Washington Post on the Backfence meltdown

The Washington Post has a more in-depth report on the recent staff cutbacks and loss of the CEO at the hyperlocal site Backfence. Some of the more stinging remarks:

“Realistically, it’s going to take close to 10 years for the business models to be there and for there to be enough advertisers willing to give money to hyperlocal start-ups,” said Vin Crosbie, managing partner of Digital Deliverance, a Connecticut media consulting firm. “Backfence’s problem is that it was too early.”

“They haven’t really been able to capture the genuine interest of local residents on passionate issues like crime,” said Peter Krasilovsky, a consultant who has been following Backfence’s development.

“It’s downsized to a modest team of people and they’re out of money,” [Frank Bonsal, one of Backfence’s angel investors] said. “At this point, I don’t look for any return or any prospect of recovery.”

Ouch.

Does this mean Backfence is not a viable model, or is it just too ahead of its time? There is a sharp distinction to be made between Backfence’s cookie-cutter type of approach and a site with such local flavor as Baristanet or an aggregator of such sites like the new Placeblogger. See Tish Gier’s recent post, “Citizen Shovelware isn’t Citizen Journalism.”

Nevertheless, I’d say that the lesson for those of us who are in the business of producing content is that traditional media outlets, that is newspapers, need to put it in gear quickly and leverage their standing in the community so they can become an integral part of the discussions taking place online.

Make no mistake: If the local newspaper doesn’t get hip and develop an online community (and that doesn’t just mean snarky message board minions), they will eventually face someone who will. And it will then become a choice of bearing another spirited online competitor or spending the bucks to buy them out.

About Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's Sun-Sentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com. Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.
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