Washington Post Sponsors Local News Site

The New York Times reported today on a new site sponsored by the Washington Post, LoudounExtra.com, which deals in “hyperlocal” news, like church schedules and high school footballs scores (in real-time).

The site covers Loudoun County, Va., population 272,000–not exactly small potatoes, but still smaller than the Post’s normal readership by far.

Is this a good idea? Absolutely. I can’t imagine the downside, apart from it being written by reporters at the Post; perhaps it will be a bit out of touch with local concerns and issues. But as the Times points out, the Post already publishes a section for the county twice a week.

I have a personal stake in this issue, since I feel my local paper’s Web site does a poor job of marketing the community to the world and a poorer job of covering local news. We publish to our site once a day–late a night, after all the stories have been written and after all the pages have been laid out for the next day. There is no live coverage; stories are not posted as they are written.

The underlying problem with our site is that the publishers are part of a larger newspaper corporation. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. I consider it to be a good situation for many reasons, but it does mean that our Web site is partnered with a larger local-news Web company that dictates what our pages must look like via a template system. Ergo, we cannot include database driven content that could be updated more often.

On top of that, the editors feel that the Web is not where people are going for their news in our community. Maybe they’re right, but I think it’s a catch-22. People aren’t going to the Web for their news because we don’t provide a good source. If we provided a better site, more people would come. As it is, we don’t have any Web-only editorial staff or reporters. The site is a repository for print articles with no original content.

We do publish an electronic-edition of the paper, an exact replica of the print edition that is available to subscribers only. It’s a step forward, but again: no original Web content.

The Washington Post and their new site (which is very sexy, I must say) provide a good example of what local news should look like on the Web; and for a smaller community that doesn’t necessarily have it’s own paper already, having an outside paper take over online news for the city is not such a bad thing either.

Now, if another city in Montana were to take over online news for Bozeman, say Butte or Billings (which is actually the case for broadcast news), then we’d have a matter of pride to contend with. As it is, we are in a situation where we need to act for ourselves, and I hope the publishers look at LoudounExtra.com with interest.

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