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The fight for local news is changing the media and impacting those they cover

An iPhone photo taken by a disgruntled New York subway passenger. A child's colorful "Fridge" drawing. An invitation to "put a journalist to work." All posted on the same page of nytimes.com, one of the most influential sources for news in the world.

The features are tucked inside "The Local," The New York Times' effort to establish a profitable model for effective local media coverage. More broadly, it represents both change in the media and opportunity for businesses and organizations that wish to connect with potential and existing customers and other key audiences.  

The coming months hold the promise of an evolution among U.S.-based media. Mainstream newspapers are striving to join a rush of bloggers, citizen journalists, news aggregators and others seeking to cover intensely local news and make money doing it.

Already, powerful search engines scour the Internet, capturing coverage and cataloging it. These news aggregation tools extend the traditional reach of local media and bloggers, pumping up the potential impact of their coverage.

Publishers from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (owners of The Wall Street Journal and Fox News) to the Associated Press to local newspapers are becoming increasingly impatient with this technology, which provides them no compensation yet benefits aggregators such as Google News. The growing conflict likely will be settled in court. Meanwhile, news aggregators are improving and expanding.

Consider the Web site Outside.in, which provides hyperlocal content on more than 50,000 neighborhoods based on the work of local bloggers and publishers. Mainstream media understand the potential here. Among the Web site's investors: CNN.

Tweeters and bloggers, once looked down upon as self-indulgent and ill-informed, are key components of the new hyperlocal coverage collage. They are changing how media cover everything from sporting events to major breaking news.

When National Public Radio sought to enhance its coverage of Haiti's recent devastation, it turned to local residents using Twitter. NPR posted the information on its Facebook page and Twitter feeds.

Traditionally, newspapers support hyperlocal news efforts with special sections, teams of reporters and low-paid correspondents. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are producing or considering new products in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. The Journal is considering a New York report.

Media are creating digital products as well. Not content with its national franchise, ESPN created Web sites to provide specialized local coverage for the Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas sports markets. 

To be sure, some of these efforts fail. The Washington Post and Daytona Beach News-Journal both launched hyperlocal sites, only to pull the plug later. And there are legitimate accuracy concerns.

Yet for every hyperlocal effort that shrivels, Web sites such as Patch and EveryBlock sprout. EveryBlock describes itself as a  "'news feed' for your neighborhood" and lists 15 cities as a start to its coverage. Patch specializes in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York locales.

CNN's iReport.com provides an interactive dimension for its global viewership to post local information and commentary and build brand loyalty. Recently, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a respected supporter of journalism research, announced it would collaborate with a local foundation to create a center for citizen journalism.

Digital experimentation is exciting, but it requires revenue to be sustainable. The Financial Times (ft.com) and The Wall Street Journal  (wsj.com) have successfully monetized their digital content. The New York Times just announced its intent to begin charging certain readers in 2011. This year, more than 1,200 online publishers will consider the example of Journalism Online, a high-profile effort to develop a revenue model for online news coverage.

The past few years have seen an unusual divergence. The public's thirst for information has grown exponentially. Even as print publications and their profits shrink, the combined reach of news Web sites, radio, TV and yes, Twitter and its social media siblings, continues to expand.

During the year ahead, the increasingly numerous and innovative local connections that media establish will provide greater opportunities for revenue, as well as for businesses, nonprofits and others to reach their key audiences. The Local and its counterparts are popping up across the media spectrum. They may not dominate the front page, but their potential impact everywhere is immense.

To learn more about this contact David Hertz at 216-241-2145 or email him.

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