LoudounExtra.com Fails to Give Lift To Washington Post
By RUSSELL ADAMS June 4, 2008; Page B1
For believers in the power of rigorous local coverage to help save newspapers, the Washington Post’s launch of LoudounExtra.com last July was a potentially industry-defining event. It paired a journalistic powerhouse with a dream team of Internet geeks to build a virtual town square for one of Virginia’s and the nation’s most-affluent and fastest-growing counties.
The Washington Post saw LoudounExtra.com as a chance to re-engage local readers. Almost a year later, however, the Web site is still searching for an audience. Its chief architect has left for another venture in Las Vegas, and his team went with him. And while Post executives say they remain committed to providing so-called hyperlocal news coverage, they are re-evaluating their approach.
“It’s too early for us to put any kind of stamp on it as a success or failure,” said Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, a unit of Washington Post Co. “We’re just going to keep experimenting,” he added.
Like hundreds of other hyperlocal sites launched in the past few years, LoudounExtra.com reflects a basic premise: Metro newspapers probably can’t compete with the Internet or cable TV in covering breaking national and international news, but they can dominate what happens in their backyards.
LoudounExtra.com offers detailed databases including every church, restaurant and school in Loudoun County, about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. It embraces the idea that a high-school prom is as newsworthy as a debate over where to build a hospital, and that Little League deserves major-league attention. And it promises to let visitors to the site shape the news through blogs and photo and video submissions.
But LoudounExtra.com remains little more than a skeleton of the site its architects pledged to build. One reason: the team of outsiders didn’t do enough to familiarize itself with Loudoun County or engage its 270,000 residents.
The Washington Post, perhaps best known for exposing the Watergate scandal, is among the few American newspapers that boast a local, national and international audience. About 85% of the more than nine million monthly visitors to Washingtonpost.com live outside the Washington area. Many of them come to the site trolling for political and overseas news.
But the Post’s local readership has been its great strength: Though its weekday print circulation has plummeted by about 19% since 2000 to an average of about 635,087, it continues to reach a higher percentage of local readers online than many other big dailies. That encouraged the newspaper, which has won nearly 50 Pulitzer Prizes, to look to coverage of local American Legion meetings and T-ball games as a potential source of growth.