KEEPING IT REAL BY KEEPING IT LOCAL

And now, an important message from the home office. Literally.

Authentically Localredbankgreen has joined with some 30 hyperlocal news sites across America in an effort to remind readers and advertisers of the community-enhancing role that independent news sites play.

Dubbed Authentically Local and including sites from Seattle to Tucson to New Haven, the group’s aim is “to remind readers and advertisers of the value that local ownership and local perspective brings to coverage,” says redbankgreen publisher John T. Ward.

“It’s about letting people know that their choices as readers, shoppers and advertisers will play a large role in determining not just fate of the independents, many of which are shoestring operations, but the kind of coverage their communities will get,” he says.

The outreach comes amid a rollout over the last year of more than 800 new hyperlocal Patch sites by AOL, which is reported to be financing the sites to the tune of $40 million per quarter. The network, which has little advertising so far, will eventually be supported by both national and local advertisers, AOL executives have said.

Five Patch sites, all conforming to a uniform approach to coverage and presentation of local news, have been created since November in redbankgreen‘s coverage area. Each is staffed with a local editor and supported by freelance reporters and unpaid bloggers.

In the face of such a massive investment, the Authentically Local founders have decided a modest push-back is in order. Most of the member hyperlocals are expected to run articles similar to this one to call attention to what’s at stake, in terms of coverage and economics, noting among other things that advertiser dollars don’t get channeled away from hyperlocals to a giant corporation, but instead get re-spent within the same community.

“In the 1980s and ’90s, we saw how the advertiser-fed growth of regional newspapers factored into the demise of many small, community-focused weeklies, which was a real setback to local coverage,” says Ward, a former daily newspaper reporter who launched redbankgreen with his wife, Trish Russoniello, the site’s art director, in June 2006.

“Now, with the web having given rise to a new generation of local news sources hoping to fill those voids, big money has naturally come sniffing around looking for opportunity, which is fair,” says Ward. “We simply want people to consider what the news and information landscape in their towns might look like if the independents again get squeezed out, leaving a fast-food approach to coverage.”

Debbie Galant, who founded and co-owns Montclair-based Baristanet and is widely considered the doyenne of the hyperlocal movement, announced the launch of Authentically Local, which she also founded, at the geoworld summit in Brooklyn on Thursday.

“The Authentically Local campaign seeks to illuminate the difference between authentic local businesses and those that are just cashing in — before every town in America becomes one giant strip mall,” Galant said in a statement. “This is not just about us, the owned-and-operated sites that write about place. It’s about place.”

From a press announcement of Authentically Local’s debut:

Local doesn’t scale. Local isn’t McDonald’s, even if the McDonald’s is right down the street. Local doesn’t send profits back to a home office somewhere else. Local is something that’s part of what makes where you are unique. As unique and flawed and lovable as your own kids. Something is authentically local if it’s the first thing you’d want an old friend, visiting from the other side of the world, to see. It’s authentically local if its disappearance could potentially break your heart.

Local is suddenly the newest, hippest, most lucrative frontier. The local advertising market alone is estimated to be $100 billion a year. Companies like AOL, Google, Apple and Groupon all want a piece of the action. Some of the devices they sell you are even collecting data about everywhere you go – all to help their local campaigns.

Certainly big corporations add a lot of convenience and consistency to our world. They also threaten to homogenize it. If you want home to feel different from everywhere else in the world – or if you want a world that’s interesting to explore, support what’s authentically local. Know the difference, and vive la difference!