Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loudoun County HyperLocal News Online – What’s Next in Loudoun Social Media and Blogs in Suburban Washington DC

Quite a lot of news, analysis and conferencing has been going on lately about the challenges of the traditional news community, both online and in print. The advances of “citizen journalism” catalyzed by Internet social media tools like Twitter and real-time search are contributing to far-reaching outcomes - from the demise of long-lived newspapers like Colorado’s Rocky Mountain News and the shuttering of the Washington Post’s hyperlocal LoudounExtra.com experiment, to interesting conversations at the recent REBlogWorld and DC Twitter Conference regarding both opportunities and competitive animosities between journalists and bloggers competing for online “eyeballs”.

When we first moved to Loudoun County in the late 90’s, comprehensive local news was an afterthought to the large newspapers and regional broadcast media, and seemed mostly relegated to the entrenched local papers like Leesburg Today and the Loudoun Times. Of course, the citizen and business population was quite lower, too. Actual or “near real time” news was only gained via local radio and special TV reports, perhaps a radio-shack emergency band scanner, and the growing proliferation of neighborhood online chat, discussion and email groups. Very few non-personal blogs existed, but picking up the phone was still useful to contact local authorities and reporters.

Today, our “situational awareness” of local and regional events is multi-channel and immediate, and can be filtered to precise interests, sources or level of abstraction. This past Friday night, for example, large explosions permeated our neighborhood – a bit odd for this time of year, but immediately provoking both memories of a deadly natural gas explosion in 1998 and our latent, persistent homeland-security uneasiness. Finding out what was happening was pretty efficient – a few searches on Twitter, a look at the local events calendars, a call or two to the neighbors…a homecoming football game fireworks display was the culprit. “Traditional media” coverage was to be found the next day, in game reviews and search engine results…but event-to-analysis lag was at least 12 hours.

Where then, and why, should we be going to find the best “hyperlocal” news as a Loudoun County resident? Is “hyperlocal” truly relevant, particularly in this area of interstitial communities, long-ranging commuters and multi-county politic, economic and government service dependencies? Can traditional publishers of general interest news and the journalists they support coexist with or ultimately become the “Internet Media” Geoff Livingston alluded to in his prognostications for the future of social media?

This particular blog is an example of a constantly evolving solution to our Loudoun County and regional news interests. While started many years ago in response to a hyperlocal “Comprehensive Planning Amendment” (CPAM) issue in the Braddock Road/Dulles South area, it’s grown to include and syndicate information about mostly business, education and community interest items not only in the Loudoun County/Dulles South region, but in Western Prince William, Western Fairfax, and other Northern Virginia areas. We broadcast information through most online social media channels (such as @loudoun on Twitter), aggregate and curate great material from Loudoun-centric news sources, citizens, businesses and nonprofits (for example via @loudoun_news), and syndicate this material as necessary to regional and national channels (for example through BlogNetNews.com, our Loudoun Times blog, @northernva_news, and many social media sites including Mixx and LinkedIn.).

We asked other prominent local bloggers and journalists who’ve routinely covered Loudoun County local and regional news what their perspectives were to these questions. For example, Dan Sousa, a self-described “old newspaper guy who has worked for newspapers for more than 30 years” relates; “When I speak to high school journalism classes and ask how many kids read a paper daily and not a single student raises their hand - then the writing is indeed on the wall! What will replace the newspaper as the "hyperlocal" news deliverer? Probably not 1,000 competing blogs, but the future may lie in a collaboration or network of these new journalists into portals that present their niche offerings to the public as part of an overall patchwork of Loudoun coverage.”

Sousa’s broad and detailed coverage of local Loudoun sports (prep/high school and youth) at http://www.vivaloudoun.com and LoudounPrepSports reflects his opinion that “even though Loudoun is home to far-flung commutes and a wide array of interests and cultures, "hyperlocal" news still matters especially in those areas closest to home such as education and high school and youth sports. Where is the next high school going to be built? What about recent crime in my neighborhood? How did the local football team do Friday night? What time is the local book fair Saturday? These are all questions that tie a community together, whether the neighbors are transplants from New Jersey, lifelong Loudoun residents or a family that recently emigrated from India.”

A very similar perspective comes from Erin Rice at http://www.suburbanfizz.com (and the organizer of the very successful Loudoun “Bloggers for Good” charity support events), who says “I've found hyperlocal news to be incredibly helpful in ad hoc but frequent and repeatable situations. I use local sources to learn about community events, opportunities, and news events. When there was a violent crime in my neighborhood, local news was extremely important. I relied on it to find out what happened, the status of the investigation, and how it affected me. As rumors circulated and panic mounted, it was local -- and reliable -- news websites that kept me informed and even influenced my behavior, suggesting ways to get involved and stay safe. The importance of local news grows as community ties grow stronger. The more skin we have in the local "game," in areas like schools, public safety, access to health care, traffic, government, taxes, real estate values all increase the dependence we have on hyperlocal news. National news is critical, but access to local information is equally important. Frankly, on any given day, construction on Route 7 or a new school lunch policy can affect my world more than any bill before congress.”

Here at Gateway to Loudoun, we’re not journalists in the formal professional definition. We are, however, recognized subject-matter experts in many areas (mostly enterprise systems engineering and architecture, social media, internet marketing and business management), and we know many other SMEs who have much to add to the intellectual conversation and analysis of Loudoun-related material. The timely and relevant insight available from these SMEs ranges from widely-covered technology issues to very local Loudoun politics, sports, education, real estate, business services and wine making. This network of SMEs and contributors is a hugely valuable source of information, and does include trained journalists. Much of our own analysis and research for use in publishing (whether for business, marketing or community use) certainly leverages the work of journalists, and much of it doesn’t – especially the more “real-time” material, or very subject vs. event-specific topics. I’ll point out that information posted by SMEs, journalists, media, bloggers and everyone else on the Internet is equivalently classified as “unverified open source” by the government when it comes to authoritative sources of information for real-time incident management operations – it’s all scanned, it’s all considered and much very quickly does become “verified” in context, on merits of trustworthiness and substantiated relevance.

Therefore, we’ve created a citizen-sourced “Loudoun Internet Media” hub of sorts - that while somewhat subjective to our interests, is published, personalized, accessible and syndicated in a manner that it can quickly, in near real-time provide a broad cross-section of Loudoun news and information from citizen and business perspectives, and routes to find more. It’s also helpful to include some advertising – this ensures the capability to keep the hub operating and brings local businesses and nonprofits to the table to communicate their own events in an equitably recognized manner. We’d expect other blog-centric Internet Media hubs to develop, and the network of blog hubs with attending links of relationship-vetted contributors and SME-vetted material to become a truly verifiable source of news as you need it in Loudoun.

While Internet search will continue to be a primary channel find a lot of this, as Google and Bing move towards more “real-time indexing” of sites like Twitter, the need for a constant destination site or “dashboard” will remain (as will, we predict, the need for the armchair dashboard – i.e. printed newscopy). Some local news sites are evolving this way, for example the Loudoun Times with its local and well-known blogger corps mix of employed and citizen journalists, its balanced use of multi-media and granular RSS feeds, its not-too-intrusive advertiser promotion, and its quickly growing and conversational Twitter presence.

Keep up with Loudoun County Internet Media AND Traditional Media sources here at Gateway to Loudoun County, through the sources and web channels of those mentioned in this article (we’ve conveniently assembled a list of notable Loudoun-news tweeters here; all media sources are aggregated under @loudoun_news), and through subscriptions to other Internet Media services who cover or syndicate what our hyperlocal knowledge community produces.

The Loudoun News BlogRoll

Here’s The List of notable, active, general Loudoun news-centric blogs to follow – not just from Loudoun, but about Loudoun.


There do exist other blogs, directories and websites associated with Loudoun in one way or another, though not as focused on actually delivering news and information about Loudoun - or simply not very well-maintained or delivered. KME Internet Marketing has the entire list of Loudoun-centric online traditional and social media websites, blogs and directories, along with the return-on-investment estimates (ROIs) for local advertisers to use them (if they accept advertising)...contact us if you'd like to take advantage of this.

- Ted & Kelly

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3 Comments:

Blogger Heather Elias said...

Hello! I sat on the panel discussion at REBlogWorld regarding hyperlocal blogging, and it was an interesting discussion. What struck me most was the animosity that traditional media holds for bloggers (real estate bloggers in particular), while from my perspective as a local blogger, I view the relationship with the local media as more symbiotic. I'm personally still disappointed that the Washington Post gave up on Living in LoCo and the Loudoun Extra project.

~Heather Elias
(author of LoCoMusings.com)

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you may want to add www.dullesdistrict.com to your list of hyperlocal sites. From a high school football standpoint, I'm not sure anyone's doing it better...

4:35 PM  
Blogger Danilo Bogdanovic said...

Much like Heather, I also sat on a panel discussion here locally yesterday and it was an interesting discussion as well.

The one advantage I see with local blogging is that the folks blogging are much more heavily involved in the community than many of the mass media journalists who may be writing a story about a community or area that they either don't live in or that their office is another town away from. Local bloggers often give greater detail and provide a faster flow of information.

Danilo Bogdanovic
(author of LouduonScene.com)

11:16 AM  

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