MinnPost and Voice of San Diego — two online nonprofit news outlets often held up as models for the future of local news coverage — actually receive scant web traffic, according to a new report, "Less of the Same: The Lack of Local News on the Internet" (PDF). The study was commissioned by the FCC as part of its quadrennial review of broadcast ownership regulations. The author is Matthew Hindman, assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. (Details on the 11 FCC studies here.)
Hindman used comScore panel data tracking 250,000 Internet users across more than a million Web domains, focusing specifically on online local news within the top 100 U.S. television markets during February, March and April 2011. "The breadth and the market‐level granularity of the comScore data makes this study one of the first comprehensive looks at of Internet‐based local news," Hindman notes.
Out of the 1,074 online local news sources in the study identifies, only 17 are "genuinely new media outlets," he writes, rather than online homes of established print or broadcast media.
Hindman discovered that MinnPost traffic is minimal: between 0.5 and 1.3 percent audience reach in Minneapolis‐St. Paul, from .0009 to .0012 percent of total page views there. For Voice of San Diego, "the site is elegant and content‐rich, but traffic numbers are low," he writes. Its reach was .48 percent in February (with 0.0005 percent of total San Diego pages viewed), 1 percent in April (with 0.0008 percent of pages) — and too low to measure in March.
"The poor showing of MinnPost.com and Voice of San Diego may be especially surprising to some," Hindman writes. "While MinnPost and VoSD are particularly celebrated examples of a new breed of local and regional online news organizations, numerous other local online news sites are missing altogether ... including many other sites mentioned as promising experiments. If traffic to these 'model' outlets is minimal across the board, this has profound implications for media diversity, and for the future of journalism."