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Hyperlocal content: Local news or community gossip?

If 'all politics is local,' is all news local?
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor

If “all politics is local,” is all news local?” Such is the theory behind citizen media site Backfence, touting “Do-It-Yourself-Local-News”:

Find out what's going on in the world closest and most important to you: Your neighborhood.

What is the most important "news" in people’s “worlds”? Backfence suggests:

Who won the T-ball championship? Have you seen the photos from the church fundraiser? Who's going to be the new junior high school principal?


Backfence launched little more than a year ago with generous public goodwill and $3 million Series A funding led by SAS investors and Omidyar Network for a Hyperlocal Online Citizens' Media Company to build-out “a nationwide network of citizens' media sites."

Co-founded by Mark Potts, the co-founder of WashingtonPost.com; a member of the founding team at the @Home Network; Vice President and Chief Product Officer for Cahners Business Information (now Reed Business Information), the nation's largest trade magazine publisher…Backfence has benefited from much encouragement:

With Backfence, everyday people can report on what's happening within their own communities and connect with others who care about the same issues. Backfence's citizen-driven model brings people together in a way that's meaningful and empowering to the participants and to the businesses that support them, Doug Solomon, Vice President of Investments at Omidyar Network. 
How “meaningful and empowering to the participants” is Backfence’s hyperlocal fare, however. In reporting a headcount retrenchment and strategic realignment at Backfence, Peter Krasilvosky cites low traction within the “communities.” 

Commenter, and Front Porch Forum co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis offers the following take:

Perhaps BackFence isn’t aiming at the right target. Stories that appeal to an audience across a 50,000 to 100,000 population (e.g., “city council enacts smoking ban in restaurants”) may best be reported by professional journalist, as has been the case for generations, and supplemented by bloggers. Stories that appeal to residents of one neighborhood (e.g., “utility work closes Maple St. and Birch Ct. to through traffic this week”) are not of interest to the other 49,000 people in town.

So, a BackFence model runs the risk of combining (A) stories with broad appeal that may not meet professional journalistic standards with (B) lots of micro-stories that are each only interesting to a very small slice of their readership.

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