We've talked a good amount on this blog about the value of hyper-local and niche content in the media.  Mark Glaser from PBS Mediashift had a great post a couple of days ago talking about the value and difficulty of getting locally-based sites maintained by citizen journalists off the ground.  It definitely is not easy to get sites like these off the ground, as Mark notes that "journalism is hard work".  While the concept of having local citizens gather around a central online location to exchange locally-based news, events, comments, and opinions sounds like a great idea, many have tried this tactic and failed (Glaser refers to a couple of these sites in his post).  This got me thinking more about the role newspapers play in providing localized content.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Newspaper websites already have a few things that these new hyper local sites don't necessarily have: an audience and a platform.   This is part of the reason I believe that newspaper websites would be well-served to offer more localized content online.  Citizens can get national news anywhere.  They can only get local news from their local papers. 

PaidContent.org notes that localizing print content can be costly, and I believe it can be controversial, as well.  For example, a few weeks ago, I spent some time with some friends from Maine who were discussing the fact that a story about a mouse that stole an old man's dentures made the front page of the local paper.  While many people (reflected in the article's comments) thought that the story was a relief from the more typical depressing and nationally-focused headlines, others were upset by the fact that much "more important" things were going on in the world and the paper's editors decided to write about a denture-stealing-mouse.  

In contrast to the problems caused by localizing print content, localizing online content is easier and less expensive:

"Hyperlocal sites stand a greater chance of success because they are much less expensive to produce and can be even more local than print editions. " (via PaidContent.org)

With this in mind, maybe the Tampa Tribune is moving in the right direction with its newly announced focus on providing readers with local content.  Of course, no one likes to see people lose their jobs (The Tribune cut 70 jobs from its force in order to make allowances for the new strategy), but I think that the people of the Tampa area will get a great new resource as a result.  PaidContent.org reported that Tampa Bay Online (TBO) will launch 15 hyper-local websites in an effort to become a leader in localized news.   

Here are a few excerpts from the announcement via TBO :

"We know from research that our readers want news that is hyperlocal and useful to their daily lives,” Denise Palmer, president and publisher of the Tribune, said Tuesday. “We plan to provide more focused products to better serve changing reader and advertiser needs. At the same time, we will accelerate efforts to operate more efficiently.”

"The Tribune also will redirect many newsroom employees to focus more time on delivering news and other content to the paper’s online partner, TBO.com, as part of a continuing evolution, “to take those walls down,”…

In addition to refocusing efforts online, The Tampa Tribune is changing some of its distribution strategies and making the paper physically smaller, in reaction to the current transition in the newspaper industry.  While this may sound ominous to some, I think it is refreshing.  It seems like this Tampa publication is willing to step out of the traditional newspaper format in search of something better.

TBO has launched a few of these hyperlocal sites already: Brandon News, Suncoast News-Pasco, and Suncoast News-Pinellas.  While these sites leave  something to be desired, the framework is there for valuable local and community features, as users can comment on articles, read about local events, discuss issues in forums, and submit user-generated photos.  TBO could take things a step further by offering community or journalist blogs, but these local sites are definitely a great start.

I really think that the concept of creating hyperlocal sites through the newspaper will be an advantage both for the Tampa Tribune and the newspaper readers of that region.  The people will get more of the news that they want the most, and the paper will be able to expand its services without taking on a additional financial or workforce burdens. More papers should take advantage of their already-established online readership and platforms to provide localized and niche content.