The Wall Street Journal published a great piece yesterday about the struggles of, the Washington Post’s bold attempt to provide hyperlocal news coverage for the DC suburb Loudon County (I’m sure the Post really appreciated the free press here). A year in, the site has yet to build a significant audience. The article interviews key players such as the well-respected Rob Curley, who led the effort, and Post executives Jim Brady and Don Graham, about the reasons for the site’s struggles.

The whole piece is worth reading, but if I had to distill the article down these would be the takeaways:

(1) The site was built in a vacuum. was conceived by a team of people from outside the community who did not do a good enough job of asking Loudoun County residents what they wanted out of the site.

“To penetrate those communities requires a more dedicated effort than the team was putting forth. Mr. Curley himself acknowledged he spent too much time talking to other newspaper publishers about the hyperlocal strategy and too little time introducing his team and the site to Loudoun County.”

(2) Competing internal interests can kill good ideas.

“Though seemed to promise an ideal combination of innovation and marketing muscle, it has failed to benefit from the reach of Mr. Curley says whenever a big story breaks involving Loudoun County, the Post typically publishes it on without a link to LoudounExtra. That deprives LoudounExtra of potential traffic. Nor does the Washingtonpost’s own dedicated Loudoun County page send visitors directly to its online sibling. In September, when Time Warner Inc.’s AOL unit announced it was moving its headquarters from Dulles, Va., to New York, the Post linked to the story on for a couple hours before moving the story back to its own site. That window of promotion fueled the Loudoun site’s best traffic day to date, Mr. Curley says.”

(3) Lawyers can kill good ideas.

“Mr. Curley says his team had been developing online tools to funnel Loudoun County-related video and photos to the site from other sites like YouTube, Facebook and Flickr, but couldn’t get approval from the Post’s legal team to launch the application. According to Mr. Brady, the legal team voiced concerns about who had legal claim to the content of those sites.”

Probably not coincidentally, Curley has left the Post for the Las Vegas Sun. It sounds like he has learned from point 1, and won’t have to deal with as many of the bureaucratic hoops revealed by points 2 and 3.

As he decamps with five colleagues to take on an Internet venture for the Las Vegas Sun, Mr. Curley acknowledges he didn’t get out into the community enough. “I was the one who was supposed to know we should be talking to Rotary Club meetings every day,” Mr. Curley said. “I dropped the ball. I won’t drop it in Vegas, dude.”

No one said it would be easy. And it’s no wonder some of the most innovative things you see are from small news organizations with more nimble structures than the Post.

Update: Tim Richardson, who was a member of the team that built the site at the Post, left a comment that challenges the WSJ article’s assertion that the site was built by a team of outsiders. Full comment is below but here is the most relevant portion:

But it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the journalists involved are “outsiders” and don’t understand the county. The editors and reporters at the Loudoun County bureau of The Washington Post have played an important role since the site’s inception. Post reporters who were covering the ins and outs of Loudoun County long before Rob’s team came into the picture are still contributing to the site on a daily basis.

Members of Rob’s team, myself included, immersed themselves into Loudoun County months before the site launched. We logged thousands of miles gathering content from all corners of the county and met with countless people in Loudoun beginning six or seven months before the launch. Once the site launched, the online staff continued covering stories with text and multimedia that complemented stories originating from the print staff. This offered readers a great deal of additional coverage of Loudoun that wasn’t available in the Post or on

Update 2: project lead Rob Curley weighs in on the WSJ article on his blog. Key quote:

From the second I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for the story, I knew exactly what I wanted to say in the interview, which was to point out that I thought the two biggest problems with were poor integration of the site with and not enough outreach into the community … ala basically me speaking with every community group that would have me.

And that both of those problems were my fault. Completely.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.