According to Journal reporter Russell Adams, there have been a number of problems, from a failure to commit sufficient resources to an odd strategic decision not to link to the site from WashingtonPost.com. But I wonder if there’s something larger going on.
To an extent, the Post’s woes strike me as similar to those of Microsoft. For years, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and company acted as though they knew someone was going to come along and steal their lunch money someday. And so they moved aggressively, most memorably destroying Netscape and earning themselves a massive antitrust suit in the process.
But, in the end, Microsoft couldn’t overcome the tendency of huge, established companies not to be able to anticipate what’s next. And so Google slipped onto the scene, making a ton of money with online advertising and slowly but surely developing free, Web-based applications that may someday make a program like Microsoft Office (or at least the idea of paying for it) obsolete.
Likewise, when it comes to hyperlocal online journalism, I think it’s more likely that community-based bloggers will start doing real journalism, and embrace professional standards, than it is that big papers like the Post will be able to dominate that turf.
At least the Post has a national and international audience. What about big regional metros such as the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Denver Post and the like? If there’s no longer a market for such papers doing international and national coverage, don’t they have to embrace the hyperlocal model?
Not necessarily. It could be that what they really need to do is find the sweet spot — completely dominate regional coverage of state and local politics, business, sports, health and the arts, while leaving the national and international coverage to the Post and the New York Times, and the Little League banquets to community papers and bloggers.
In Massachusetts, Web sites tied to local weeklies (such as GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local project) and dailies (such as the Cape Cod Times and the Eagle-Tribune papers) strike me as being more connected at the local level than the Globe’s site, Boston.com. Local blogs are proliferating; here are a few, covering Brighton, Arlington and Newton.
It will be a tough trick for big papers to pull off. The Post’s failures thus far in Loudoun County are specific enough that it’s hard to generalize from them. But I find it difficult to imagine that the Globe will ever be the first place you’ll want to go to find out what the lunch menu is in your child’s elementary school.