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LV site embodies 'hyperlocal' trend in online journalism

Angie Marcos
LV Life Editor

With newspapers across the country taking a slow plunge and in some areas disappearing altogether, a new form of journalism – “hyperlocal” Web based publications have begun to fill the void – even here.

La Verne Online, founded by La Verne resident Peter Bennett, follows a new trend where journalists now work as entrepreneurs. In his case, the publication is practically a one-man-show.

La Verne Online is among 6,000 local mostly news Web sites nationwide as indexed placeblogger.com, the largest searchable index of such local sites.

“I am 99.99 percent the guy who writes the stories,” said Bennett, who is also the publisher. He said he tries to update the site daily.

All stories run without bylines and photos likewise run un-credited.

“I think people are more interested in the stories than in the byline,” Bennett said.

Launched in April, it focuses on stories happening in and around La Verne along with enough revenue-generating advertising to support his family, said Bennett.

“There is no news coverage in La Verne,” Bennett said. “I want to give people a real news source.”
He added that he believes the local newspapers, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune cover this city with “casual reporting” in contrast to the 300 stories Bennett has posted since his site’s launch in April.

“My goal is to make it the number one source for news in La Verne,” Bennett said.

As chief cook and bottle washer, Bennett oversees two staff members: a layout designer and sports writer Brad Eastland.

Although his site in many ways embodies trends and new directions in news coverage, some journalists and industry analysts express concern with such an approach.

“You have to verify things on the Web,” said Sandy Tolan, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Bloggers and entrepreneurial journalists have the same responsibility to tell the truth and be as accurate as possible when reporting news as any other journalist, he said.

Joe Blackstock, a columnist and editor at the Daily Bulletin added: “The problem I have with (such entrepreneurial journalism) is so much of it is anonymous. You really don’t know the source of where it all comes from.

“People can’t be completely assured of the work,” Blackstock said. “It’s much easier to just not be identified (but) they do themselves a disservice because if we don’t know who their sources are, we don’t really believe them,” Blackstock said.

Another local site, The Claremont Insider by an anonymous blogger in Claremont, similarly posted stories about happenings and news events in Claremont without bylines, which Blackstock said can’t help but diminish the site’s credibility.

“Journalism is a very pragmatic field,” said Robert Niles, an entrepreneurial journalist, who also serves as editor of the Online Journalism Review.

“Establishing your credibility as an independent source is difficult,” Niles said. “If you’re just starting out on your own it is much more difficult. You need to be well-known within the community. Work on your relationships offline.”

Most income made from entrepreneurial journalism is advertisement, Niles said.

“The essential business model of journalism has not changed,” he said.

With the newspaper industry struggling during the economic crisis, many journalists have had to become online entrepreneur to survive in the field, Tolan said.

“It forces them to do more with less,” Tolan said. “It forces them to be more creative. It is a form of survival.”

“I have no thought of going back to print,” Bennett said. He prefers the more laid back approach of online journalism versus putting together a newspaper every week.

“Online journalism is much easier,” Bennett said. “It’s the best part about it. And I’m being green. I’m helping the environment.”

There is much more responsibility involved in online reporting because the writer not only has to write stories, but must also deal with pictures, accounting, layout of the site and advertisement, Niles said.
“Most people in the journalism business aren’t willing to work that hard,” Niles said.

Niles manages robertniles.com, where he has links to five other Web sites he manages.

On themeparkinsider.com, which first launched 10 years ago, Niles writes about the world’s top theme parks and his own personal opinions on rides and attractions, as well as planning trips to the theme parks.

As for Bennett of La Verne Online, he wrote for his college newspaper while attending Stanford in the 1970s and worked at the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s. He was managing editor of American Bungalow magazine for five years.

La Verne Online can be found at laverneonline.com.

Angie Marcos can be reached at angie.marcos@laverne.edu.

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