Here’s my slides from the Community Journalism Conference at Cardiff University earlier today.
This is a cross-post of a piece written by Roy Greenslade on the Guardian website, providing a summary – and feedback – on my recent thinkpiece for DemSoc about hyperlocal media and regulation. Hopefully nobody objects to the cross-post. You can see and read the original article here.
Open internet philosophy: The web should be a predominantly unregulated space, provided that the law of the land is not being broken.
Historic rules of regulation do not apply: Broadcasting regulation is not a framework that logically transfers to the online space, which is virtually limitless.
The (im)practicalities of enforcement: Anyone can set up a hyperlocal website or channel for free, and just as easily dismantle it. It’s therefore impossible to monitor them effectively.
Concerned citizens and community journalism: Active citizens reporting on what matters to them – journalism as volunteerism – should be nurtured, not stifled. Regulation is likely to reduce transparency and accountability, not increase it.
Innovation: With the online hyperlocal sector still in its infancy there is a risk that innovation would be stymied by unnecessary regulation.
Radcliffe moves on to consider the case for regulation, noting that the three strongest arguments concern protection, credibility and parity for hyperlocal publishers.
He is unconvinced by them and deals with each in turn. But I’m going straight to his conclusion. He writes:
“In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear.
Just because you are unregulated, does not mean that your standards are any lower.
Nor will being regulated suddenly mean that the public will view your content differently, that relationships with traditional media will transform overnight, or that late night telephone calls from aggrieved press officers will cease.
Instead, we need to recognise that hyperlocal publishers are an increasingly important part of our media ecosystem. They can, and do, on occasion provide great content for other media outlets – acting as a local wire service.
Hyperlocal outlets can also be a great way for traditional media to find new voices and talent, whilst for audiences they can help plug gaps in content provision – or provide a new level of ultra-local reporting.
Nurturing and supporting the industry should be the aim of policy makers. And it does not need regulation to make this happen. Key challenges such as finding ways to develop partnerships, or unlocking legal training and support for hyperlocal publishers, can all happen without the need for regulatory intervention or frameworks.”
Though Radcliffe doesn’t tackle press regulation, this could be viewed as some kind of message to Lord Justice Leveson to keep his hands off hyperlocal outlets. Then again, I don’t believe LJL is thinking too hard of getting into such a contentious area.
For me, the key phrase occurs in Radcliffe’s opening point about allowing freedom to reign as long as hyperlocal sites obey the law.
The central reason for regulation is about preventing undesirable acts by big, mainstream media because that sector has the capability to set the national conversation and to trample over the reputations of individuals along the way.
Regulation is about curbing power. Hyperlocals, by their nature, lack that power. That’s why they deserve to be left alone.
Source: Meeja Law
This is an extract from a thinkpiece I authored recently – “Hey! Regulator! Leave those Hyperlocals alone!” – which was published by The Democratic Society as part of a wider report on Media Regulation & Democracy.
The arguments below build on an earlier post and adds some new ideas and thoughts about potential benefits for the hyperlocal sector *if* it were to be regulated.
As my full contribution for DemSoc shows, this is not the side of the fence I fall down on, but I do believe that some of the ideas outlined below merit further consideration, and that many of the benefits of regulation outlined below can be delivered without the need for regulatory recourse.
Solutions to the need for legal protection / support for this emerging sector are needed, and whilst I have offered a few suggestions below, I would welcome other thoughts and contributions on this topic.
Part Two: the case for regulation
When I wrote the original blog article which formed the basis of this contribution, I also spent considerable time considering the reasons for regulation. Then, as now, I struggled somewhat – both in terms of the mechanisms for enforcement, as well as the potential benefits.
For the former, I considered the option of income thresholds – that sites above a certain income would need to be regulated – and in turn whether sites might opt in to be regulated by the PCC or some other body. Finally, I also wondered if there was merit in the industry coming together and devising its own system of self-regulation.
The latter provoked some discussion, and I am grateful in particular to William Perrin, Philip John, Judith Townend and Mike Rawlins for their thoughts and contributions.
Of these, I think the three strongest arguments for regulation are around protection, credibility and parity for hyperlocal publishers.
All of these are desirable outcomes, but I am yet to be convinced that they way to achieve them is through regulation or indeed self-regulation. Rather, they require attitudinal changes and shifts more than anything else from big media, the NUJ and in some cases media consumers.
Again, taking each of these areas in turn:
1. Legal standing and support
Potentially the biggest benefit of regulation for the sector is that it may make it easier to unlock union and legal support. At present most hyperlocal writers are unrecognised by the NUJ and – in contrast to their traditional media peers – they do not enjoy the backing of a large legal department.
Legal support is an area the hyperlocal sector would benefit from. The day will come when a hyperlocal practitioner loses their home due to a legal dispute stemming from content on their site. Sadly, it may take such an incident for this issue to be given the consideration it deserves.
We need to find a means to redress this, as the level of legal support for the citizen journalist/reporter is often minimal, if indeed there is any at all.
To counteract this, in the US, J-Lab and the Knight Foundation ran a Legal Risk Blog for American citizen journalists, bloggers and social network users. Different media laws mean that its usefulness as a tool for UK practitioners is limited, although the site is not without value.
One way this could work in the UK would be to encourage big media groups – perhaps through a regulatory lever – to provide a certain amount of pro-bono legal support to hyperlocal outlets.
Alternatively they may have to pay a small levy to a central legal fund, which could either ensure 24/7 legal support for hyperlocal practitioners, or support a financial pool to draw on when the litigation starts. Such an idea is not without risk of abuse, but if we are to encourage better relationships between community media outlets players and traditional media, providing meaningful support between the sectors in this way would be one way of doing it.
Rightly or wrongly, there can be misconceptions amongst consumers and traditional media alike about the content and accuracy of hyperlocal content. Being part of a regulatory regime may help to change that, but I am skeptical. Many regulated bodies – across media, finance and other industries – are severely lacking in credibility at present. As are their regulators.
Moreover, Ofcom research shows that many media consumers are already confused and ill-informed about regulation and funding. So being part of a regulatory regime will not necessarily change public perceptions. Or indeed those held by old media.
More effective measures could simply be cosmetic. Lichfield Blog for example renamed itself Lichfield Live, because it became “hard to escape the fact that having ‘blog’ in our name was causing problems with how we were perceived”.
Some of the Lichfield team have also posited the idea of self-regulation, with hyperlocal players signing up to an agreed “Code of Conduct”, in part to boost credibility. I can see the merit of such a code, and such an approach could be especially useful for new sites in giving them best practice and a set of standards to aspire to, but I am not sure that it will make much of a difference in the credibility stakes.
That does not mean however that hyperlocals should not do it, and there would be a merit to having agreed and shared text on issues such as fairness and complaint handling, but the benefits of this approach are, in my view, of more benefit for practitioners, than big media partners and audiences.
Instead, I would argue that activities such as public visibility – reporting from, or organizing local events – or making your content available offline as well as online, may be much more effective at boosting credibility and changing perceptions than being part of any new regulatory body.
3. Creating a level playing field
The underlying consideration here is how to establish a more level playing field, particularly in terms of legal protection and credibility. For some commentators, the only way to do this is by bringing hyperlocal media into any post-Leveson regulatory regime.
That may be so, but I think this argument is fallacious and that these objectives can be achieved through other non-regulatory means. Examples of credible, respected hyperlocal websites abound (see: http://kingscrossenvironment.com/ , http://parwich.org/ , http://pitsnpots.co.uk/ , http://www.london-se1.co.uk and http://ventnorblog.com/ as just some examples). As, increasingly, do examples of creative partnerships between this sector and traditional media.
Regulation also risks having accidental consequences, from stifling innovation and driving small scale hyperlocal practitioners out of business, through to creating a two tier hyperlocal sector, with some outlets being regulated (perhaps due to their size, scale and or platform) whilst others are not (e.g. those on Facebook).
Far from creating a level playing field therefore, such a scenario risks widening gaps, not reducing them.
I argued earlier that a number of factors – the open internet philosophy; the inapplicability of historic rules of regulation; practicalities of enforcement; the role of Citizen/Community Journalism; and innovation – were all good reasons, both individually and collectively, against statutory regulation.
Similarly, I remain unconvinced at the viability of self-regulation, or that it is the means to deliver outcomes such as enhanced protection or credibility.
In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear.
Just because you are unregulated, does not mean that your standards are any lower. Nor will being regulated suddenly mean that the public will view you content differently, that relationships with traditional media will transform overnight, or that late night telephone calls from aggrieved Press Officers will cease.
Instead, we need to recognize that hyperlocal publishers are an increasingly important part of our media ecosystem. They can, and do, on occasion provide great content for other media outlets – acting as a local wire service. Hyperlocal outlets can also be a great way for traditional media to find new voices and talent, whilst for audiences they can help plug gaps in content provision – or provide a new level of ultralocal reporting.
Nurturing and supporting the industry should be the aim of policy makers. And it does not need regulation to make this happen. Key challenges such as finding ways to develop partnerships, or unlocking legal training and support for hyperlocal publishers, can all happen without the need for regulatory intervention or frameworks.
Let’s see if we can make it happen.
Last week it was announced that I had been appointed as a Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.
I am very excited about this. I know I will learn lots from the rest of the research team and it also gives me the opportunity to contribute to the Cardiff-led AHRC research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen - the first major UK academic study in this space.
The role will provide an outlet for my continuing research into hyperlocal media, which started with 2009′s report by Ofcom on Regional and Local Media in the UK and which has continued through a range of outlets including my landscape review for NESTA (Here and Now: hyper-local in the UK) and recent articles for Journalism.co.uk (Why hyperlocals should not rule out print) and the BBC College of Journalism (Walking the local TV tightrope).
Sadly, having moved roles (and country) I can no longer provide the sort of regular sector updates that I used to, but I am hoping this role with Cardiff means that my more limited time has a clear focus and an opportunity to add value.
I also think the kind of research I used to produce isn’t quite needed like it once was. This year alone we have already seen the launch of the AHRC research project and a new centre for community journalism, the BBC’s Connecting Communities Conference - #bbcscc12 - and NESTA‘s Destination Local programme. The small hyperlocal fire I wanted to help keep stoked after Ofcom’s 2009 local media report is now burning very brightly (and I don’t for one minute take credit for any of it!).
Aside from contributing to the research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen, you will also find me doing other little bits and pieces in this space – from a new series of interviews with practitioners (“Hyperlocal Voices“) on the Online Journalism Blog through to sharing nuggets of intel via Scoop.it!, Delicious and Twitter. I will develop these new outlets more in due course, so if add these sites to your Reader do consider them very much a work in progress.
Copy of text from Cardiff University website. Monday, June 25, 2012
Damian Radcliffe, Internet and Society Manager at ictQATAR, has been appointed as a Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.
Damian will provide input to the Cardiff-led AHRC research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen, which is due for completion in October 2014.
Damian is a leading expert in the field of online news media and widely acknowledged for his influential work in the area of hyperlocal journalism. Prior to his move to Qatar earlier this year, Damian was Manager for Nations and Regions at Ofcom, the UK communications regulator.
He is a much followed blogger and the author of a recent assessment of the scale and scope of UK hyperlocal services for “Destination Local”, an initiative led by the innovation agency NESTA. He has collaborated with numerous universities and with the BBC College of Journalism and the Online Journalism Blog.
Damian Radcliffe said: “I look forward to learning and being challenged by fellow researchers and post-graduate students alike, while also sharing insights with the School about the fast changing developments taking place in the Middle East.
“As with hyperlocal and community journalism there is a rich story to tell, and I am grateful to the University for giving me a chance to help tell it.”
Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy and Principal Investigator for the AHRC research project said: “Damian will bring a fresh and well-informed international perspective to our growing interest in community news media and I am delighted that he is able to form this association with us.”
Bay TV Liverpool, Chris Kerr, DCMS, DTT, Hertsweb.tv, iptv, jeremy hunt, Local TV, Michael Casey, MonTV, Ofcom licence, One&OtherTV, Parashoots, Perranporth TV, Richard aterstone, social capital, St Ives T, Stuart Goulden, Your Thurrock
This is a cross-post of an article I wrote last week for the BBC College of Journalism website. Many thanks to Chris Kerr, Michael Casey, Richard Waterstone and Stuart Goulden for their contributions and insights which made the piece possible.
Damian Radcliffe looks at some local IPTV providers, their plans for the future and whether the Government’s plans for local TV will work for them:
Last week Ofcom announced the application process for 21 new local television services. Long championed by Jeremy Hunt, and supported through a sliding scale of funding from the BBC, making local TV pay is not going to be easy.
To date, no-one in the UK has established a proven financial model for the sector, and even a Government sponsored assessment suggested the economics will be challenging.
As a result, some groups are already working online to pilot new business models – and develop an audience – which they hope will translate to a traditional TV platform. For others, a combination of audience dynamics, technical and funding challenges mean they will remain online only for now.
“York missed out on the first round of licences,” says Stuart Goulden, managing director of One&OtherTV. “However, whilst other cities are busy debating how local TV can work on paper, we’re testing our concept in the market and exposing the community to some incredibly original content about their local area.”
They hope that “opting for high production values and a less-is-more approach” means the service will stand out as well as offer “a great opportunity for the right brands (or brand, exclusively) to fund new talent via sponsorship”.
Chris Kerr, creative editor at web-based Bay TV Liverpool (above), also sees the long-term potential for sponsorship. His city is included in the first round of licensing, and he freely admits the future of local TV may well be IPTV. But, that said, Bay TV will apply for a licence later in the year, not least because “the BBC funding makes it an attractive option”.
Kerr’s team – like Goulden’s in York – also works to support their community beyond the broadcast, with Bay TV engaging communities in Runcorn “to create and generate hyperlocal content in an area of low broadband take-up”.
However, he is clear on the station’s primary aim, namely, “so far as we can, to compensate for the reduction in local programming by Granada and the BBC”.
In this he is not alone. Other online TV services are also seeking to fill information gaps, some of which may never have been met by traditional media. For example, Hertsweb.tv live-streamed local hustings at the last general election, a decision which offered discernible civic value.
This is a theme echoed by Michael Casey, editor of Your Thurrock. “In a hundred years’ time,” he says, “if people wanted to know what Thurrock was like between 2007 and 2012, they would go to our archive of 4,000 films.
“My degree is in history and so, naturally, I am rather proud of that aspect of the site.”
Your Thurrock delivers news primarily – but not exclusively – through filmed news items that are uploaded to YouTube and its main website. In the past 18 months it has published more than 3,000 news stories, while its YouTube channel has enjoyed 1.4 million views since 2008.
These are big numbers, but won’t necessarily translate to small-screen success.
Ofcom has already indicated it is “unlikely to consider less than seven hours in total of broadcast news per week to be too burdensome for even the smallest… licensee.” Scaling up from a successful online operation to a service which prioritises “journalism-led news” to this extent may be a challenge, especially when DCMS is clear that channels need to be run “on a commercially sustainable basis”.
As a result, some successful online operations are proposing to remain web-only.
Richard Waterstone, a founder of the Welsh based MONTV, sits firmly in this camp. Like Your Thurrock, MONTV has attracted big audiences. By December 2009, it had already recorded its millionth visitor. But this success hasn’t swayed Richard to move to Freeview.
Although he welcomes “the extra publicity for Local TV and awareness of its potential in the modern media landscape”, he maintains “that IPTV will be the most effective way to broadcast to local communities over the next few years”.
His rationale is twofold: combining advertising projections and audience behaviours. “Costs are obviously far lower – enabling local broadcasters to achieve sustainability and grow their businesses with the amount of advertising revenue available,” he says, adding that “the younger generation have a different perception of the DTT/IPTV divide and are more than willing to consume visual media over the internet, whether on traditional PCs or hand-held devices such as iPhones.”
Potential advertising revenue is a pertinent consideration for channels like MONTV which primarily broadcast to rural communities that have a smaller advertising pot than their urban counterparts.
To help offset this, Richard launched the Your Local TV network last year, allowing local IPTV channels to benefit from shared content and advertising, as well as build on MONTV’s technical backbone and expertise.
Of course for some groups being online only is not a matter of choice – it is also a technical reality. Cornwall is one area where it might not be technically possible to deliver services via DCMS’ preferred route of DTT, despite the county being home to some sizeable towns, a distinctive identity and a number of existing local IPTV services like St Ives TV and Perranporth TV (above).
Given the political and financial capital involved in making local TV, this new tier of broadcasting will need to be proclaimed a success. As a result, new entrants with big budgets may well be very appealing to Ofcom during the awards process.
Yet smaller players have also shown they can deliver the culture secretary’s ambition to “provide communities with news and content that is relevant to their daily lives”, often creating wider civic and social value alongside it.
Some of these smaller players are hoping to scale up and preserve these traits, either through securing licences or by working in partnership with bigger players.
If they don’t, then our screens – and our communities – will be the poorer for it.
Damian Radcliffe (@mrdamian76) has worked in local media in a mix of content and policy roles. He is the recent author of Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today, the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. A former BBC staffer, he has also spent four years at Ofcom, and for three years led a partnership between the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers) and BBC English Regions. His writing and research on local media can be found on his own website and SlideShare.
The BBC College of Journalism is holding a major conference at the BBC’s new offices at MediaCityUK, Salford, on 24 May. It will look at the relationship between mainstream media and communities on a local, global and cultural level. You can register for the Connecting Communities conference – #BBCScc12 – here, or follow the event on this website.
In the rush to digital it is easy to overlook the role traditional channels can play, both in terms of reaching audiences who are not online, as well as attracting revenue from different sources – some of whom may only advertise via print.
Community print media in the form of newspapers, newsletters and pamphlets has a long lineage in the UK. But it is not just habit or tradition that explains its longevity. Because no technology is required to access it, print products mean that those who are not online need not necessarily miss out.
While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groups. This is a sizeable audience and also one –heavily skewed towards the over 55s – which remains a heavy consumer of local media. This consumption, however, tends to be focused around regional TV news, BBC local radio and local newspapers.
As Enders Analysis noted in written evidence submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the future for local and regional media: “One third of the readership base [of regional and local press] is over 55 and half is mid to low income, both being demographics that face significant challenges in connecting to the internet, whether in terms of skills, or the income to buy a PC and train to use it.”
While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groupsDamian Radcliffe
Lack of online access and skills are therefore key reasons why some established hyperlocal operators continue to focus on print, with the result that they often have little or no web presence.
The Leys News in south-east Oxford, for example, typically only posts one new story a month on its website. In contrast, its free monthly newspaper has 16 pages of stories, photos and local advertising. The paper, which is delivered directly to 5,000 homes, is the most important source of information for local residents, beating the more established Oxford Mail, which is daily, into second place.
Over in the West Midlands the ECHO Community Newspaper, which has been running since April 1979, continues to have a very healthy print life and an equally limited website. Produced 11 times a year, and aimed at residents in the Earlsdon, Chapelfields, Hearsall and Spon End districts of Coventry, it is sold for just 30p through 20 different sales outlets. None of these outlets take a commission.
The longevity of these examples suggests they know how to reach their audiences and they deploy content and distribution models which are right for them. In these instances, this is not online.
In more socio-economically diverse areas, different models may be more appropriate. The Hackney Citizen is a good example of this, as is the new print edition of Stoke’s Pits n Pots. Both have strong web audiences, but also large pockets of potential consumers who are not online.
A print-web mix therefore offers the chance to reach a wider audience and make a greater community impact. For Pits n Pots their recent print issue did more than take their content to non-web readers, it also raised awareness of their website so much that their web traffic doubled.
Different models also enable hyperlocal practitioners to enjoy different relationships with advertisers, as well as audiences. In the US, Kansas-based Lawrence.com found that no-one would advertise on “just a website”, so they started printing a free “Deadwood Edition” until they felt their advertisers – rather than their readers –could make the switch to online only. The print product “died along with much of the world economy in 2009 after 246 issues“.
Closer to home, HU17.net, which covers Beverley in East Yorkshire, began a weekly print version in late 2010. The spin-off paper has recently expanded to include a property section; reaching some advertisers who might never advertise on the website, but who feel the print version is more appropriate for them.
These advertising and audience considerations are also drivers in the reverse publishing trend, where journalistic copy and user-generated content are combined to produce more localised print products.
Across the pond one of the largest reverse publishing examples is TribLocal fromthe Chicago Tribune. The initiative supports 90 town websites and 22 print editions, which are published every Thursday and delivered to 335,000 Chicago Tribune subscribers. An additional 800,000 copies are distributed to non-subscribers on a Saturday. Not only are newspapers delivered door-to-door, but importantly they can also be found in community locations such as the town library, as well as being available online as PDFs.
What these examples seem to suggest is that print remains valuable, both as a primary tool for news consumption and as a means to highlight the best online content.
While services such as Newspaper Club and Sweeble are now making it easier for online content to be converted into a more traditional print product, partnerships with print players may offer the way forward for some hyperlocals. In particular they can generate revenue, reach and credibility by association.
Archant’s recent partnership with EverythingEppingForest.co.ukis therefore one to watch, while a 2010 collaboration on homelessness by the Seattle Times and seven hyperlocals demonstrated the benefits of both a print/web mix, as well as the partnership work that underpinned it.
Print, it would seem, is not dead yet.
Damian Radcliffe(@mrdamian76) is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today“, the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles.
A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a Sony Award winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers). His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website and on SlideShare.
Last week’s Journalism.co.uk podcast explored the role of print in the hyperlocal space and its contribution to developing sustainable business models and reaching audiences.
This builds on some of the themes explored in my report for NESTA, in particular issues of inclusion, media habits and the merits of particular business models.
However, it also includes new examples and analysis which I hope will be of interest. I will cross post the article here in due course.
AR, augmented reality, connected TV, Destination Local, disruptive technologies, Edinburgh Reporter, geo-tagging, hyperlocal business models, Internet of Things, Kindle, LTE, Pew Research center, Postcode Gazette, RFID
This is a cross-post of an article published yesterday on the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network. Like the article I wrote last week for the US website, Street Fight, it attempts to summarise my recent report on the UK hyperlocal scene (not easy when the latter was 15,000 words) and encourage people to read the whole report – as well as take part in the NESTA programme “Destination Local“.
Given the audience, the emphasis of this piece is on technology.
UK Hyperlocal Challenges And Opportunities by Damian Radcliffe, Author of the ‘Here and Now…’ Report
Last month NESTA and the TSB launched “Destination Local” a new £1m fund designed to fund prototypes of next generation hyperlocal media services.
It is the first time that this sort of money has been made available for this nascent sector, and it offers an exciting opportunity for funders and practitioners to work together to identify disruptive technologies and business models which can help hyperlocal media in the next stage of its evolution.
To accompany the funding launch I authored a 15,000 word landscape review, ‘Here and Now: UK hyperlocal media today’, which examined ingredients for success, opportunities and challenges, as well as key issues on the hyperlocal horizon.
Members will find the report full of examples of “online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically-defined community” (my definition of hyperlocal) which I hope will inspire and inform them about the potential for working in this space.
There is no such thing as a typical hyper-local site; their voice, audience and purpose are defined by the community they are serving. As a result, the report features hyper-local outlets offering everything from a focus on ultra-local news, through to being a platform for campaigning or an online hub for an area.
Technology lies at the heart of all sites, both in terms of content creation and dissemination. Tools like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress have removed many barriers to entry for people interested in creating and sharing content about their area. Not only do they create a means to set up a hyperlocal site in minutes, but you can do it for free from your phone, PC or tablet, wherever you are.
Consumption, as well as creation, via these platforms is becoming increasingly common. Accessing content on the move and related to your location is a trend which is only likely to continue.
The impact of this means that business models are changing too. Search, smartphones, tablets and social media are all playing a role in the erosion of traditional “analogue” advertising models. The impact of this on traditional media is well documented. For hyperlocals, it offers a real opportunity. In the US, hyper-local has already been identified as the fastest growing advertising market.
Yet despite the monies and consumer activities moving into the mobile space, hyperlocal practitioners are not embracing the medium as much as you might expect. Examples like The Edinburgh Reporter – which now has a Kindle Edition and the Postcode Gazette in Sheffield – do exist, but hyperlocal mobile services are not yet mainstream.
There is great potential here, and other technological advances from Augmented Reality to LTE, connected TVs, geo-tagging, RFID and even the Internet of Things, are all worth exploring in a hyperlocal capacity.
At the same time, we also have to strike a balance between the opportunities afforded by new technologies and the challenge in helping audiences to find great content in an increasingly crowded space. Audiences can now access local content from a wider range of sources and platforms than previously possible. So helping audiences to find the right content, at the right time and on the right platform, will also be an important consideration.
Discoverability, alongside funding and sustainability, is already a key challenge for this sector. And as the range of content available to us continues to grow, it a challenge which is unlikely to go away. The prize is that when you do find your audience evidence suggests that they often become highly engaged, both as consumers of content and as participants in local discussions.
Moreover in the States, a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, found that 80% of internet users (including 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users) are active in a voluntary group or organisation, compared with 56% of non-internet users. Translating that finding to the UK is an exciting social and technological ask.
In contrast to traditional media or the hyperlocal scene in America, data about the UK hyperlocal sector is often hard to find. But evidence does suggest that the hyperlocal sector, and its audience, is growing.
The challenge now is to build on this and stimulate the next phase of development. Solutions to these challenges are varied. There will be no “one size fits all” solution. However, the relative youth of the UK sector has resulted in a plethora of different business models, and there are important lessons to be learned from others.
Partnerships – as well as technology – will also be important in taking things to the next level, and so I would urge you to see what you can do to support the sector.
Hyperlocal media can help to define local identity, fill gaps in existing content provision, hold authority to account and offer more content for audiences.
With your help, we can make it even better.
Damian Radcliffe (@mrdamian76) is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today” the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles.
A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a SONY Award winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers). His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website and on SlideShare.
This is a cross-post of an article I wrote for the US website, Street Fight, looking at my recent report on the UK hyperlocal scene. It includes a call to
arms action for transatlantic partnerships in this space.
“Destination Local” is a new $1.6m program aimed at stimulating next-generation hyperlocal media services in the U.K. The initiative is the first of its kind and offers encouragement to a sector which has often looked with envy at its American equivalent.
To support the launch I authored a landscape review (another first) of the U.K.’s hyperlocal sector. Its aim was simple; to use examples from across the U.K. — and around the world — to offer insight and inspiration to hyperlocal practitioners, wherever they may be.
The U.K. and U.S. hyperlocal markets are very different, but despite the physical ocean between us, many of the themes raised in the report will be familiar to Street Fight readers. After all, audience needs — in terms of news, information and a desire for local “connectedness” — transcend international boundaries.
As a result, the case studies and examples found throughout the document will be as relevant for hyperlocal practitioners in Sacramento and Minnesota as they are in U.K. locales like Birmingham, Manchester and (Old) York.
The relative youth of the U.K. hyperlocal sector has resulted in a plethora of different business models and there are important lessons to be learnt from others. At a time when many traditional media outlets are struggling, this nascent media sector is one the few that is demonstrably growing.
Supporting that growth is a key purpose for the “Destination Local” program. The increasing consumption of local content on mobile devices, for example, represents a great opportunity for this emerging sector and one where the current potential is largely untapped in the U.K.
Until now, much of the U.K.’s hyperlocal activity has been under the radar. The volume of standalone citizen-led efforts in particular makes it difficult to get a sense of the scale and impact of the sector.
“Here and Now” begins to redress this balance, using examples to identify ingredients for success, alongside an examination of present day challenges and opportunities.
It is to hyperlocal media’s advantage that it remains a nascent sector which is developing quickly. Unwedded to the business models of the past, hyperlocal has the scope to experiment with different models for content, revenue and community engagement.
Grounding conclusions in examples was important, as the nature of the industry means that often hyperlocal practitioners feel like they are on their own. The report shows that others (often the world over) are facing many of the same problems, and that creative and innovative solutions to these challenges do exist.
For U.K. practitioners issues of funding, discoverability and sustainability dominate their concerns. The battle for day-to-day survival can make it difficult to expand, and, as in the U.S., credibility can also be a consideration for audiences and partners. Often without justification.
However technological advancements mean that smartphones, tablets and other technologies will continue to make it easier for us to both create — and consume — hyperlocal content. The potential dominance of Facebook as a platform, and the opportunities afforded by advertising becoming increasingly localized, mean that mobile is increasingly where the sector needs to be.
Hyperlocals may not be able to do this alone, and so I have argued that partnerships — with fellow hyperlocal practitioners and “big media” — will be essential for ensuring growth across the sector.
To date, the U.K. hyperlocal sector has been very diverse in terms of its voice, aims and business models. This diversity has resulted in innovation, yet at the same time it also makes it difficult to attract large scale advertising, or national agreements with traditional media outlets. Balancing plurality of voice — and individual creativity — with sector wide scalability is a complex, but necessary, consideration.
It is to hyperlocal media’s advantage that it remains a nascent sector which is developing quickly. Unwedded to the business models of the past, hyperlocal has the scope to experiment with different models for content, revenue and community engagement. In doing this, and hyperlocal players have as much to learn from the community development sector as they do from other media outlets.
As Pew noted in 2011’s State of the News Media, “the right combination of the three may be at the vanguard of the new economics of news.” Underpinning all of this is the fact that even in an era of globalization, local matters. Community websites, blogs and Facebook groups can all play a valuable role in helping to define local identity, fill gaps in existing content provision, hold authority to account and broaden the range of media available to audiences.
Where the sector goes next, nobody knows, but the “Destination Local” team are keen to work with international partners on developing propositions which could be as relevant to communities in the US as they are in the UK. You can contact the team via: email@example.com
For my part I am excited to see which ideas emerge, and like fellow Street Fight readers, I will continue to watch this space with interest.
Damian Radcliffe is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today” the U.K.’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, across all platforms, in a mix of content and policy roles. A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom, the U.K. Communications Regulator, and led an award winning partnership between the BBC and a UK NGO. His open research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website.
active citizens, Blogging, blogs, citizen journalism, credibility, Democracy Society, DemSoc, hyperlocal, innovation, Media, media regulation, Nanny State, NESTA, open internet, regulation, technology, Technology Strategy Board, TSB
This is a cross-post of an article published earlier today on the website of The Democratic Society as part of a series on media regulation and new democracy. It is designed to prove thought and discussion ahead of a roundtable at the RSA in London. Find out more about the event here.
Damian Radcliffe is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today“. In this post he argues that at a time when media and digital regulation is under review, hyperlocal media should be left alone. This is a contribution to our media regulation discussion event on Wednesday afternoon.
The recent announcement of GDP 1m in funding for new hyperlocal ventures is a welcome shot in the arm for this nascent media industry. The UK is full of great examples of hyperlocal activity. However issues of trust, scalability and sustainability are all key challenges for large parts of the sector as it moves forward.
The NESTA and TSB funding may offer some solutions to these challenges, but as the sector grows, so issues of regulation may start to loom slightly larger on the policy agenda. In my view, where possible, regulation of online hyperlocal media should be avoided. That might seem a strange thing for a former regulator to say, so let offer five reasons why the sector should be unregulated, and why I think attempts at regulation would ultimately prove unsuccessful.
1. Online Philosophy
My starting point is a simple one. If you are a believer in the open internet, then the web should be a predominantly unregulated space. Clearly there are exceptions, such as the need to protect the exploitation of minors, but most of these concerns are not applicable to hyperlocal websites. Provided that the law of the land is not being broken, then websites should generally be left alone.
2. The historic rules of regulation do not apply
In a broadcast world, regulation was used to create a framework for licensees. In return for abiding by the rules, which included signing up to a code of conduct and agreeing terms of trade (e.g. what type of service you are, or specific obligations such as the amount of local news you produce), then license holders got access to a precious commodity: spectrum, and with it the right to broadcast direct to people in their homes. This two way contract has been a key tool in making broadcast regulation work, but it is not a framework which logically transfers to the online space.
Anyone can set up a hyperlocal website or channel using tools like Facebook, WordPress or Twitter. These tools are often free, and fairly easy to use, with the result that you can set up your website in minutes. And it also means that if your website gets into trouble, you can dismantle and remove traces of it pretty quickly too. The net result of this is that not only is it impossible to comprehensively capture what hyperlocal sites exist, it will be equally impossible to monitor them effectively.
In contrast, launching a newspaper, TV or Radio Station which has often required specific licenses, equipment and training, as well as clear monitoring requirements. Broadcasters, for example, have a legal requirement to keep a record of what they have transmitted, whilst newspaper owners see their physical product in the public’s hands, making it rather hard to hide any potential crimes and misdemeanors.
Whilst commercial hyperlocal outlets and networks do exist, the majority of hyperlocal content in the UK is produced by citizens, often for free, or certainly very small sums of money. This in itself is no bad thing, indeed I have previously suggested that the best sites stem from local need, by people steeped in their communities. In many cases, but not always, this means active citizens investigating and reporting on what matters to them.
Most citizen practitioners would be unable to afford any inevitable regulatory fees, and the very presence of such fees would deter some citizens setting up their own sites. More likely most concerned citizens would not even know that their Facebook Group, or a Blogger site fell under a regulatory regime, until the point when they fell foul of the law and received a demand letter from the regulator. This is probably a situation best avoided – certainly Mrs Miggins being told she has to take down her site reviewing local pies, or else face a $1,000 fine – will simply be spun by the press as the Nanny State gone mad. I do not think anyone wants to see that happen.
Lastly, there is the issue of innovation. Regulators the world over like to talk a lot about their role in encouraging innovation, creativity and new business models. Perhaps the extent of this is overplayed, but regulators can certainly play a role in ensuring that barriers to innovation are kept to a minimum. With the online hyperlocal sector still in its infancy there is a very real risk that innovation would be stymied by unnecessary regulation.
In looking at these five reasons, you could argue that each point may be sufficient to argue against regulation. Certainly when collectively put together they suggest that regulation of hyperlocal media is as impractical as it is unwelcome.
In the interests of balance, I also tried to identify five reasons *for* regulation, and I confess that I struggled.
I considered the option of income thresholds – that sites above a certain income would need to be regulated – whether sites might opt in to be regulated by the PCC or some other body, or indeed if the industry should come together and devise its own system of self-regulation.
But the only benefits that I could see from such approaches were that becoming regulated might boost the credibility of the sector in some circles, and that it might also make it easier to unlock union and legal support. These are important considerations, but ultimately I am not sure that regulation is the way to achieve these outcomes. Rather, they require changes in mindset from big media, the NUJ and in some cases consumers.
In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they do have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear. I am therefore not quite sure what regulation would achieve, so suggest that for now, we should leave the “responsible punks” of the quasi-underground hyperlocal movement to manage themselves.