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January 1, 2007

Check out It's About All Those Hyperlocal News Sites Springing Up...

Lisa Wiliams--the ace local news blogger from Watertown, MA, an occasional PressThink contributor and one of the sharpest people I know about all things Net--has launched a new site,, which lets you "discover, browse, and subscribe to local blogs," over 700 of them.

Lisa Wiliams—the ace local news blogger from Watertown, MA, an occasional PressThink contributor and one of the sharpest people I know about all things Net—has launched a new site,, which lets you “discover, browse, and subscribe to local blogs,” over 700 of them. It’s also about the art and science—and people—of placeblogging.

The site debuted New Year’s Day. I hope you will check it out.

Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizens Media, PressThink and Lisa’s H20Town are the three “presenters” of placeblogger. Dan and I, along with Susan Mernit, are advisers to the site. It was built on Drupal technology by the team at Bryght. (Here’s a video of Lisa discussing the site and its purpose at the Berkman Center.)

In What’s a Placeblog? Lisa writes:

Placeblogs are sometimes called “hyperlocal sites” because some of them focus on news events and items that cover a particular neighborhood in great detail — and in particular, places that might be too physically small or sparsely populated to attract much traditional media coverage. Because of this, many people have associated them with the term “citizen journalism,” or journalism done by non-journalists.

Placeblogs, however, are about something broader than news alone. They’re about the lived experience of a place. That experience may be news, or it may simply be about that part of our lives that isn’t news but creates the texture of our daily lives: our commute, where we eat, conversations with our neighbors, the irritations and delights of living in a particular place among particular people. However, when news happens in a community, placeblogs often cover those events in unique and nontraditional ways…

The launch package includes a top ten list of the best placeblogs in the US…

1. Baristanet, Montclair, NJ
2. Edhat, Santa Barbara, CA
3. Fresno Famous, Fresno, CA
4. Westport Now, Westport, CT
5. ChiTown Daily News, Chicago, IL
6. New Haven Independent, New Haven, CT
7. Gotham Gazette, New York, NY
8. Philly Future, Philadelphia, PA
9. MNSpeak, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
10. Duke City Fix, Albuquerque, NM

…and a directory organized by state so you can see if there’s one near you.

One of those select ten, Fresno Famous, has been so successful that McClatchy, owners of the local daily, the Fresno Bee, recently bought it. Fresno Famous is thus the first featured placeblog at the new site.

PressThink has long had an interest in placeblogs and their production. In November of 2005 Lisa Williams wrote about doing H20Town. Debbie Galant explained Baristanet in January of 2006, and Paul Bass reflected on the birth of his site, New Haven Independent, last August.

When Lisa first raised the idea for placeblogger, the exciting thing to me was that the hundreds of people doing these kinds of sites could discover each other, learn from peers, and become a kind of online community of local news pioneers. Placebloggers, unite! in other words. Looked at individually, the sites are interesting. Together, they could be a force. (And possibly an advertising force.)

But the first step is for them to find each other, and for you to find them. So visit Placeblogger and let us know what you think in the comments here. One of the points of comparison is Steven Johnson’s brainchild,, which he introduced in October. And if you know of placeblogs that should be listed, submit your suggestions here.

From a journalism professor’s point of view, the significance of placeblogs is the intimacy factor— neighbor-to-neighbor rather than professional-to-public communication. A placeblog about the Rittenhouse Square area by a pro who lives in Overbrook Park wouldn’t make any sense. That and the fact that every prescription for survival in the newspaper biz says: go local, that’s your niche without typically noting that others may be better at that niche.

Now I wish someone would start a placeblog for Greenwich Village so I can find out when the renovation of Washington Square Park is actually going to begin. My metropolitan newspapers (the New York Times, Daily News) wouldn’t dream of telling me.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Dan Kennedy at Media Nation on Placeblogger: The “Romenesko of citizen journalism.”

I think it should be carnival of the placebloggers, first. Don’t miss Kennedy’s profile of Lisa Williams for Commonwealth Magazine. From a year ago.

The First Buzzword Of 2007: Placeblogs. Mitch Wagner of Information Week enlarges the picture. “There’s a bunch of other companies tackling local information on the Internet in different ways, attempting to improve an area the net has never been really good at. The Internet today is mostly location-neutral—it doesn’t know or care where you live.”

Placeblogger cuts against all that. As Irina Slutsky says it’s “MySpace for your town.”

Dan Rubin at Blinq: “Think of Placeblogger as a social police scanner.”

Also, if you have the strength read Dan’s mournful post on the people leaving the Philly Inquirer because of cutbacks that have gone father than anyone ever imagined. “It’s a generation of young talent from desks across the paper. Many of them are of color.”

Amy Gahran at Poynter’s E-Media blog: “I think Philly might be a perfect place for someone to pilot a norg project before too much news talent flees the region.”

Steven Johnson on Placeblogger: “It’s another endorsement of the hyperlocal model, and it complements what we’re up to at very nicely: Placeblogger is more focused on the bloggers themselves, while we’re more concerned with the local information, whether it comes from bloggers or some other source.”

Debbie Galant of Baristanet in the comments: “I think ‘placeblog’ is better than citizen journalism as a way to describe what we do.” Lisa Williams replies: “Yeah, the word ‘placeblog’ came out of my dissatisfaction with the phrase ‘citizen journalism’ when it was applied to sites like ours. It encouraged people to look at the site and judge them based on how good they were at competing with the newspaper — which misses the point…Placeblogs represent the lived experience of a place; newspapers reflect the tiny slice of that experience that is news.”

Tish Grier in the comments: “Many folks still consider blogging to be the province of navel-gazing adolescents (yes, tis’ true) Placeblogs then become then next step into a more grown-up kind of blogging about the things that matter to us in adulthood—good coffee, property taxes, who called whom on the school board a so-and-so…”

Also see Grier on McClatchy buying Fresno Famous and shedding the Star-Tribune: “Maybe it’s not really the decline of journalism inasmuch as a re-ordering of the way journalism is done—who writes it, who comments on it, who owns it—and maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world in the long run.” Exactly.

Scott Gilbertson at the Wired News blog, Monkey Bites: “Placeblogger appears to have a fairly liberal definition of what a blog is, the site’s top ten list of placeblogs includes the Gotham Gazette and the New Haven Independent, both of which are considerably more professional than the average blog, but I suppose Placeblogger is entitled to define things however they choose.”

Josier Faser at SocialTech: “If someone entertaining enough started blogging about my area, I’d certainly be a regular reader.” Bingo.

Dan Gillmor on Williams: “She’s a natural at this stuff, and when she decided to give Placeblogger a try — long before the name came to anyone — she was the obviously best person to do it.”

Micah Sifry: Seven Ways to Find Local Political Blogs, including Placeblogger,, others. Later, Micah corrects something in his post: “So it turns out I was wrong to say yesterday that Lisa Williams’ plan for her useful new site included ‘selling ads across its whole network of sites.’” More About

Karl Martino of Philly Future in the comments: “There’s a major controversy brewing in our State House having to do with Philadelphia Rep. John Perzel refusing to stand down from his
post. Using Google Co-Op, filtering it by an older version of Philly Future’s OPML of trusted bloggers, you get to hear what the region is thinking about this. Pretty cool.

Lexblog (“Real Lawyers Have Blogs”) says that Placeblogger could be good for business: “Used wisely by lawyers as a place to meet local people, many of them of them influencers, and network just as you would through Kiwanis meetings and the like, there are significant opportunities here.” (And for a grammarian that sentence is a target-rich environment.)

Maura Welch of the Boston Globe on Placeblogger. Maura Welch in July 2006: Women are a blogging powerhouse… featuring Lisa Williams, Beth Kanter, Tish Grier and others.

Interview with a placeblogger: Q & A With K. Paul Mallasch Of Muncie Free Press by wanderindiana at ePluribus Media.

PBS NewsHour examined“the largest media stories of 2006, including the rise of YouTube and the ongoing struggles in the newspaper business,” with Nicholas Lemann, Mary Hodder, Mark Jurkowitz and Adam Clayton Powell III.

I use discussions like that to keep track of what the establishment is thinking as it continues to confront the shock of the new. The very able Mary Hodder is the only new media thinker of the five, including correspondent Jeffrey Brown. But look at the headline the NewsHour chose: New Media Develops Rapidly. For the hardcore press wonk, these insider roundtables about the ruckus caused by outside forces are valuable. They tell you what old media thinks is happening to its world.

Richard Fernandez of Pajamas Media on the corrupting influence of “access journalism” in the AP’s reporting from Iraq manages to quote from Lisa Williams and from my June, 2006 post, The People Formerly Known as the Audience.

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 1, 2007 10:15 AM