Can smaller hyperlocal news apps hit success the way bigger global news apps do it?
Not all hyperlocal apps struggle to get the right audience they desire. There’s Dichtbij, a Dutch-based hyperlocal network that successfully brought its web success to mobile through its €10 million revenue last year. Blockfeed, a New York news-focused news aggregator, has been among the darlings of locality-loving tech journalists on the web since 2015.
However, generally speaking, this small niche is still wrestling to grow, especially in the UK and the US, where most respected global news agencies are from. In the US, as explained by Joshua Benton of NiemanLab, smaller, local news outlets succumb to their bigger counterparts simply because of the budget. The likes of The New York Times or The LA Times have bigger money to pay for talented journalists and technologies essential in delivering real-time, comprehensive news.
In the UK, however, despite the growing numbers of hyperlocal news outlets, the problem lies in funding. These firms have to mull over shutting down long before they hit success. They are easily crushed by bigger news agencies with bigger funding and audience.
Brick-and-mortar success is essential for local news outlets to obtain money for building an app presence. Yet for hyperlocal entrepreneurs going straight to mobile, the quandary isn’t different. The mobile realm is replete with giant news agencies and brands that have money for App Store Optimization (ASO), competent app engineers and designers, app market strategists, and even content writers.
How will they compete with Facebook, Apple, and CNN and other giant publishers with established local segments? Is the problem all about money?
Born2Invest, a global, multilingual news curator, managed to become a top mobile news app across all app stores in just less than six months by simply taking the local approach. It has a team of writers—who are actually professional journalists—writing in a specific language. Through this, the app delivers seamless news summaries without sacrificing content and professionalism, without being directly affected by nuances present in any language.
“We aren’t really a hyperlocal news app but I can see the similarities the two markets. Hyperlocal and global news do the same thing, which is to deliver relevant stories in the most honest, professional way possible,” says CEO Dom Einhorn. “At the end of the day it’s all about knowing your target audience well, and in this way, you’ll be able to give them what they want, which is actually the key to obtaining organic word-of-mouth marketing, and, eventually, success.”
Benton will surely agree. He suggested that the problem with many local news outlets—online and offline—is that they forget to value quality to an extent that they end up no longer worth reading. So why would a reader choose a hyperlocal app if The LA Times, The New York Times, and even Facebook Instant Articles can do it better, needless to mention that their stories are better written and interface more aesthetically friendly?
In an in-depth investigation conducted by J-Lab, later summarized and analyzed by The Huffington Post, it revealed that what made successful hyperlocal sites different from their competitors is their take on content delivery. Most of them do not just deliver the news but respond to it instead. They talk to the neighborhood, get straight reactions from the people who make the news.
“Any hyperlocal site expecting to succeed needs to begin with a strategy to gather, infuse and highlight neighbor input even before determining how to create the context,” writes Rick Robinson, the digital media exec, and strategist at The Huffington Post.
For Phyllis Stephen of UK hyperlocal news website The Edinburgh Reporter, it is all about embracing the niche and the brand, which is local. She knows that being local means having no immense amount of money typically present in giant and more established news agencies. Through mobile journalism, her company manages to deliver quality service and content.
“Nobody has cracked the payment barrier yet… it is only really through the efforts of a small team of volunteers that we can actually keep going,” she tells Journalism UK. Indeed, through this, The Edinburgh Reporter consistently publishes content for a monthly audience of approximately 100,000 people.
Stephen also reminds hyperlocal news producers to be professional at all times, as it is what news delivery is all about. No one wants to be in “one-launch-wonder” Ripple’s situation, where a successful launch is immediately substituted by controversy by simply abandoning basic journalism ethics.
The takeaway is to think big and professional, but also, think local—always.