Downsizing drama at Backfence

backfence.gifPoynter’s Amy Gahran has a good roundup on the bloodletting (that is, the CEO leaving and the big staff cutbacks taking place) at the hyperlocal site Backfence.

Gahran wonders whether an operation such as Placeblogger has a better shot at becoming a nationwide hyperlocal operation. Is that an oxymoron? I’m of the mind that the institution best positioned to encourage community participation is the local newspaper. And really, it’s a critical way to maintain the newspaper’s standing as a vital part of the area’s identity and the reflection of the community it serves.

Nevertheless, it’s likely that an aggregator will emerge to successfully bring together hyperlocal media outlets, much in the way that Google News brings together many local sources of news into one window.

Author: Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's and 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.

5 thoughts on “Downsizing drama at Backfence”

  1. Thanks for mentioning my article. Actually, Backfence was specifically trying to be a citizen journalism / participatory media operation, which is obviously difference from what mainstream papers (regardless of size) aim to do.

    You have a point — I’d love it if local papers, especially small ones (even weeklies) would get more involved with fostering citizen journalism and participatory media. But the reality is that those organizations are already generally struggling just to get the paper out, and they see the print edition as their main mission. Their web sites barely go beyond shovelware, if that. Are they likely to tackle this emerging aspect of news and community? I’d love to think so, but I’d be kidding myself.

    – Amy Gahran

  2. Thanks for dropping in Amy. I very much enjoy your blog on Poynter. I’d say becoming a participatory media operation is significantly easier for an established news site because of the fact that it can leverage its brand recognition in the community. Like the experiments done using game theory and having strangers find each other in a city, I believe people are naturally drawn to the big newspaper in town as a sort of focal point — at least they still are today. Who knows if that will hold true 15 years from now. Nevertheless, that clout can translate into a successful citizen media operation that works hand-in-hand with the big paper, even if the relationship might get adversarial from time to time as the citizen journalists fire criticism at the paper.

    The key ingredient is not necessarily a robust AJAX-powered site with tons of widgets, but rather, the presence of an advocate, an evangelist if you will, who will build the community’s spirit and purpose. Check out this excellent article from Vitamin regarding this:

    Whether newspapers will step up, well, your guess is as good as I mine. But the chances are getting better (I hope!). I do think an operation like Placeblogger has the potential to aggregate all of these small citizen media shops into one searchable playground. The big problem I see with Backfence (or Yahoo Local or any other national company) is that they are trying to PRODUCE the content rather than just serve it up from other sources.

  3. I agree with you, Danny, about what these papers *could* be doing. The issue is, *would* they? I’ve talked to a lot of these people at smaller dailies and weeklies — I think it’s generally very unlikely. The technology won’t make a damn bit of difference if the people aren’t willing to make changes in their mission and how they use their resources. (And I would love nothing better than to be proven wrong on this.)

    – Amy Gahran

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