Google, NYT targeting community newspapers

logoJust as traditional newspapers are struggling, a high-ranking Google executive is funding a venture called Patch, publishing “hyperlocal” online newspapers.

Tomorrow, the New York Times will strike back, announcing its own news sites called The Local in some of the same communities, setting the stage for fierce competition on the “chicken dinner” circuit.

The funding for Patch comes from Google’s SVP and sales chief Tim Armstrong and not Google itself, but it looks like “six degrees of separation” to me.

“We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities,” according to the Web site.

Some experienced journalists, as well as techies, are behind the effort. The first virtual papers are rolling out in suburban New Jersey neighborhoods, across the Hudson from Manhattan — as are The Times. But that’s just the start.

Here’s an example of the Maplewood, N.J., site from Patch. (My friend and former colleague at The Chronicle Herb Greenberg used to reside in Maplewood and commute to his job at thestreet.com, so I’m familiar with the market. It’s a good choice — more affluent demographics and weak local news).

The sleepy News-Record of Maplewood & South Orange is a 6,500 paid circ. paper that publishes on Thursdays and is owned by Worrall Community Newspapers.

The Maplewood paper has a free Web site, but it costs $6 per month to read the print version of the weekly online.

Patch is not the first such effort to create a free small-town online paper, using user-generated content. Most have failed. “Backfence” comes to mind.

But the timing is better and Patch depends on Google’s know-how, which offers cache. It also comes just as traditional newspapers are struggling and is a stark reminder of the major shakeup that lies ahead.

Here’s a writeup from a blog that I bookmark, “Silicon Alley” insider.

At least some newspapers, such as the Times, are being proactive. But challenges remain, such as how to monetize the small-town sites. Deep pockets will help too.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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