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Newspapers haven’t done too well with local search, despite efforts to leverage their potential mix of human editors and algorithms. But made more of an effort than many others, launching a local search/directory effort in 2006. As chronicled by Nieman Lab, that effort started out on a promising note but quickly plateaued.

Given the lackluster results, might have dumped its search efforts altogether. But the project’s sunk costs — more than six figures — were too great to ignore. This was especially the case given the newspaper’s serious financial predicament.

Instead, the site lowered expectations. As we noted in our coverage at that time, let Google handle many of the search site elements, and started thinking of its end of the equation as a “platform” rather than a “product.” Basically, it decided to get out of the business of selling keywords.

VP of Products and Technology Bob Kempf told Nieman that search’s new use would be to “find, assemble, and publish targeted content” around the core information. That would deepen’s relationship with users, even if they also used other search engines for research and discovery.

The effort has also better positioned the site for hyperlocal “Your Town” sites in the Boston-area. Targeted articles get pushed out to neighborhood sections. Ultimately, Kempf told Nieman that he believes the search platform will offset the initial investment.

Will any newspaper ultimately breakthrough with local search sales? This is the question that will be addressed on the podium when The LA Times’ Andy Vogel shares the stage with WebVisible’s Kirsten Mangers and Yodle’s Court Cunningham at ILM:09 next week.

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