In the UK the closure of regional newspapers has led to a yawning absence of local news and information. The want for hyperlocal articles, whether that’s straight news or listings of upcoming events, is so acute the Carnegie Trust has called on the UK government to provide financial backing to community blogs to help fill the void.
The situation in Dallas, though, is different. Dallas Morning News, Inc has seen a similar progression in terms of its business strategy as many of its UK counterparts, having closed or sold off some of its individual print titles to focus on protecting its core proposition. But its core news brand, the Dallas Morning News, has seen positive results from its digital hyperlocal news strategy that has in turn led to overall digital growth.
Grant Moise is senior vice president, business development and niche products at The Dallas Morning News (DMN):
«We used to own multiple newspapers across many states but have recently sold off a paper in California and Rhode island to double down on inventing the North Texas and specifically North Dallas Fort Worth marketplace into a multimedia and marketing services company.
«I think we have found that a lot of our digital product strategy. As the Dallas Morning News we’re trying to work out how do we become as relevant as possible to the local market.»
While the definition of ‘local’ is obviously flexible, and the Dallas-Forth Worth area is the fourth largest metropolitan zone in the United States, the challenge facing the DMN is similar to that of its counterparts in the UK: finding the balance between producing relevant local content and attracting advertisers for whom that relatively smaller audience is attractive.
How local is local?
But the DMN faces an additional challenge – attracting local advertisers when such a large proportion of its audience is coming from outside the zone to get news of the internationally recognised sports team the Dallas Cowboys:
«What has been difficult for us over time – particularly in Dallas – a lot of our traffic historically has come from outside the Dallas market and outside of the state, and that is much harder to monetise for us.
«I think we worry we won’t attract the local marketplace because that’s where we make our money. It’s difficult when we’re attracting as many people as we do from outside the local market, so [we have] that very intentional strategy of being more hyperlocal and utilitarian with our content and ad strategy.»
That’s also meant refocusing on providing services particularly suited to hyperlocal consumers, in addition to its news content. The launch of the beta version of its arts and entertainment website Guide Live, for example, is specifically designed as a resource for local consumer. That should hopefully lead to the site being a destination for an audience based in the Dallas area, which in turn makes it a more attractive proposition for local advertisers. Moise says:
«We’re trying to make things like that have a lot more utility that just news. Because if the information is actionable then it’s going to be more local.
«Because of the geotargeting technology that we have on all of our advertising, we’re not as worried about the neighbourhood level. We do cover neighbourhood-level content and it’s important to us, but at the same time if a nighbourhood is consuming some larger news that’s meant for the metropolitan area that’s OK, because we can geographically target them through the ad serving technology.»
Mobile and hyperlocal
But the challenge isn’t just finding the audience and serving them with appropriate ads – like most publishers the Dallas Morning News is contending with the fact the consumption habits of its audience are changing as connected devices become more widespread. In 2013 Dallas was the US city with the highest smartphone and tablet adoption rate, and that’s had an effect on where Moise sees an increasing proportion of its audience arriving from:
«[Lately] we have seen some of our largest unique visitors coming to our site – in December we had nine million unique visitors and over half of them were coming on mobile. The apps are doing well – we have a map where in the late summer we’re going to be doing a pretty significant refresh on those.
«We’ve been more focused on the HTML5 experience than we have within the native applications. The traffic numbers to the mobile web are just significantly larger than they are in the app.»
Although the Dallas Morning News might not face exactly the same situation as regional and local publishers in the UK, then, the inherent challenges and potential solutions are the same: Serve your local audience well with the hyperlocal content, and both they and advertisers will come.
Image courtesy of John McStravick via Flickr used under a creative commons license.