Hyperlocal sites are often run by earnest people who have just enough naivete about them to put in the hours and chase the dream, right? Former Yahoo and NJ.com exec Susan Mernit probably doesn’t qualify.
But Mernit, a 10-year resident of the Bay Area, is nevertheless chasing the dream at Oakland Local. The new hyperlocal site has received some funding from a Knight Foundation project but is otherwise on its own to succeed as a 501 C.
Mernit says the site has been designed to fill in the blanks for Oakland, which operates in San Francisco’s shadow and has no “unified” media. That became readily apparent after the New Year’s Day shooting on the BART mass transit system. The media focused on shopkeepers windows being broken, but didn’t think about the mothers with children riding mass transit, says Mernit.
“At the end of the day, Oakland Local is really about helping civic engagement,” says Mernit. To that end, the site has organized many of the area’s 180 blogs into a TechCrunch-influenced OakDirectory. If users don’t subscribe to every feed of every blog, the information is hard to find and keep up with, she notes.
The site also supplements the blogs with its own staff of six people, all of whom are part time. Among those joining Mernit on the task are longtime social media vets Amy Gahran and Kwan Booth. Mernit expects her human editors to differentiate computer-based aggregators that don’t have local feet on the street, like Topix.net and Outside.in.
While the site will take advertising — $250 per month — it will mostly be focusing on building audiences for the next six to eight months. One effort in that direction is the Techliminal “Social Media for Social Action” community workshop that the site is running this weekend (which is almost sold out).