“People here are very engaged in the life of the community,” Roessner said. “In Greenwich, for example, they have a very old-fashioned town meeting form of government. People who are world famous sit on town boards and commissions. There is a sense of civic pride and identity.”
Thomas B. Nash, group publisher of Hersam Acorn Newspapers, which produces 12 print weeklies in Fairfield County, echoed Roessner’s observations.
“Areas of Fairfield County’s Gold Coast always had a lot of media competition, even pre-Web,” said Nash, whose news organization has published in the county since 1876 and recently launched a streaming hyperlocal online-only radio station called HAN Radio. “There is a huge appetite for content. It is an intensely interested community that fuels that thirst for local news.”
Thick media competition motivates local journalists to find more and better stories, Nash said. Businesses get their pick of venues to spend their ad dollars. And with so many watchdogs, local officials may find themselves held more accountable, or at least, forced to be more media savvy. Before news websites came along, Nash said, there might be just one or two reporters from the daily or weekly papers at the New Canaan police weekly briefing, for example. “Now, there are five, six, seven reporters there,” he said.
Not that Fairfield County has been immune to downturns in the economy. Instability on Wall Street tends to hit the region hard—many bankers live there. But it hasn’t suffered as harshly as other parts of the country. Greenwich is still the hedge fund capital of the world. And some of the country’s largest companies—General Electric, Xerox, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and NBC Universal—call Fairfield County home. One Fairfield County media insider remarked that it’s easy to be a local journalist in a place where “the people love themselves.”
Beyond Fairfield County?
Recognizing the region’s competitive pressure, local media players are making strategic moves to grab more territory. HamletHub is aggressively recruiting new part-time local editors to expand its hyperlocal network into three more Connecticut counties and Putnam County, NY.
Kerry Anne Ducey, a freelance writer and former elementary school teacher, started HamletHub in 2009 as a blog documenting “positive news” in her affluent Fairfield County town of Ridgefield. She grew it into a brand with 50-plus sites in many of the same suburban towns covered by The Daily Voice and Patch.
HamletHub’s business model doesn’t include costly overhead that contributed to Patch’s undoing. It’s run like a franchise. There are no salaries or equipment for local editors. Instead, each part-time editor is the proprietor of his or her own site.
“Our editors are entrepreneurs,” said Ducey, HamletHub’s editor in chief. “They want to enhance their communities and make them a more vibrant place. They own their sites and have the opportunity to put their own town stamp on it.” New editors get 30 days of training, the HamletHub brand name, and access to its Joomla-based content management system, Ducey said.
A HamletHub editor generates revenue by selling display advertising or “sponsored blogs” to local businesses, a practice some Connecticut journalists approached by Hamlet Hub found ethically murky. To make a living off the site, a local editor must potentially sell ads to the subjects of news stories. But that blurred line between editorial and advertising is an increasingly common facet of running an entrepreneurial news site. Local editors keep all profits from their local advertising sales, while HamletHub’s main office—with four full time employees—supports the network by selling the banner ads at the top of each ‘hub.’
ItsRelevant.com is another homegrown Fairfield County news outlet readying for expansion. The video news network currently offers hyperlocal coverage of three communities: Stamford, Norwalk, and Greenwich.
“We are not a newspaper on the internet,” said Jonathan Krackehl, the company’s co-founder and president. “We are your local TV news on the internet and on mobile devices.”
It’s Relevant boasts six full-time backpack video journalists who produce 40-50 broadcast-quality news stories a week. The two reporters assigned to each town provide local video news coverage 365 days a year, Krackehl said.
The company, which launched in 2011, is now beta testing five more local video news sites in neighboring towns. But It’s Relevant won’t hire any more reporters unless enough people in each targeted community show interest by signing up with a verifiable email address, Krackehl said.