This current sports effort will begin this month in 38 Gannett media markets, including Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Denver, CO. The full rollout is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.This patchwork approach to coverage (also AOL's model for its Patch sites) is probably the future for newspaper chains and national media companies, as they go smaller, more local and more niche with their coverage but use their vast resources and broad name recognition to create a regional or national networks based on common themes. It's sort of what the fragmentation of the small- and medium-size newspaper was heading for anyway.
Is it hard to imagine MediaNews, Belo and Gannett partnering on a regional high school sports network that pushes scores and updates to mobile devices while feasting on what's left of the auto and mall advertisers in Southern California?
It would make sense under this model for other popular beats - cops, courts, schools, weather - to be strung together and published on similar platforms. Readers might turn to a regional or national Gannett-run network to get their local police blotter, for instance. The model uses fewer journalists, offers a single focus and yet still allows the company to sell ads on a regional or national level.
It's not the greatest news for journalists, given that the coverage is almost certain to lead to fewer jobs, require less skill, offer less interesting experience, and create a box that eschews enterprise or creativity.
Here's how Ken Doctor sees it in his examination of AOL's Patch:
At the same time, Doctor points out that the oxymoron of national chains doing hyperlocal is probably the way of the future. Here's why (again, using Patch as the example):
The fact that Patch is getting such recognition, and discussion, is another indicator of how thoroughly journalism has fallen on hard times. The announcement of the hiring of a single journalist in a single community? That was the stuff of internal newsroom memos not too long ago. It’s as if the news industry is struggling to rebuild itself, cell by cell, just as researchers are figuring out how humans themselves can regenerate lost limbs and organs.
It seems to me that scale is a plus in a couple of ways: 1) national ad sales (witness the Pepsi Refresh campaign running across the current sites) and 2) technology costs, with one centralized production and presentation system, one that should be able to get to market quicker with tech innovations. In two important ways, though, scale will be of a lot less help — and these are core to the site’s promise and success: 1) local content production and 2) local ad sales. Patch, with its organizational structure, will get some efficiency boost through regionalized ad selling and some content sharing (as sites with a common school district may combine coverage, for instance). In the main, though, the hard work of gathering local news and selling local merchants isn’t greatly helped by the national brand.