The layoffs at Patch have been met around the industry as the latest sign that hyperlocal can’t work because of the difficulties in scaling content and ad sales locally while attracting a reasonable quorum of local readers. Hale Global, the new owners at Patch, don’t believe it. And neither do the hundreds of people who make up an extended hyperlocal community, including a number of ex-Patchers who remain at least personally committed to making hyperlocal work.
Chris Jennewein has been pushing the envelope in hyperlocal since the early days of Videotex at The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Since then, we’ve followed him as he lead a series of major initiatives at Knight Ridder Digital, The San Diego Union Tribune, The San Diego News Network, The Las Vegas Sun and most recently, as Southern California’s editorial leader for Patch.
Today, Jennewein launched The Times of San Diego. Is he The Man of LaMancha, chasing the Impossible Dream? I asked him a few questions via email.
Q: People think hyperlocal will never work. What did you learn about what does work?
The challenge with hyperlocal is to match the market size with the economic opportunity. Bigger markets simply have more opportunity. We think the San Diego metropolitan area, with a population of 3.2 million, is a sufficiently large opportunity and yet still local. In fact, in today’s world regional is probably local because people commute long distances and their personal and professional networks stretch far beyond individual communities.
Q: What have you learned about San Diego as a media market in terms of hyperlocal? Pros and cons?
San Diego may be farther along in regionalization that some older markets in America. San Diegans think they live in the entire metro area, not just La Jolla or Chula Vista or Carlsbad. So a regional news source is more likely to succeed here.
Q: Is this a model you can take to other markets?
I think this is a model that would definitely work in other markets, especially in the West, but our focus is solely San Diego right now.
Q: Do you think you are directly competing with other media properties at this point? Which ones?
We’re not competing with other media but instead going after what we call “unaffiliated local news consumers.” These are people who get news from a wide variety of sources on an almost serendipitous basis. Our goal is to provide this audience with essential local news and information in an easy-to-consume manner.