By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Globe cuts Your Town staffing in half

Just catching up with this. Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal reports that The Boston Globe’s Your Town sites are being trimmed by six correspondents — approximately half the staff. Your Town, part of the Globe’s free website, provides hyperlocal coverage of the suburbs as well as of several Boston neighborhoods.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 8.38.56 AMGlobe regional editor David Dahl tells Chesto that there will be no site closures. But it seems inevitable that there will be cuts in coverage, even though Globe staff reporters and freelancers will continue to contribute. There are more than 100 Your Town sites and about 15 related Your Campus websites covering colleges and universities in Greater Boston.

Your Town got off to a shaky start in 2008, as GateHouse Media — which operates Wicked Local sites in virtually all of the same communities targeted by Your Town — sued the New York Times Co. (the Globe’s owner, at least for a few more weeks) for copyright infringement, arguing that the Your Town sites in some cases aggregated virtually all of GateHouse’s content for a given community without offering much else.

The two sides reached an out-of-court settlement in early 2009, as I reported for The Guardian. Your Town eventually grew into a valuable resource in many communities. But it looks like the sites, which carry little advertising, got to be too expensive to operate.

Chesto writes that the cuts call hyperlocal coverage into question as a business strategy, noting that AOL’s Patch sites are in the midst of deep cuts as well. But though hyperlocal may well be a loser at the corporate chain level, there are a number of successful independent sites operating across the country. You could read a book about such sites, hint, hint. The real issue is that hyperlocal is best understood as a grassroots phenomenon.

Did Globe executives reach this decision on their own? Or was incoming owner John Henry involved? And if he was, what does that say about his priorities for the Globe?

(Disclosure: Journalism students at Northeastern as well as several other Boston colleges and universities contribute to the Your Town and Your Campus sites.)

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1 Comment

  1. The only thing I would question is Chesto’s perception that somehow, these cuts are a somehow a defeat for hyperlocal or even big companies venturing into hyperlocal. It’s the exact opposite – if you’re going to compete, you need to have a better widget than what is already there and Your Town never offered that.
    Having competed with a Your Town site from its start until 2011 in Belmont, I can say that this was the major problem. Your Town wasn’t offering anything more than was already being offered by Wicked Local Belmont and the Belmont Citizen-Herald print edition (mailed to 40% of homes on Thursday). When I came back to Gatehouse in 2007 (I was there from late 1999 to 2004 too), we implemented digital first and ran Wicked Local like a daily newspaper online, with multiple updates a day (while also holding exclusive content for print only too). All during that time, I can’t recall a single major story that the Globe Northwest section or Your Town ever broke that we didn’t have first, in some cases, weeks before them. They were never at Town Meeting or the Board of Selectmen’s meeting or even in the community gathering news on a regular basis. That’s hyperlocal and they weren’t really doing it in Belmont (or many other towns).
    In the Northwest region, it was a running gag at Gatehouse because sources knew that once a Gatehouse paper covered something, they would be called a few days later from a Globe reporter with plans to essentially re-write stories we already produced.
    They did try to curate bloggers and some members of the Belmont community who didn’t like my editorials did contribute to Your Town, in an effort to boost competition, but that petered out.
    When Belmont Patch came along in 2010, there really wasn’t a need for Your Town Belmont at all putting a story up now and then: Members of the community had TWO news orgs covering the community full-time (in some cases, a ton Massachusetts communities now have three or four news outlets covering them, with a limited amount of eyeballs for ads).
    In other words, it isn’t or wasn’t the death of hyperlocal or even a big company venturing into hyperlocal; it was just competition. The idea was completely squeezed out by already existing coverage – Gatehouse – and a second news org – Patch – both of which were offering better coverage than Your Town could or would ever offer.
    Also, don’t forget, Your Town was created as a supplement – and in some cases, replacement – for the neighborhood sections of the Globe’s outlying regions (remember the cuts there, when they started combining communities to cut costs?). I’m sorry to read that any journalists have lost their jobs but if you’re going to jump in, create a better widget.

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