Is Hyperlocal Reporting Over?

A look at food media as Grub Street drops its city blogs and newspapers downscale their food sections

Grub Street debuted its new look today as a national New York food blog, after announcing the elimination of non-New York City blogs. And while the format seems unchanged from the Grub Street New York blog page, city editors Hadley Tomicki, Michael Gebert, Jay Barmann, Collin Keefe, and Kara Baskin are all out of a job.

Of course, as Chicago editor Gebert mentions on his blog Sky Full of Bacon, being a city editor for Grub Street was just one of many jobs for him (as was probably the case with most Grub Street city editors). "I don’t feel like someone who lost a job, mainly because I have at least two others at any given moment. At most I’m merely underemployed again," he writes.

Gebert told The Daily Meal that he has been invited to contribute in the future, most likely with national trend roundup reports we imagine. According to New York Media’s representative Lauren Starke, the new Grub Street will focus more on national stories, "but won’t disappoint readers who come to the site for big news on the New York food and restaurant scene. There's a certain amount of overlap with so many New York chefs being national figures."

So what’s happened with the hyperlocal coverage? "The multi-city strategy was an outgrowth of New York Media’s acquisition of MenuPages in 2008, and a way to enhance the MenuPages offering in its cities outside New York," Starke said.

MenuPages blogs already operating in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco were relaunched as Grub Street blogs, and a Los Angeles blog was created, though MenuPages' actual menu pages were maintained as a separate operation. That operation was sold to Seamless in 2011, however. Now, Grub Street has decided to shift resources to cover "food trends and the politics of food, high-profile and rising chefs, ingredients, food TV, and other topics of national interest, along with big national roundups such as 101 of America’s best new desserts, and important news from the New York restaurant world."

A sample? Today new Grub Street published a guide to 41 hyper-regional sandwiches, plus a series of gifs on how to make coffee sans a coffee maker. And while the blog promises to report on major food developments outside of New York, we’re expecting less on openings and closings and more on trends. This expansion to more national news and trends is like what New York Magazine has done with blogs The Cut and Vulture.

"I think the trend of the last few years is let’s microcover everything," said Aileen Gallagher, a professor at Syracuse University who helped launch the Grub Street city blogs back in 2009. "We obsessively covered everything, and things that used to be in the features lifestyle section got spun out to its own title. Perhaps what they found was that is very hard to do well, it takes a lot of resources."

The downsizing of Grub Street's city pages is echoed by changes at the Chicago Sun-Times and its food section (which turned into a sponsored page) and at The Washington Post, which cut its food blog All We Can Eat this year. And let's not forget the New York Times closing its East Village blog The Local. (Meanwhile The Daily Meal now has 22 city pages in the U.S. and Canada, with cities in Europe and Asia on the drawing board, editorial director Colman Andrews notes.) Just as Grub Street is shying away from hyperlocality, other news media sources are shying away from food-focused blogs. 

"I can’t speak for others but I wasn’t shocked that the day came that a New York-based publication shut down operations outside New York; I’ve been in enough ad agencies expanding and then shrinking to be unsurprised by that happening eventually," Gebert wrote on his blog. "We’re in an age when things grow fast and die fast, you have to make that work for you, or go work at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles."


And of course, on the online world, a national audience is a larger audience. "It seems like the trouble with hyperlocal is if there is enough local advertising to sustain hyperlocal," Gallagher said. "With the way that advertising is, if you’re talking about hyperlocal you’re talking about small businesses reaching a very specific small audience, and the volume isn’t there to make the money [online]. So it’s an expensive proposition to do hyperlocal on a big scale."