Feb 24, 2011

Where hyperlocal news meets the “like” button

On Tuesday evening, I received a message via Facebook from Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, a friend and fellow hyperlocalist from Maryland. It was the kind of message that made me wince, smile and then slap my knee at her ingenuity.

First, the wince. Cotte Griffiths announced that she and her business partner, Brad Rourke, were pulling the plug on their Rockville (Md) Central news website. After three and a half years in publication, both had grown tired of juggling content creation and advertising sales, she told me. Furthermore, competition from Patch, another indie websitethe local print publication and the municipal government’s site made their reporting redundant, Rourke blogged.

Then came the smile. Rockville Central would live on as a news source through its Facebook page, where their fans were already gabbing about current events. With a combination of news aggregation and original reporting, “we can create a true community hub,” Cotte Griffiths wrote.

And then the knee slap. Even though Cotte Griffiths and Rourke won’t generate advertising revenue from their Facebook page, they can establish themselves as social-media experts with tabs on the local vibe. That can translate into serious revenue from social-media consulting, building an online presence for small businesses, nonprofit groups and even government agencies.

Then another knee slap. Facebook is already a mobile-friendly service, whether one uses its mobile website or a native (platform-specific) app. That gives the Rockville Central fan page greater reach without having to “mobilize” its own website or develop an expensive app. The technical witchcraft has already been done for them.

And still another knee slap. Cotte Griffiths and Rourke can take their social-media savvy onto Twitter, where they can generate revenue from sponsored tweets. Also, they can use the multimedia-heavy publishing platform Tumblr to build a portfolio of marketable stock photos or to publish original audio or video content, though Tumblr’s community of users is still small relative to Facebook and Twitter.

By the time I reached the closing salutations of Cotte Griffiths’ message, my knee was swollen from the slapping and I was swearing up a storm. (“Fucking genius!” came up a lot.) Sure, they’d have to stay ahead of the social-media curve in case some future service turns Facebook into MySpace. In the meantime, they can provide hyperlocal information, foster dialog among neighbors, and make bank as consultants.

One day after our Facebook exchange, the news of Rockville Central’s transition had made its way through Twitter. And by Wednesday evening, members of the Online News Association were talking about it at a mixer inside the offices of The New York Times. Some were intrigued, others were disappointed that local news would take this route.

I’m hitting the “like” button on this one.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr user Christopher S. Penn.

Share your ideas