up one of the Fortune 500 companies any time soon or ever, recent HollistonReporter.com statistics for a 30 day period from mid January to February seem to indicate there is a market for hyperlocal news which other media sources consider mundane.
While 1,817,989 hits, 329,268 page turns and 68,975 unique visitors from January 15th to February 14th may not intimidate our next largest rival the MetroWest Daily News which covers a regional area with 18 towns, it can be food for thought. But then again our hyperlocal is not facing the 1.3 billion dollar debt --that's a B as in billion-- which will come due in 2014 that MetroWests Daily's parent company Gatehouse Media is facing. CEO Michael Reed is in the process of restructuring GateHouse and in a company report noted that GateHouse is engaged in individual restructuring programs to "right size" the company's employee base.
About all that our hyperlocal has to "right size" is the amount of calories consumed at our weekly Friday bull sessions, a luxury problem, I'm sure. Are hyperlocal online newspapers the next wave of how people gather information that is important to them? 2,300 loyal daily HollistonReporter.com readers seem to be saying the answer is yes.