Is Hyper-local News Coming to a Newspaper Near You?

Many newspapers in small to medium sized U.S. cities are adopting a “hyper-local” format. If you live in a large city such as Chicago, New York, or L.A.,  you may not have taken note of this trend.  Take a look at the following front page from a recent issue of the Janesville Gazette. Janesville, Wisconsin (recently famous for being Vice-Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan’s home town) is a city of 65,000 people and its newspaper, the Gazette, is published seven days a week. About three years ago, suffering from lagging subscriptions and declining readership, the Gazette switched to a “hyper-local” format. This format emphasizes local news for and about the Janesville community and its immediate geographical region. I suggest you click on the image in order to see the details clearly.

Front Page of the Janesville Gazette, November 21, 2012

In an increasingly globalized world, I don’t believe that this format appropriately serves its readership. In fairness to the Gazette, national and international news appeared occasionally on the first page during the presidential campaign and electoral season. And, it should be noted that its op-ed page is politically balanced and features nationally recognized columnists, even though the editorial stance of the Gazette, itself, is quite conservative. Nonetheless, the hyper-local format fails to address the national and international news needs of the Janesville readership. Janesville is a thriving city with numerous national and international connections economically and culturally. Indeed, the Janesville City School System teaches Chinese in its elementary and middle schools, and is hoping to expand those offerings into the high schools.

The position of the Gazette on this issue appears to be that national and international news is important, but that kind of  news is readily available elsewhere, primarily from television and the Internet. I won’t begin to address the miserable state of television news. And, I think that expecting people who lead busy lives to get their national and international news from the Internet is wishful thinking. I haven’t done a survey, but I’m guessing that the Gazette is the primary serious news source for Janesville residents. Even small modifications of the hyper-local format would be welcome. Perhaps, in the example above, we could move the picture of the fellow painting his house to, say, page 2.

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