France – community news sites are taking off big time!

Since early November, the French users of Google News have been able to narrow their search results geographically. Thanks to a new ‘location’ (or lieu) field, residents of the République Française can enter a city or postal code to look for articles from a specific area. Google launched this feature in the United States in February, 2008. It then became available to India, the UK, Canada and Germany. The Silicon Valley giant is pursuing its mission to organise information on the web and increase revenues from targeted advertising.

“We work hard to improve our algorithm, including its ability to understand the relevant locations for a news story and the location of the source that reports a story,” software engineer Mikey Levine wrote on the official Google News blog.

Going local

The refined Google News search engine comes as local news is developing online. Thanks to the Internet’s unlimited space, minimal distribution costs and interactive potential, fresh local news sites have emerged. In Paris, for example, the online-only news sites and focus on individual arrondissements. Several journalists provide content for each.

From print to web

The traditional local press is also expanding its online offerings. Ouest France, France’s highest-selling newspaper, available in dozens of local versions, has created for local news and practical information in 70 communes (or districts).

It also runs another site, to collect information about events for its websites and newspapers. The platform has 50,000 registered users, Ouest France claims.

Les Journaux du Midi, a press group from southern France, has launched 24 H Actus, a blog platform for its local correspondents. It allows journalists – usually part-time writers living inside local communities – to publish more articles than they are able to in the group’s print papers.

Les Journaux du Midi writers do not get paid for this extra work – just 30 euro to cover their Internet access fees, Le Figaro’s Internet and social media blog reports.

How to make money?

The local press, like the press in general, is looking for ways to generate more revenue online. Libération, a national daily, runs local news websites in eight cities. Olivier Bertrand, editor for the Lyon version, said “the site would not exist if the newspaper was not there to pay for it,” in an article in the daily Le Monde. Convincing local advertisers to use the web is proving difficult for local news providers, writes Le Monde’s Xavier Ternisien.

Citizen journalism

Meanwhile, so-called “citizen journalism” is thriving. “There are several hundred bloggers following local news in France, and the numbers are growing,” said Nicolas Guillaume, a web entrepreneur who is developing a local news aggregator, is currently modelled on Digg: readers can submit and vote for posts, creating a hierarchy among contents and grouping them by region. A new hyperlocal version is in the making, Guillaume said. He is looking at ways to group content by commune and even by street. Guillaume, a blogger himself (from the city of Besançon), believes his platform will offer a service different from Google News.

“Many independent bloggers find it difficult to get referenced by Google News. We will be open to everyone,” he said. He is also searching for ways to pay bloggers for their work. “Targeted, or even geolocated advertising, can be helpful for users, because they see it more positively. … But we have to be careful. In my opinion advertising alone can not adequately finance such sites.”

Tech talk

“The future of the media and the local media is linked to the future of telecommunications,” Guillaume predicts.

“There are less and less newspaper shops on rural areas, and delivery is expensive. At the same time there is more and more broadband access, even in rural areas. So I think that local news in the coming years will go through the web and mobile phones.” Indeed, the landscape of local news is likely to change in the next couple of years with technology playing a significant role in shaping it


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