Backfence, the once-hyped citizen journalism startup, is closing all its 13 local sites, after a series of management troubles over the last year, and inability to get any local traction editorially. CEO Mark Potts has also left, and told me in an e-mail that the investors are “continuing to talk to potential buyers or new investors, but have decided for business and operational reasons to shut down the sites rather than operate them without sufficient support.” Though the notice on the local sites say otherwise at this point: “The people behind Backfence still believe strongly in the need for community information services, and we hope to apply all that we’ve learned from our experience here to new endeavors in the future.” So for all intents and purposes, the venture is dead.
The startup received $3 million funding in 2005 from SAS Investors and Omidyar Network, among others, and quickly opened local sites in Virginia and DC area, and then later bought the remains of a Bay Area local journalism effort.
AJR has a long story in its latest issue about the failure of Backfence, and the larger issue surrounding hyperlocal journalism: “The failure of Backfence may offer no greater lesson than the old one about pioneers being the ones with arrows in their backs. New ventures fail all the time. But it could also sound a cautionary note about the present–and immediate future–of hyperlocal news sites. As big-media companies and entrepreneurs alike rush into the hyperlocal arena, it’s worth pausing and asking: Is there a real business in this kind of business?”