The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. X No. 5 (October-November 2013)

The issues of hyperlocal journalism

By Chris Winker

It's no secret the newspaper industry has faced increasingly difficult economic restrictions over the past two decades. Regardless of size or quality, every newspaper has dealt with severe cutbacks. One of the proposed solutions has been "hyperlocal" news sites. In larger areas, they have been touted as a way to restore the community connections that metro dailies lost as cities spilled over into ever-widening suburbs and newsrooms struggled to keep up. In smaller areas, while community journalism has remained relatively strong, such sites have been tried as a way to help those smaller organizations retain relevance in an always-on online world.

In this issue, we have two pieces that deal with hyperlocal coverage and its challenges. K. Paul Mallasch started the Muncie Free Press in 2005 and while financial success has been low to moderate, the website can lay a foundation for future local news sites. Richard Puffer runs through the recently departed Harstville Today website, which he believes can still be an influential example of local journalism.

Respond to Mr. Mallasch's and Mr. Puffer's article at The Convergence Newsletter blog and at the newsletter's Facebook or Google+ pages. View the full archive of newsletters at


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Feb. 28-March 1: AEJMC Midwinter Conference, Norman, Okla.

March 20-22: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Gainesville, Fla.

April 4-5: Journalism Interactive, College Park, Md.

Sept. 23-24: International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communications, Singapore


Featured Articles

How Not to Start a Newspaper: A Cautionary Tale of Journalism?
By K. Paul Mallasch
Muncie Free Press

Hyperlocal journalism – and the debate about its viability – was back in the spotlight this summer as AOL's Patch shut down sites and let dozens of people go. Eight years ago I created and continue to run my own online news community. And while not successful by the traditional definition, I've been able to help people in one way or another by committing acts of journalism – even with very little revenue or profits.

I became "Facebook official" about my love affair with journalism at Ball State University in the 1990s, just as the Internet was beginning to gain ground. By 1998, I had a job at The Star Press, which would soon thereafter be purchased by Gannett. After seven years in a midsized Midwest newsroom – a period of time I'd never trade – I was downsized and happily left to create Muncie Free Press in 2005.

The idea was to attempt to create something new without capital investment. Surely, I thought if I offer community news – real journalism – the money would come rolling in. Along the way, I've learned a few things about hyperlocal journalism. The first, and perhaps most important, is that revenue shouldn't be left as an afterthought. While the greed I saw at Gannett was not a good thing, revenue on its own is not evil. Good journalism needs to be funded.

This leads to the other things I've learned – that news operations need to think quickly and adapt to changing markets. For example, it was two years after I started that mobile technology leapt forward with smartphones. I'm still behind when it comes to mobile, but this leads to something else I've learned: one person alone can't do everything.

After seven long years on the front lines of the media war, I took a breather for a year to write an autobiographical novel, kNewspapers: a Novel About Love and Citizen Journalism. The novel was an attempt to collect my thoughts about the seven years in my life spent committing acts of journalism on my own. Again, another period I wouldn't trade for anything.

After seven years of corporate journalism and seven years of gonzo, grassroots and experimental journalism, I knew I had to make changes in order to create a more stable business model. The first steps are being taken now, realizing my weak points – the business side of things – and reaching out for help by joining a business incubator.

Additionally, instead of going out alone to cover stories, take photos, and shoot video, I'm working more as a publisher. What little money is coming in goes right back out to pay for ex-journalists and others to produce content for the website. With Ball State University in town, I have access to a lot of talented journalism students.

Basically, to succeed on your own you need three things – talent, persistence, and luck. I had two of the three, but the third can be random in many ways. For instance, after publishing in the middle of June (not a good month to release a book), I soon learned the chances of being spotted out of the 200,000-plus books published each year is almost impossible

Still, the process of writing out my thoughts about "citizen journalism" was personally helpful in many ways. By taking a long, hard look at my mistakes over the years, I'm in a much better position to continue. While I'm no Thomas Edison, the fact he had over 200 filament failures sitting in a warehouse before he stumbled on success gives me hope.

If not a financial success, I've been able to have conversations with politicians, business owners, and everyday people, and I've learned the one thing they had in common was hatred of the local paper. This isn't the only thing I've learned over the years, of course. Starting a news operation from the ground up is not easy, but with every mistake made, I get closer to success.

A Cautionary Tale of Journalism

I don't claim to have answers to all the questions about journalism, but I know an honest and international conversation needs to be started. The conversation started in the book is meant to transfer to an online home – While the community hasn't formed there yet, I have not given up hope while I continue to concentrate my efforts on surviving and running what I'm now calling an "Online News Community."

I'm still struggling, but I'm going to keep promoting the idea that more independents need to start coming together informally – and formally – in order to solve the big problems.

The Birth of Quantum Journalism

While the book is fiction, at least one non-journalist has said in a review that it helped them understand citizen journalism a little better. A handful of other people didn't particularly like the book, with some saying it read too much like a textbook. Near the end is my explanation of Quantum Journalism, a way of looking at journalism at the smallest level. Quantum journalism is based on all the good from the past; freedom of the press, responsibility, independence, transparency, impartiality, fair play, and truth and accuracy, but it's also a way to say that bigger isn't necessarily always better.

And along with the cornerstones of good journalism come new thoughts about media in the modern world – the very beginnings of the Information Age – including closely examining profit versus greed and the role of technology in news gathering and publishing, as well as journalism as a conversation and the idea that there's hope for journalism.

As I continue to commit acts of journalism in Muncie, Ind., acting more and more like a publisher rather than a one-man journalism band, I look at the fact that Jon Stewart on Comedy Central is doing better journalism than many "professionals." My book was fantasy mixed with science fiction, but the reality is just as amazing to me as things progress in the real world.

From handing out produce at a local downtown event to thousands of attendees, to being a voice for the people and a watchdog for all existing institutions – including big media – I have my hands full. And yet I feel there's never been a better time to be a journalist.

As the big companies still continue to cut their only true asset – the content producers and the gatekeepers with multiple decades of experience – they will begin to die off. Like the Stegosaurus, they're so large that the brain in their tail hasn't yet relayed the message to their head (in the glass tower on the East Coast) that they are, in fact, quite dead.

K. Paul Mallasch is an online publisher who runs the Muncie Free Press website along with others. He recently published the autobiographical novel kNewspapers: a Novel About Love and Citizen Journalism, a fictional account of journalism (and love) over the past few decades.


Can hyperlocal news sites survive in small towns?
By Richard Puffer
Coker College

The Hartsville Messenger was an early entry into online citizen journalism in October 2005 as the paper worked closely with Doug Fisher and, helped by funding from J-lab, established an Internet presence just as the medium was beginning to grow. A small cadre of citizen journalists contributed breaking news, features and photos from the Hartsville, S.C., area that gave definition to hyperlocal news coverage through Hartsville Today.

If there was smoke on the horizon, one of the regular contributors could be counted on to phone for details or personally follow the smoke trail. And generally, these volunteer journalists did the reporting because the Messenger staff still had their "day" jobs of getting out the paper, and, often, they did not seem to want to beat themselves by posting online before in the printed paper.

Hartsville Today gathered worldwide attention through a review of its first five months that became a "cookbook" that others could use for building similar sites and that for several years was featured on Yahoo's citizen-news site. [1] Hartsville Today became a news and discussion medium that was beginning to ignite widespread interest as regular viewers and readers were always just a little more in the know than their friends and relatives in the Hartsville area. Just about the time the site was making real inroads in news coverage and maturing as a discussion board, a change of ownership derailed the efforts. Despite pleas and threats from those who had come to depend on the site for thorough, breaking news and photos, the new owner (Media General) was more interested in the print edition and dropped all focus from the Hartsville Today site.

When you visit the small cosmopolitan town of Hartsville, you will notice a strong sense of place and pride in community. The town is the home of Coker College and South Carolina's Governor's School for Science and Mathematics. It is also headquarters for the packaging company Sonoco, a Fortune 1000 company.

The loss of Hartsville Today remains a blow to that pride, because for several months we were on the cutting edge of new journalism. The new journalistic tool was giving its citizens a community-building tool that went beyond a strong paper. The new journalistic tool was widening the amount of coverage we could develop for community issues. Without that tool, it is again harder to communicate, harder to send messages and harder to get the feedback that helps make a strong community an even greater community. Hartsville misses HVTD!

The website spawned a future professional journalist – Jana Pye. Jana was known as JanaBanana in her HVTD presence and found lots of inspiring stories and photos from the Hartsville area. She is now the editor of The Darlington News and Press.

The citizens' journalism concept of HVTD was catching on as the financial support waned in the midst of a merger. It appears that traditional news organizations cannot get their heads or hands around the benefits of a robust citizen journalism site., originally built on the open-source Drupal platform, had been crippled by Media General's shift to less-robust software, which removed many of its features, such as a community calendar. Participation languished and then postings dropped to almost nothing, both from the community and the newspaper. When yet another new owner, Berkshire, took over recently, the site was shut down.

So it appears there is little appetite among the traditional, understaffed regular news media to reactivate HVTD. Without some forward-thinking local investors, HVTD will probably remain only a memory instead of being a dynamic example of how journalism could have reinvented itself in Hartsville.

[1] Fisher, D., and Osteen, G. (2006). Hartsville Today: The first year of a small-town citizen-journalism site.



Conferences, Training, and Calls for Papers (Return to top)

AEJMC Midwinter Conference
University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla.
Feb. 28-March 1
Deadline to submit papers: Dec. 1


AEJMC Southeast Colloquium
University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
March 20-22
Deadline to submit papers: Dec. 9


Journalism Interactive
University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
April 4-5


3rd Annual International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communication
Sept. 22-23
Deadline to submit papers: March 21


Job Listings

Syracuse University: Assistant/Associate Professor, multimedia photography and design
For more information or on how too apply, visit Interested applicants are required to send a resume/C.V., cover letter and a portfolio website URL. Applicants may also send a reference list. Review of applications begins Nov. 22, 2013.


University of North Texas: Faculty Director, Mayborn School of Journalism
To apply, visit Interested applicants are required to submit a C.V., cover letter, list of names and contact information of three references and a statement of teaching philosophy. Review of applications begins Nov. 15, 2013.


University of North Texas: Assistant Professor, strategic communications
To apply, visit Interested applicants are required to submit a C.V., cover letter, and a list of names and contact information of three references. Review of applications begins Nov. 15, 2013.


University of North Texas: Assistant Professor, news
To apply, visit Interested applicants are required to submit a C.V., cover letter, list of names and contact information of three references, an unofficial academic transcript (official due upon hire) and a statement of research interests. Review of applications begins Nov. 15, 2013.


University of North Texas: Lecturer, strategic communications
To apply, visit Interested applicants are required to submit a C.V., cover letter, resume, list of names and contact information of three references, an unofficial academic transcript (official due upon hire) and a statement of teaching philosophy. Review of applications begins Nov. 15, 2013.


University of North Texas: Lecturer, news/digital
To apply, visit Interested applicants are required to submit a C.V., cover letter, resume, list of names and contact information of three references, an unofficial academic transcript (official due upon hire) and a statement of teaching philosophy. Review of applications begins Nov. 15, 2013.


Tarleton State University: Assistant Professor, journalism
For more information and on how to apply, go to The department requires a cover letter, resume, and transcripts for this position. Online applications preferred, but requested documents can be mailed to Dr. Charles Howard, Tarleton State University, Communications Studies, Box T-0230, Stephenville, Texas, 76402.


Emerson College: Assistant Professor, journalism
For more information, visit or contact Janet Kolodzy at


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