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The Downfall of Loudoun County Extra

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Kim Dunbar

Born and raised outside Boston, I came to Chicago for the pizza, but stay for the people.

I believe the main reason LoudounExtra.com failed was because the writers did not understand or properly serve the communities they reported about.  As Jenn Kloc and Molly Horan--creators of Lincoln Park Now--said in a class visit, the key to a successful hyperlocal website is finding the heart of the community and reporting about the issues the residents care about.  In essence, LoudounExtra.com covered the news happening in a county, but not the issues at the heart of that community.  

In the Wall Street Journal article "Big Daily's Hyperlocal Flop," Russell Adams wrote that Loudoun County was "a 520 square-mile area with seven towns whose residents share little else besides a county government."   Instead of addressing each community in this area as its own niche and market, The Washington Post clumped the area into one large one without understanding its audience. The ChicagoNow neighborhood blogs serve each of Chicago's many communities with separate websites, avoiding this major mistake.    

In his article "It's a lo-o-o-ong way form Lawrence, Kan., to Loudoun County, Va.," Tom Grubisich wrote that the content on LoudounExtra.com website was not very appealing and did not address the audience.  The day he looked at the website, the top story was about a school hearing that would not produce a decision or any changes for three months, and then later documented some severe weather in the county.  This is information a reader could get anywhere and doesn't immediately affect them (at least for three months).

It is also information that would appear on The Washington Post website.  It is not the tailored, hyperlocal coverage of proms, football games and crime reports LoudounExtra.com promised to deliver.  Adams wrote that whenever a big story broke in Loudoun County, it would be published on The Washington Post website, without linking to LoudounExtra.com. 

I believe that in order for LoudounExtra.com to catch on and to become the first place for which the community looks for its news, The Washington Post should not have posted the news on their main website.  Like our class ChicagoNow community blogs, the hyperlocal Gold Coast and Old Town sites stand on their own. They appear to be independent of the Chicago Tribune, unlike LoudounExtra.com which never seemed to be separate from The Washington Post and got lost in the everyday news shuffle.

LoudounExtra.com might have also failed because The Washington Post failed to plan well and did not effectively use the resources available to them, especially when it came to advertising.  Claire Cain Miller theorizes in her article, "Washington Post ends hyperlocal news experiment," that the challenge of a hyperlocal site is that it is expensive to hire reporters to cover specific community beats and pricey to hire "salespeople to visit local businesses and sell ad space."  Unlike AOL's Maplewood Patch  and Gothamist network website The Chicagoist, The Washington Post did not use a system of revenue sharing with their hyperlocal website. 

LoudounExtra.com also did not utilize the idea of citizen journalism well, which would have saved the cost of reporters.  Grubisich wrote that the answer to a successful hyperlocal site is "to build a site that encourages people to express, in a variety of ways, how they think and feel about their community."  The Maplewood Patch website encourages the community to contribute and upload news on its front page and the Maplewood Local  has an electronic assignment desk listing events for community members to cover for the website. 

The Washington Post did not treat Loudoun County like a unique community.  The website's editor, Rob Curley, acknowledged in the above articles that he did not get out into the community enough.  LoudounExtra.com tried to run a hyperlocal operation from afar.  With Gold Coast and Old Town Now, we hit the ground running in the community, and now I understand why it was so important to do so. 

By getting to know the area and reaching out to the community members and business owners, we are getting a feel for what the people want from their news blog, finding the heart of the community and figuring out ways to engage the residents.  

Because we are putting the community first and letting the dynamics of each of them dictate what we cover and write about, this will be the difference between our successes and LoudounExtra.com's failure. 

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