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Metro papers' new recipe for success: hyperlocalism

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There was a time not so long ago when big metropolitan daily newspapers in the United States were players in the news game in the grandest way.

They covered their backyards, sure, but they also covered the nation, Washington, and the world. They set their sights high with bureaus and correspondents scattered on the map.

But times have changed, and as newspaper readers have disappeared and revenues have dried up, grand ambitions have given way to a narrowing focus. Papers are calling home, or cutting, their far-flung (and not so far-flung) correspondents to tend to more local environs.

Earlier this year, The Boston Globe became the latest major daily to shutter its foreign bureaus. Like other big dailies, it is promising to turn its attention toward better coverage of its home turf.

The moves are part of a trend in the newspaper business called hyperlocalism, and the thinking behind them goes something like this: In an era when news consumers can get information from more outlets than ever – through cable TV and the Web – metro dailies probably have less reason to fund distant bureaus. After all, those out-of-region and out-of-country offices are expensive to run and offer limited returns.

Former chairman of General Electric Jack Welch, who has expressed interest in buying the Globe, has reportedly gone as far as saying that he sees no reason a local newspaper would need to cover foreign events that others already cover.

What the papers should focus on, the thinking goes, is owning their backyard. They can buy coverage from China, but they can't buy coverage from two counties over. And, some editors will argue, it's getting beaten on that nearby story that is the killer – sending readers into the arms of local competitors such as smaller daily and weekly community papers.

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