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At the Block By Block “community news summit” in September, operators of locally focused websites came together to share what they knew and learn from their peers. Almost all of them were looking for advice on how to support their sites financially.

Here’s a start: “Sustaining Hyperlocal News: An Approach to Studying Local Business Markets,” a new report from a team of master’s students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The report is the first output — with more to come — from this term’s “innovation project” class.

“To become financially sustainable, hyperlocal publishers need to make revenue a priority rather than an afterthought,” the report says.

The report focuses mainly on approaches to generating online advertising revenue in local communities. It draws on interviews with site publishers as well as audience research and advertiser interviews conducted by the class in our “case study” community: Evanston, Illinois, Medill’s hometown.

The starting point, the students contend, is “getting to know your audience … really getting to know them.” The report describes the audience research process undertaken by the class, with suggestions on how hyperlocal publishers can adapt and replicate this research.

Based on an analysis of local advertising in Evanston, the report also identifies business categories most likely to be interested in advertising locally: home furnishing, retail, banking, community organizations, restaurants and professional services. Beyond that, the students conclude that new and growing businesses have different advertising needs than “legacy businesses,” which are well-established in their communities.

“Sustaining Hyperlocal News” was researched and written by the class business/revenue team, which was led by Frank Kalman and Jesse Young,one of five Knight “programmer-journalist” scholarship winners enrolled in the class. You can read Frank’s take on the report on the class blog, LocalFourth.com

The class will also produce a longer report addressing more of the challenges facing hyperlocal publishing on the web, as well as a website prototype demonstrating new forms of online interaction around local news.

For readers in the Chicago area, the class’s final presentation next week is open to the public.  It’s  scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, in the Forum (first floor auditorium) of the McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston. RSVP here. If you can’t attend the presentation, it will be live-streamed (and archived for later viewing) at bit.ly/CMIP2010.

The class is being supported by the Community News Matters grant program. Community News Matters is overseen by the Chicago Community Trust, which initiated the program as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge.