Yesterday evening, the Dallas Morning News reported on its business blog that it had purchased "hyperlocal online news provider Pegasus News." The news was surprising because Pegasus has been at the periphery of the local media scene for nearly a decade, never standing out as much of a competitor or potential acquisition target by the city's only daily newspaper. I was equally struck by the generous use of "hyperlocal" in describing Pegasus.
Hyperlocal is quite the buzzword these days. The idea is that news consumers want up-to-date information on what's going on in their own neighborhood, rather than the issues of citywide importance a traditional newspaper might cover. The other and probably more important idea, of course, is that all those local restaurants and stores that have no reason to buy an ad in the Morning News will be more apt to do so on a site that reaches a more targeted audience.
Hyperlocal news, built on actual on-the-ground reporting, can be done well. Or, it can be a messy compilation of press releases and photos of cute kids built around a core of local advertising. (See AOL's Patch.) But Pegasus News just isn't hyperlocal.
Pegasus has some talent. Teresa Gubbins goes toe-to-toe with all comers on the food beat, and I have had much respect for editor Sarah Blaskovich since she, as head of an outside journalism advisory council of sorts, skewered me during an interview for the managing editor's slot at the UTD Mercury. Since she's been at Pegasus, the site has improved.
But visit the site and click through some of the stories. When I looked, Blaskovich had a story on Deep Ellum's new logo, but otherwise, it was something from the Texas Tribune; a post from "content partner" The Taco Trail; a press release tagged as a wire story; one-sentence links to stories in the Morning News and elsewhere.
So basically Pegasus News aggregates a lot of local blogs and produces a modicum of original material. Which is fine. But to say, as the article about the sale posted on Pegasus News does, that the "purchase further strengthens The Dallas Morning News' position as the leading source of up-to-date local news," is a farce, and when I first saw the Morning News' headline touting the acquisition of a hyperlocal news site, I assumed that this was yet another example of it just not getting the internet.
It doesn't take much reading, however, to get to the real reason for the purchase. Says Rich Alfano, general manager of Morning News's arts and entertainment business:
Pegasus News allows us to reach more consumers and strengthens our ability to provide the latest and most relevant information about places to visit, events, music and restaurants. Pegasus News' hyperlocal data provides consumers with information on approximately 225,000 places, 5,000 events, 4,200 restaurants, 2,500 bands and Friday Night specials.
Translation: Guide Live, the newspaper's floundering attempt to do event and entertainment listings, is sucking wind. So, rather than putting in the time and energy and smarts necessary to make it suck less, the Morning News just bought up some existing listings instead.
Lazy, perhaps, but maybe, depending on the purchase price and how they use that info, a wise business decision. Tough to say. What's less tough to say: That press release was some grade A bullshit, the sort of thing you'd hope the News' business desk would sniff out upon first whiff.
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Update at 4:41 p.m.: Just got off the phone with David Gross, vice president of investor relations and strategic analysis for A.H. Belo. Still coy about the terms of the sale, and he wouldn't say how heavily the event listings played, but he did provide a few more details.
"Right now, we are really focused on the near term and supporting the Pegasus News team that came on board as it continues to operate pegasusnews.com."
As for the long-term, as far as what will happen with the site, how many employees the Morning News will keep, and when we can expect to hear more, he wouldn't say.
He did say the Pegasus will stay on this side of paywall.