The Wall Street Journal reports that the hyperlocal LoudounExtra.com project by the Washington Post has largely failed. Isn’t hyperlocal supposed to be the saving grace of newspaper journalism? See if you can figure out what went wrong:
Though LoudounExtra.com seemed to promise an ideal combination of innovation and marketing muscle, it has failed to benefit from the reach of Washingtonpost.com. Mr. Curley says whenever a big story breaks involving Loudoun County, the Post typically publishes it on Washingtonpost.com without a link to LoudounExtra. That deprives LoudounExtra of potential traffic. Nor does the Washingtonpost’s own dedicated Loudoun County page send visitors directly to its online sibling. In September, when Time Warner Inc.’s AOL unit announced it was moving its headquarters from Dulles, Va., to New York, the Post linked to the story on LoudounExtra.com for a couple hours before moving the story back to its own site. That window of promotion fueled the Loudoun site’s best traffic day to date, Mr. Curley says.
Mr. Brady now says he is considering replacing the current Loudoun County page on Washingtonpost.com with LoudounExtra.com, although he adds he doesn’t want LoudounExtra.com or future hyperlocal sites to be too dependent on Washingtonpost.com for traffic.
Another problem: Mr. Curley’s crew was trying to reach a much different audience than they were used to. Unlike Lawrence, Kan., which had a small populace linked by an easily identifiable set of interests, Loudoun County is a 520 square-mile area with seven towns whose residents share little else besides a county government.
To penetrate those communities requires a more dedicated effort than the LoudounExtra.com team was putting forth. Mr. Curley himself acknowledged he spent too much time talking to other newspaper publishers about the hyperlocal strategy and too little time introducing his team and the site to Loudoun County.
All in all, the site has yet to catch fire. “We certainly didn’t get the numbers that our team was accustomed to getting,” Mr. Curley says. “Even in Lawrence, Kan., we were attracting more traffic than we were accustomed to getting [on LoudounExtra.com], and Lawrence is a town of 80,000 people.”
The Post’s Mr. Brady said he still plans to unveil a hyperlocal site for Fairfax County, Va., which has more than a million residents, and is considering a number of others down the road. But he said the site needs better integration with Washingtonpost.com and more such user-generated content.
Several media analysts agreed LoudounExtra.com doesn’t do enough to engage the community. Hyperlocal sites range from the fully service-oriented — filled with databases, calendars and news — to repositories for blogs, commentary, photos and video from visitors to the site.
But there were hazards involved in putting an autonomous team of outsiders in charge of new digital initiatives at a major media company. Mr. Curley says his team had been developing online tools to funnel Loudoun County-related video and photos to the site from other sites like YouTube, Facebook and Flickr, but couldn’t get approval from the Post’s legal team to launch the application. According to Mr. Brady, the legal team voiced concerns about who had legal claim to the content of those sites.