More on Local Search and Newspapers

18 Jan ’07

In a post earlier this week I had some thoughts about the viability of monetizing local information as a strategy for local newspapers. One of my points was that much of this information is flat – essentially, lacking the context and utility that social media and other technologies provide – and that I therefore doubted that newspapers could do much in the way of competing with those other approaches.

An example is restaurant reviews. On one hand, local newspapers often feature that information – broadcasting that information to the community has been a useful thing for newspapers to do in the past. But social media and other technologies are changing this. AP has an example today, with a profile of Eater.com, a NY restaurant blog that is the latest darling of the eaterati and that seems to be turning the NY restaurant review and PR world on its head.

Nearly every day, the two bloggers provide restaurant information on their popular Web site, Eater.com, posting tidbits that publicists aren’t ready to release and traditional journalists haven’t managed to print.

They do it thanks to an army of hungry tipsters who have helped the site break stories about restaurant closings and the comings and goings of chefs. And their success has spawned a westward expansion with coverage of Los Angeles, as well as talk about adding San Francisco and possibly one or two other major cities.

Leventhal and Steele’s site attracts tens of thousands of readers a day and led the influential Food & Wine magazine to call Eater “required reading” and dub them “intrepid web masters” for shaking up the eating scene.

(The scene being shaken up, by the way, is the scene dominated – until now – by the old media’s approach to communicating this information.) I’m a Chowhound fan, myself, but if Eater.com made it to Toronto I’d be a regular of it as well. By that time, I’m pretty sure I still will not have read a single restaurant review posted by a Toronto newspaper.

Yes, local newspapers have local reviews and information. But my bet is that soon, no one will really care very much. As a result, improving the findability of that kind of information (if it’s good to be found, it’s good to be – er – findable), while useful, strikes me a little like looking for loose change in the sofa, and certainly like fiddling while Rome burns. Eater is a site, after all, that any newspaper anywhere could have built itself, but didn’t.

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