Tribune in the Hyperlocal Game with TribLocal

This is the second in a series of articles for Street Fight illuminating some of what the country’s media companies are doing to get into the hyperlocal space.

Tribune Company has long demonstrated its interest in reaching people on a local level — whether it’s through the company’s many local TV and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, their classifieds products or even their digital subsidiaries. The company was far ahead of other media in the early ’90s when they pushed content out over AOL and then the Web. And over the years they’ve also partnered with a number of local online efforts like Digital City.

While that experience might be useful to carry over from Local 1.0, the fact is nobody from that period is present today at TribLocal, a relatively new (2007) effort that has online and sites and weekly print companions sprouting up in Chicago neighborhoods like colourful, polished digital plumes. The company currently has 88 Web sites and 21 print editions with over 350,000 copies inserted in the Thursday’s edition of the Chicago Tribune. Street Fight spoke with TribLocal GM Jane Jansen about the company’s hyperlocal plans in general, daily deals in particular, and how it plans to become the “go-to source” for neighbourhood news in the Windy City.

How do you choose markets for TribLocal, and do you have plans to expand any more in the next year?
We don’t have any current plans to expand into more markets next year. When we launched the sites and print editions, the communities were chosen based on demographic information and commerce potential. We also evaluated such affinities like school districts, libraries, park districts and local government.

We serve areas that are covered by the Chicago Tribune. The combination of hyperlocal print and web sites has been a very effective solution for businesses. Additionally providing relevant content to consumers in multiple platforms has worked out as well.

Is there a broader plan to develop hyperlocal in markets where Tribune has no print presence?
It’s a possibility.

Jane Jansen, GMHow are these sites staffed – how many editors / reporters / ad sales?
We have a core group of about 20 people who oversee the Web sites and print publication production. The Chicago Tribunehired several local reporters for this initiative. Reporters share duties between the Chicago Tribune and TribLocal and a small marketing team.

In terms of the ad sales, we have a sales manager who is the lead person on the advertising side and the Chicago Tribune sales team sells TribLocal.

Does the standard template for the local affiliates include mobile apps?
Mobile apps are in the developmental stage at this time. As far as a template we do have a process for updating content, highlighting certain stories, promoting content and contests and using social media.

How is hyperlocal content gathered for the sites — how much is from paid reporters vs. volunteer community contributors?
While reporters will report and write several stories a day for their Web sites, the majority of content, events, photos and stories is contributed by the community. We recently hired some topic-specific bloggers to cover categories of interests (i.e. parenting, gardening, food and dining). This allows the reporters to focus on content that must be produced by a full-time journalist. The user-generated content therefore is lighter news and much of these posts focus on events or not-for-profit organisations normally not covered in newspapers, even community newspapers.

Are things going well? What has reader feedback been like?
Our efforts are paying off. We recently conducted a reader survey and consumers’ feedback was positive on the re-designed Web site and print product. We recently won the best re-launched Web site from the Society of News Design. The improved Web sites are more user-friendly and provide more social networking capabilities to share information. The avid print readers appreciate the local coverage since several other community newspapers have scaled back on their resources.

How much of the editorial focus on hyperlocal is top-down? How much is it dictated by national-level needs from the paper?
The gathering of news is much more cooperative than top-down in nature. Reporters are constantly in their community talking to sources and following up on tips. They communicate with their local news editors to prioritise stories so they can focus on the most important stories.  In the same way, the community producers have a closeness to their communities that allows them to highlight the most relevant local content on each Web site.

For staff-written stories the focus is local government, crime and police, transportation and local schools. The reporters in each town zero in on these subjects. As far as highlighting user-generated content, each community and its site is unique and the focus is on local events, people and photos.

Is TribLocal driving significant ad revenue? If so, how is it being sold?
This year we will meet our revenue and operating cash flow expectations in print and online. TribLocal will be profitable this year. Since the Web site re-launch in September of 2010, we have increased our Web traffic 500 times compared to last year. This year we will meet our revenue and operating cash flow expectations in print and online. The local ad sales team sells the portfolio of local products including TribLocal directly to businesses. The customer solution approach helps to develop stronger relationships with these clients.

Are you planning daily deals programs?
Yes, we are testing Chicago Shopping deals (Chicago Tribune’s shopping site) in selective towns and we will be rolling out more deal programs in other suburbs this summer.

Is there a future strategic goal for the hyerlocal efforts?
We would like to become the hyperlocal “go-to source” for news and information in the towns we serve.  The other goals are to increase and engage local audience as well as to help the small/medium sized businesses grow and build their loyal customer base.

What do you think of some of the hyperlocal news /lifestyle sites like Patch and the recent TBD?
They are interesting concepts, but different from our approach. We believe having content available on multiple platforms gives us an advantage.

Since TribLocal is associated with well-known Chicago brands (Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com, WGN and CLTV), we have been able to leverage resources and work collaboratively to the cover local news like no one else in the marketplace. We also have demonstrated that we can generate revenue as a hyperlocal product.

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