Rethinking The Local Paper

This is my local newspaper, called The Villager. If you live in Greenwich Village, NYC, you probably read The Villager. But there are several problems with The Villager (which was voted NY State’s "Best Community Newspaper").

First, it’s only updated once a week. And that’s true of the website as well. Fortunately today is the day they update, so if you click thru, you might get fresh content. And then there is the problem that over half of the stories are about things that don’t really impact or interest me. Steven Johnson calls this the "pothole paradox." That pothole in front of your home or apartment is a big deal to you, but your friend four blocks over couldn’t care less. And The Villager is barely scraping by living off local advertising that is moving fast and furious to Adwords and other forms of web advertising.

That is why I am so interested in local media, aka hyperlocal. Today, there are not one but three stories on Techmeme about a new hyperlocal service called Everyblock. Everyblock was built by people who did the service and is backed by a $1mm grant from The Knight Foundation. If for some reason you don’t want to go check out Everyblock, I’ll tell you what it is. Everyblock crawls a number of local resources like Yelp, Flickr, and possibly most importantly local government databases. Through Everyblock, you can subscribe to all building permits, restaurant inspections, and liquor licenses issued in your neighborhood. That’s pretty useful.

Many of you know that our firm, Union Square Ventures, is an investor in, co-founded and run by Steven Johnson (the pothole paradox guy). Techcrunch calls a competitor of EveryBlock. I think collaborator is more like it. It’s going to take more than one company to rebuild the local newspaper from the ground up.

In fact, the first thing we all need to understand about "hyperlocal" is that this is going to be a long slog. It’s simple enough to put up a search field and ask for a neighborhood name or zip code and return a result. has been doing that for over a year now. Here’s that result for my neighborhood. Here’s EveryBlock’s result for the same search. You get two very different results, because the services focus on different kinds of local content. But even so, the results are not that compelling. YET.

The thing that has to happen and will happen, I just don’t know when, is that we are going to program our community newspapers ourselves. Like my post this morning about Pier 40. Which by the way is at the top of’s result page for my zip code. Nice. I didn’t do anything to make that happen.

But there just aren’t that many people producing hyperlocal content in a form that is organizable into a new version of a community newspaper. Sure there are many people posting photos and more and more of them will get a geotag as we get gps cameras and better web/camera integration. But look at Everyblock’s photo page. Where is the relevance? Why do I care about the photo taken 10 blocks away from my house?

And there isn’t enough of an incentive to produce hyperlocal content. If a mom (or dad) could blog for two hours every morning between dropping off her kids and going shopping and make $1000-2000/month doing that, we would see a lot more content getting produced. And who better to blog about the high school soccer game, the PTA meeting the night before, or the controversy about the new supermarket coming to town?

And where are her stories going to get picked up? What if they could get picked up by the big city paper that everyone in her town reads. That’s why I am so excited about’s effort to get it’s neighborhood pages and buzzmaps onto newspaper websites all over the country. Here are’s buzzmaps on the Washington Post website. When the mom finds out that her stories can and will get onto the Washington Post, that might change things. And when the traffic that, everyblock, yourstreet, the washington post, and hopefully a host of other newspapers drive to her blog turns into tens of thousands of visits a month, there will be a hyperlocal ad network knocking on her door to take her inventory and send her that check for $1000-2000/month for her work. If you don’t think that’s possible, check out my favorite mom’s blog traffic.

That’s why this is a collaborative effort. We need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen. We need every newspaper in the country to embrace platforms like and everyblock and showcase their content on the newspaper’s pages. We need to find these local voices and amplify them. And we need to attract more of them. And we need to monetize them for their efforts.

And then we will have a new kind of community newspaper, one that we program and we read and we comment on. It’s coming. I just don’t know when.

#NYC#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. CoryS

    A thought along the geographic theme – why wouldn’t cross geographic data with Twitter to possibly boost up the content by geography on both sites (perhaps a possible hyperlocal advertising platform?). I use Twitter to get a sense of local flavor in terms of the network I’ve collected which then offers a pulse of what’s going on in the area while less of those people are consistent bloggers.Agree that there are a host of sites that can/should come together to provide a rich experience, but that’s why I use a feed reader which is a pretty good alternative.

  2. Mike Champion

    I’m excited about the prospects about improving the local web, but wonder if the motivation for people to post local info will be financial or if there will be a more civic-mindedness to it. I live in Watertown, MA which has a good start (although I think the framework could use improvement) called h2otown where people post links, news, etc.I continue to be surprised that traditional newspaper, in my case the Boston Globe, don’t have specific pages set up to aggregate the news for a specific town. Perhaps will beat them to that space — the results so far aren’t bad for my town.

    1. fredwilson

      I should have been more clearIt’s not just a financial incentive that mattersThere is civic mindedness, ego, political agenda (see my pier 40 post), an avocation, a desire to write, take photos, videos, etcBut a financial incentive will help move things along for somefred

    2. gruvr music map

      Regarding incentive, I do think that there needs to be something besides ‘common interest in local news’. Another site similar to and everyblock is – it aggregates local news. But I guess it’s this ‘pothole’ problem that makes most of the news I find less than relevant.The classic attempt at neighborhood civic engagement seems to be – they added features a few years ago to promote local bills for discussion, etc. And there were grassroots efforts – yet none seem to have taken off.IMHO there has to be some potential benefit accruing to the proximity of a resource.That seems to be what attracted critical local mass to craigslist – local classifieds.Another such application is sharing – borrowing and lending items (or skills/knowledge) for mutual benefit, where you need to be close enough to accomplish the loan transaction. That’s what is about.My favorite such application is local entertainment. After all, I may be mildly interested in the new sewer system announced 10 blocks away – but it’s not that relevant to me just how close it is.On the other hand, if I want to see some live music tonight – I DO care how far I have to travel, especially outside a dense urban setting. I may lack both time and gas money to go very far. That’s what is solving.

  3. Rob

    Hyperlocal will work when sites create content, not just aggregate it. Each hyperlocal site needs a real local presence – in the form of professional editors. It has to have a real local look and feel and attitude, not a web 2.0 attitude, because in order to monetize it you have to reach a critical mass. To reach that mass, you need more than just heavy web users to use it – you need the average person to embrace it.

    1. fredwilson

      I is launching discussions today. I am not supposed to blog about that until noon. But there you have it.fred

  4. Greg Cannon

    I agree that the potential is there but that it will remain unrealized until hyperlocal blogging become better incentivized and something that just happens as people use the Web without their having to think about it. The irony is that while the Web may be distributed, these services still require significant scale. That’s why they launch in the big cities and too often get stuck there. As mundane as pothole on a Manhattan street may be , it is of potential interest to a couple thousand people living on that block and thousands more who walk/drive/bike down it every day, compared to the dozen folks who may care about a pothole on a suburban block. And ultimately (hopefully), the real unique value of these services will be getting people to care about the metaphorical pothole on the next block if they’re having the same problem and are discovering that the root of the problem is, for example, not one local pothole, but a citywide inattention to street maintenance. That would help people fix things.

  5. Denis Canuel

    Fred,I’m working on this and I’d really like to hear about what you think. I think I have a decent model and perhaps we could exchange notes. Please contact me to discuss further about this.

  6. David

    Hi Fred,Long time no talk. Like you I’m very excited to see a sites like this emerging. To many people they seem unimportant as they aren’t as sexy as some other things. The fact that they are focused on a real data model to create relevancy taht I think could become powerful as it scales.

  7. Christian Sterner

    Within my team’s focus, there is massive financial incentive(s) to produce hyper-local content. It is the people that benefit the most from being a source for hyper local content that have the most incentive to create this type of content. I’m trying hard not to plug my company within the framework of this discussion, but will say without blinking that we have quite the momentum on the hyper-local video front, and-although we showed up early-there is a massive party brewing.I completely agree, btw, that producing/aggregating hyper-local content is an act of connecting fragmented dots. It’s a very, very fun and satisfying game as well!

  8. brooksjordan

    I was just reading these two pieces about/by David Simon, who is the creator of HBO’s The Wire. make you think about what has been lost in the newsroom and how hyperlocal reporting could bring some of it back in a way that plays to the Web.

  9. Ian Bell

    The presumptive business model around hyperlocal content is probably hyperlocal advertising, as you’ve alluded to in your post. I’ve worked with a number of companies over the years who claimed to be able to target ads right down to the block with various devious means, however creating the inventory in that scenario is not the real problem — it’s selling it.Google AdWords can be used as a reasonably accurate spatial targeting tool (and will get better) I suppose, but most mom & pop small businesses are not sophisticated enough to use it. Those businesses are the bread and butter of the free weeklies, and those are the ad dollars that local and hyperlocal content creators will need to go after.But here’s the problem: the cost to sell an ad to a local pizza shop and to a broad marketer like General Motors is the same. The free weeklies hire and train folks who walk the neighbourhood, making friends with the owners, and selling to the small businesses lining the curbs: not your typical dot com sales methodology.I recall the boiler rooms of Web 1.0 companies like CitySearch, Excite, and YahOo and the high cost-per-sale they ran, and I just don’t see how the economics of the cost of selling the ads vs. the revenue gained from mom & pop advertisers bears out. Unless all these companies will all be selling to Starbucks (which doesn’t need to advertise anyway) then those costs and revenues are not likely to align favourably.So maybe the free weeklies are more friend than foe.

    1. gruvr music map

      Ian you make some good points on the local-ads problem. It seems that plenty of companies have tried and failed at this (what happened to Zixxo -local coupon feeds?)… they seem dead to me.Yet I count at least $77M pumped into local advertising ventures in the very recent past:…AdWords, though, is a long way from being able to target ads correctly to true geo-Web apps.The reason is familiar to veteran GIS hackers: googlebot pollutes its own index by self-identifying asa web surfer from Mountain View, and AdSense uses googlebot metadata.You need to do simple location-sensing for a good user experience in any localized app – that’s pretty well established.Otherwise the overhead of manually navigating to select location or taggin input becomes cumbersome.So,any location-sensitive geo-app will typically display mostly ads for – San Francisco!No doubt this is losing google millions of dollars per year, but I havent heard anyone complaining yet.The primary solution for geo-apps at the moment seems to be to do “geo-SEO” and redesign the user experience to remove location sensing, which severely degrades many cases – but yields non-silly local targeting for adwords.Google is clearly making strides to get the ‘geo-Web’ going with support for geoRSS, KML, etc. – but to really start off right, they are going to have to re-design googlebot – or buy out a competitor who cracks this ‘geo-indexing’ puzzle.

  10. twillerer

    There is also a huge need on the advertising side that could easily fuel this approach.Two observations:1. I use Netvibes like a newspaper. I follow (i.e. skim) around 50 blogs / journals so I guess it’s equivalent to a national paper2. It’s interesting how these competing local papers will have to work together in order to all succeed. That’s becoming more prevalent in the world today, but still not fully accepted nor embraced.

  11. Tom O'Leary

    Interesting Fred – and I think I understand where you’re hoping that all of this will head. Traditionally, local newspapers covered regions that span beyond individual neighborhoods or streets or apartment buildings. To cover these broad regions, they hired several beat reporters that would spend time calling people, visiting places and writing stuff about stories in that region.What we need is more coverage in smaller regions by organic dwellers in those sub-regions. To do that, we’ll need to shift the paradigm. Not easy. Rather than thinking of how many salaries we need to pay to get sufficient coverage for the East Village, we need to think about how we can encourage people from the East village to participate in publishing information about that space and smart ways of aggregating it all in meaningful ways – perhaps with unique results for each person searching (multiple criteria – i.e. food, east village, reviews)

  12. Dan T

    There are so many different audiences, interests, sources, and geographical variations to this problem that it will be fascinating to watch it develop. Discovering interesting content in mundane data sources is a brilliant idea by Everyblock. It reminds me of the data aggregation challenges associated with legal case reporting and background checking services – – which have to be developed court by court, state by state and agency by agency. I see the Everyblock idea of where to focus first . . .in NY and with a variety of public content services. It will be interesting to see where focuses > auidences, interests, sources, geographies or channels (news paper integration). This is a huge opportunity/problem . .’s coverage in suburb looks really weak – – for obvious reasons.Would they be better off to NOT cover an area until they have good information? i.e. only show certain zips like everyblock. Is it better to give someone a glimpse into the future with weak content or do you risk making a bad first impression and diluting a good story?

  13. Ethan Bauley

    EveryBlock is awesome. I reckon they are going to open-source the whole platform so developers could create an “EveryBlock” for every/any town. Open-source seems to be big at the Knight Foundation.Incidentally, Adrian Holovaty [who won the grant] is a GREAT guitar player:…His writings on XML and news articles are brilliant, too.A friend and I co-wrote a Knight Foundation grant this year. The idea was to build a kind of “digital community service for college students” program. College students would earn credit or scholarship by, for example, attending city council meetings and uploading notes, or by scanning government docs.There would even be a little Kiva-esque platform where community interests (individuals, local businesses, etc) could underwrite small grants and get custom local research.They turned it down, but some of the details are at http://www.izzysmethod.comIf anyone wants to fund it, the team we have is brilliant! Holler 😉

    1. Joseph Kocherhans

      Hey, thanks for the nice feedback, and for noticing my guitar videos! :-)Yes, we *are* open-sourcing our software at the end of our two-year grant — that’s part of the terms we have with the Knight Foundation. Lots of excitement ahead!Adrian @ EveryBlock

  14. Tom O'Leary

    I suppose that the most hyper-local subset is the individual. If individuals tag all of their participation online with a zip code, it would be easy to aggregate it all. Of course, then we’d have a lot of noise that would require filters for each reader (not a big deal). If there was a mechanism for anyone publishing information online to add a zip code to every photo, blog post, blog comment, article, review – then they could be aggregated quite easily by zip. To be most effective, individuals should be able to tag content published by other sources in the same way. For example, if I come across a restaurant review on tripadvisor for Bellingham, Washington (where I live), I should be able to tag it with a zip for Bellingham while I’m reading it (perhaps a right-click, Add Zip function). That way, active hyper-local participants could add content to the mix that others contribute – others who aren’t aware about the need to tag content for aggregation.In this sense, every post, photo, comment, review, notice would be published like an AP wire: (98225: Comment or 98225: Photo)

    1. fredwilson

      That is where I hope this all is headedBut we need to make this super easy/trivial or even automatic to dofred

      1. gruvr music map

        the technology for augmenting any UGC with location context has been around for a while: guess user location from their IP address (works fairly well in the vast majority of cases, but not all…) – this kind of location-sensing has been in use by GIS and mapping apps before the web. It looks like does that – although they guessed Rhode Island for me, off by about 90 miles.

  15. Heather Green

    $2,000 a month is probably what a lucky local reporter gets. They basically do it because they feel strongly about it. Not to get rich. So another idea could simply be to buy the paper and start rejiggering it so that you could get more local input and make it more of a community effort.

  16. Don Jones

    Fred,A couple of thoughts:1. For Everyblock – the whole government information is a big yawn – maybe a few community activists care, every once in a while when something bad happens or threatens to.2. More generally – The hyperlocal concept needs to be hyperEasy for people to contribute to – because it’s about the hyperGranular level of details that people care about, as evidenced by the potholes concept. In order to get compelling, real time info, they need to integrate with something like Twitter, which allows people to be walking down the street and fire off a Tweet about something they just saw or did in the neighborhood. If the tweet can be geotargeted, so much the better. But it has to be short and easy – Twitter is the ideal example. Tumblr and regular blogs would also need to feed in as well. Voice-to-text would also be helpful to lowering the contribution barrier.

  17. timh

    Local is hard!I appreciate that information aggregation, dynamic organization of that information, and enabling discussion are all-important aspects to re-making the ‘local paper’. With the proliferation of UGC and LBS/geo-tagging services becoming more ubiquitous online (including via mobile/gps) and integrated into more content/objects/data, finding and accessing this information is becoming much easier, as demonstrated by EveryBlock,, Flickr and many others.Now, how do you reliably connect people at the local level for information sharing about the pothole in the street, finding a reliable plumber, or about the house that got broken into down the street? To me the potential game changer at the local level would be to overlay a locally focused address-based social network (turning the white pages into an address-based social directory) over/under all of this local info.Online Groups (Yahoo, Google, etc) are great at connecting people at the hyper-local level because they’re typically used by a group of defined neighbors who all know each other, and it’s access controlled…same with email listservs. However, these groups breakdown and lose their utility and scalability because that same access control limits the type of information members can access and reduces any single members ability to scale their local network beyond the defined group. The privacy controls and ‘information marketplaces’ of LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t locally focused but those services are great parallels.Newspapers have active (and rapidly declining) subscriber lists that are still incredibly valuable and fully under utilized. Put an existing address-based subscriber list online within a permission-based social networking framework, making it easy for me as a subscriber to see and connect with other subscribers/members I know (neighbors and other people in the community I know) and trust who live near me. In addition to posting about the pothole on my street, when I need a realtor, plumber, painter, or want to find a good restaurant, that trusted local network would be my go to source, they already are…To me the business model and revenue opportunities are clear, the hard part is getting to critical mass with an engaged community.

    1. gruvr music map

      Tim – I think there have been some interesting efforts in this space. For example, and attempted exacty this: overlay a social network with labelled releationship links in a geographic area, then gain critical mass in that area by marketing as white-label social network to a local association websites. There have been others as well – these are mostly pre-myspace or pre-facebook social network apps. There is an issue with privacy – it’ better to use a lat/lon based registration system since that is approximate and anonymous, as opposed to address-based.

  18. ppearlman

    i love reading yr blog posts early in the morning and then checking back much later when theres a lull in the action to read the thoughtful comments….

  19. captain flummox

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart since my first real job was as a reporter for a tiny-town newspaper. First, Idisagree with the comment that government information is a big yawn. Well, it’s often presented in yawnworthy fashion, but the effects of government actions — zonings, bond referendums etc. become a lot more interesting when your lifestyle, safety, bank account, education of your children or property values are at stake. So even though some of that stuff might seem dry, many citizens will care, at least by the time they’re relatively adult. That’s valuable not just as information for citizens but as a check on local governments who might behave differently knowing there more scrutiny. Secondly, though reporters don’t get paid well, it does require a lot of time and a commitment to some level of objectivity. That’s not to say any neighbor couldn’t do it, just that every neighbor can’t. The NYT has editors, and they’ve still had plenty of problems in recent years. Finally, and I hate admit this, but just because a community is tight doesn’t mean its members should necessarily be trusted more than the general population. I’m a member of our Yahoo neighborhood group and a WOM recommendation I solicited from there turned out to be one of the worst and most expensive consumer experiences of my adult life. As for the tech of it , I agree that, dead simple is the only way to go.

  20. Mike Stein

    — And there isn’t enough of an incentive to produce hyperlocal content. If a mom (or dad) could blog for two hours every morning between dropping off her kids and going shopping and make $1000-2000/month doing that, we would see a lot more content getting produced. And who better to blog about the high school soccer game, the PTA meeting the night before, or the controversy about the new supermarket coming to town? –I think I saw a sign for that job on the telephone poll right off the freeway exit on my way home from work tonight.Clown.

  21. gruvr music map

    I can’t believe I just typed in a long thought out reply to this, and it got obliterated before I even posted it after I simply scrolled my browser window! urrrgh!

    1. Andres

      Thanks for the plug for BlinkGeo Stories. Yeah, it seems that the site was just too niche (geared towards geospatial news). Not sticky enough…but a worthwhile experiment.You can check out and… if you want to explore some local content all mashed up.Cheers,Andres

  22. Chuck Peters

    I have had this thought, for the last several years, that our current method of creating newspapers is backwards. We, for example, try to cover a two county area primarily, another six counties to a lesser extent, and another eight counties to some extent. We do so in a way that is somewhat interesting to most people. Then we chop it up and put it online.But, that is not how people live. I live in a rural neighborhood with a one mile circumference, am part of school, church and business communities, and several communities of interest. County lines don’t matter to those communities. I would like to know items of significance to those specific communities, developed by people who care about the communities, to be available to me in meaningful context wherever I am. That is why I am trying to explore the organization and operating systems for a local information utility (LIU) advocated by API.If we can make the LIU happen, then the newspaper, covering all of those counties could be organized to give me a broad overview of state, national and international events, not in detail, but so that I know they happened and can get more detail if I desire through the numerous news outlets that have made those stories commodities. The newspaper would have a local daily section, probably at a city level, that gave context and insight to major issues facing that larger community, with an emphasis on government, social service and community service issues, spiced with the best of the hyper-local and community of interest happenings. A weekly section could focus on the neighborhood. And, if I was interested in any of those stories, I could get deep and rich detail, prepared by those who cared deeply about those specific communities.Brittanica, no stranger to disruptive change, has a forum this month, mostly on the struggles of the newspaper industry, and some hope for future states. Blogs alone won’t give us the information to create, sustain and enjoy meaningful, high performance communities. The local content needs to be structured in a meaningful context, and who better to do it than the local media company, turned upside down and backwards?

  23. LocalsGuide

    Check out LocalsGuide.comA model out of Southern Oregon.It is a citizen journalism newspaper, created online and put into print monthly. It has been profitable from day one and had up close and personal pictures of Barack Obama and President Clinton’s visit to Medford Oregon..several hours before any main stream media source did!http://www.localsguide.comWeb 2 Print – Citizen Journalism – Hyper Local Publication