Early this year, Ryan Gierach, the publisher of WeHo News, sat down with media consultant Henry “Hank” Scott to discuss a partnership intended to save the struggling seven-year-old online news website.
Very quickly, however, the talks soured.
Scott, who recently relocated from the East Coast, rolled out a competing hyperlocal news site, called Wehoville, which officially launched last month to cover the 1.9-square-mile city of West Hollywood.
As a result, whatever amiability existed at that first meeting has evaporated as the competing publishers now trade barbs over who can best serve the city’s 35,000 residents.
“Is someone from outside of West Hollywood going to be able to do as good a job? I’m skeptical about it,” said Gierach, who has written books about the history of the city.
Despite the news media industry’s struggles, a number of hyperlocal outlets have sprung up lately to compete for the area’s limited ad dollars, including AOL Inc.’s Patch West Hollywood.
But the fight between Gierach and Scott has grown particularly heated, with Scott calling out the objectivity of WeHo News, which he said is too close to city council members.
Scott hopes to differentiate his site by posting more culture and lifestyle content targeting a cosmopolitan audience. The sleek new site also has structural differences, including the ability to let readers comment on individual articles.
“We’re trying to do things that are a bit different,” he said.
Scott has consulted for clients such as the Wall Street Journal. After moving to West Hollywood last year, he learned of the financial struggles of WeHo News and reached out to Gierach.
Scott initially requested a full ownership stake, but later backed out and started his own site, investing six figures in the venture, which he’s running through the newly formed West Hollywood Media Co.
He wouldn’t specify the size of the investment, but said it could keep the operation open for a year. The site has already sold some ads.
However, it’s unclear how lucrative the hyperlocal news business can be.
L.A. businesses will spend $231 million on online banner ads this year, according to consultancy Borrell Associates Inc. in Williamsburg, Va. Still, Chief Executive Gordon Borrell said banner ads are falling out of favor, and sites will need to go beyond that line of business.
“I like to see this stuff out there (but) I am very troubled by the fact that there is no significant business model to support it,” he said.
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