This morning the following subject line in my email caught my eye: "Woman Steals, Kills Puppy". The email was from the Smyrna-Vinings Patch, one of a collection of publications comprising the Patch Media Corporation. The Patch websites practice what is known as hyperlocal journalism. Hyperlocal journalism focuses on news from smaller geographical areas than traditional print journalism. For instance, in the Atlanta area, Patch operates East Atlanta Patch, Decatur-Avondale Patch, Buckhead Patch, and a few other sites.
The incident described did not take place in Smyrna, and, in fact, was run as the lead story in every one of the metro Atlanta Patch publications I viewed. The article was obviously "click bait", intended to draw readers to the Patch publications.
I don't begrudge news media their attention grabbing gimmicks. The industry is in turmoil, ad revenues are plummeting, and journalists are being laid off, including a substantial number of journalists at the Patch chain.
But for hyperlocal journalism to really work, it should be about giving local residents the news they need to participate fully in their local communities, and the explanations of local events and policies necessary to make informed decisions. Scanning several issues of the Patch this morning, I see very little of that. I'm very doubtful that a sad and tragic crime committed by a woman with mental health issues is the most important thing for residents of the targeted local areas to read this morning.
Nationally owned hyperlocal organizations should ideally be able to combine the professionalism of traditional journalism (including an advertising sales staff) with the sort of local interest news that small neighborhood newspapers like the Porch Press in East Atlanta provide. So far, the large scale hyperlocal efforts I've seen fail to deliver that. Perhaps the economics are just too daunting. But I don't think publications are going to carve out a niche in the hyperlocal market with dead puppy stories.