Content breakdown of a healthy, efficient hyperlocal news site

thomas-edison-mixing-chemicals-in-his-lab-in-njIt’s about finding the right mix.

I’m working with a couple, following many and thinking about a great number more hyperlocal, niche and other online-only news sites in this country of ours.

I talk a lot about where content comes from in a healthy, efficient news-gathering entity today or in the near future.

Whether it proves untenable or inaccurate or not isn’t necessarily the point. I have some goals for the geographically-based hyperlocal I’m helping in building — NEast Philly — and I want to float them.

Below I share what that looks like in my head, what it looks like now under the tireless effort of its editor and team of contributors and how it’s looked in the past.

neast-philly-content-breakdown2

The breakdown I hope to help foster at NEast:

  1. Trained, investigative-style journalism(25 percent of overall content) With other content filling the news hole, reporters who still bring home a check ought to be able to focus on holding people accountable, making phone calls and getting outside and talking to people. This is any kind of accountability journalism of checking facts and getting questions answered.
  2. Quality reader submissions(25 percent) Content over the transom about community events from readers. (Goodness gracious, don’t call this citizen journalism!)
  3. Regular independent contributors(25 percent) Trained, more regular and perhaps compensated (through stipends, small disbursements, memberships or other community distinctions) contributors. This concept, what we call a neighborhood correspondents program, is a major part of our Knight News Challenge grant proposal.
  4. Press releases(10 percent) When these releases are coming from smaller businesses and event-focused, maybe we should see these often as reader content. Rewritten press releases still seem like a waste of a reporter’s time, but I don’t know if this will entirely go away anytime soon.
  5. Aggregation(15 percent) Making sure your readers know every link, story and conversation going online that is relevant to your coverage. If we bring back local coverage, this may only grow, but it will certainly become a big part of successful news-gatherers in the future.

What NEast, largely a part-time venture by Shannon McDonald editorially, looks like now, I’d estimate:

  1. Trained, investigative-style journalism(30 percent of overall content) This stems from reader tips, event and civic meeting coverage and additive pieces like her popular RNWN segment. (You’ll notice that our goal drops this number from what it is now and that’s largely because of contributions from people like me, who probably won’t be able to do this sustainably.)
  2. Quality reader submissions(05 percent)
  3. Regular independent contributors(20 percent) This includes a number of volunteer columnists she has.
  4. Press releases(05 percent)
  5. Aggregation(40 percent)

That seems like a sizable improvement from when editor McDonald first started a year ago. She tells me it looked something like this:

  1. Trained, investigative-style journalism(05 percent of overall content)
  2. Quality reader submissions(25 percent)
  3. Regular independent contributors(25 percent)
  4. Press releases(10 percent)
  5. Aggregation(15 35 percent)

NEWSPAPER COMPARISON

I’d bet, somewhat baselessly, a newspaper’s content spread in the 1970s might look something like this:

  1. Trained, investigative-style journalism(60 percent of overall content) Making calls, sitting through meetings and that traditional type of bread-and-butter accountability journalism that then bled into even feature and sports writing.
  2. Quality reader submissions(05 percent) I’m thinking letters to the editor.
  3. Regular independent contributors(05 percent) I’m thinking op-eds, which were sometimes recurring and often came from community leaders and others with some degree of training or expertise.
  4. Press releases(20 percent) Kids, we were always rewriting some sort of press release.
  5. Aggregation(10 percent) Rewritten copy from competitors is additionally old as the hills.

I’d say, perhaps a little baseless-ly, a newspaper today might look something like this:

  1. Trained, investigative-style journalism(40 percent of overall content) Because I’m not questioning the quality of this type of reporting — how many sources, how deeply reported, etc. — this fall isn’t incredibly steep. In most newsrooms, reporters are still calling people and attending events. Also, the news hole may have actually been reduced, so the percentage can account for even more of a fall not seen here.
  2. Quality reader submissions(10 percent) I don’t think the space for this has grown much in printed products, but I won’t ignore Web site comments and social media interaction, even if this is largely ignored.
  3. Regular independent contributors(05 percent) See item above.
  4. Press releases(30 percent) I’ve been in a newsroom or two and been told how this number has had to grow because fewer reporters means less time.
  5. Aggregation(15 percent) I’d imagine there’s a degree of uptick in this.

What do I think all this means? The largest discrepancy is the difference between legacy media organizations and hyperlocals, by way of NEast as example, are relying and have relied on its community.

We know there isn’t one solution for this sustainable news conversation, but participatory journalism sure seems like a big part of it to me.

Are my goals good ones? Are these estimates screwy? Other thoughts?