By Jessica Durkin
A group of independent, local online news publisher drew a line in the sand Thursday with a campaign to preserve what it means to be “local.”
With corporate media groups launching locally-focused news, such as the growing AOL-Huffington Post Patch.com sites in 19 states across the US and Gannett’s new hyperlocal effort in 10 markets, corporate media sites are banking on scalability to tap the potential $24 billion digital local advertising spendingby 2015.
But the 30-site, independent publisher group Authentically Local is countering the replication culture by emphasizing the value of locally-owned news operations. The publishers representing sites across the country signed a statement distinguishing their operations from corporate competitors.
The campaign also aims to recruit local news ecosystem stakeholders and non-digital local businesses.
John Hawbaker, co-founder of Chattarati.com, a site covering politics, general news and lifestyles in Chattanooga, Tenn., signed on to the Authentically Local campaign. Hawbaker started Chattarati in 2008.
“Every Chattarati contributor lives in the greater Chattanooga area,” Hawbaker told Block by Block in an e-mail. “We work and raise families. We volunteer. We vote. We are citizens who blog and, yes, do journalism. Our connection to the local community is central to our work at Chattarati, and we’re proud to join in with other community-minded publications throughout the country.”
In New Jersey, an early hotbed of hyperlocal and online community news activity, RedBankGreen.com co-founder John T. Ward echoed Hawbaker’s local-flavor sentiment.
“With the rapid rollout of Patch, there’s a need for independent hyperlocals to remind readers and advertisers of the value that local ownership and local perspective brings to coverage.” Ward said in an e-mail. “We want people to consider what the news and information landscape in their town would look like if the independents get squeezed out, leaving this fast-food approach to coverage. It’s about letting people know that the fate of the independents, many of which are shoestring operations, is really in their hands.”
For some news publishers in remote, non-urban regions of the country, their local news site is sometimes the only independent digital information source in the area.
“[W]e subscribe to the idea that something real, and tangible, is lost when community coverage is turned over to a chain – where one site looks like the next, and when varying degrees of management are assigned to offices far removed from the area,” said Thomas Palmer, owner of GalionLive.com and MidOhioLive.com in Ohio.
Palmer said GalionLive.com has made an impression in the 10,500-person Galion community with more than3,000 registered followers nationwide.
“We live here, are raising families here, have small businesses here, own property here – we are fully vested in the communities we serve,” Palmer said. “Our readers know this as well, and, in fact, rely on it.”
For more information on how to get involved with the Authentically Local coalition, contact Debbie Galant, founder of New Jersey community news site Baristanet at 973-641-1003.