This is the second extract from Where are we now? UK hyperlocal media and community journalism in 2015 a new report commissioned by the Centre for Community Journalism and supported by Cardiff University and Nesta.
● The UK has more than 400 active hyperlocal websites, compared with 1,045 local papers.
● On-going research, to be published later this year, has identified more than 500 online hyperlocal services. The fragmented, grassroots, nature of this sector means that capturing exact numbers is difficult and likely to be highly underestimated.
● Community and local content matters to UK audiences; the majority consume it monthly, with Ofcom data from 2012 and 2015 suggesting that hyperlocal audiences are increasing.
● There has been investment in this sector in recent years; but this has often been one-off. Countries such as the USA have seen much larger levels of investment, and a greater recognition of the need for ongoing financial support to sustain local news services.
Hyperlocal Context and Market Size
Hyperlocal and community content can be found on dedicated websites, in local print publications[i]and across social networks[ii] and audio[iii] services. This content pertains “to a small community such as a town, village or single postcode”[iv] and is often supported by activity and engagement on social media.
There are 408 active[v] hyperlocal websites in the UK;[vi] although due to lack of regulation and registration requirements the real figure may be much higher.[vii] Based on current completed data, Birmingham has 20 known active sites, the most in any UK authority area; while London is home to at least 85 active hyperlocal websites.[viii]
The Carnegie UK Trust is working with Talk About Local to more effectively map the current sector.[x] A new hyperlocal media map will be published this autumn. Initial efforts have identified – among other locations – 48 previously unrecorded websites in Scotland and nearly 100 in Devon and Somerset. This supports the assumption that the extent of UK hyperlocal media has previously been under-reported.[xi]
Creation and consumption of highly localised content is a global phenomenon. Around 18 per cent of the Centre for Community Journalism’s (C4CJ) network of community news services is from outside the UK. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on community journalism run by Cardiff University in 2014 and 2015 attracted more than 22,000 learners worldwide, including existing and aspirational publishers of hyperlocal media.
Comparison with traditional local media markets
Whatever local media sector you’re in, the financial dynamics – for most players – remains challenging. This has had an impact on the amount of local content available for audiences.
The UK is home to 1,045 local and regional newspapers (2011 Newspaper Society figures),[xii] but between 2005 and 2012, 292 papers closed and only 40 new titles launched.[xiii] Circulation data for 2014 from the ABC[xiv] showed that 93 per cent of newspapers have a falling readership.
Emily Shackleton, writing for TheMediaBriefing, found that the sector has seen a net reduction of 177 titles in the past decade, and that this trend shows no signs of abating:
“The UK is also still losing more papers than it is gaining, with 2014 being a particularly worrying year for the industry with a net loss of 15 newspapers.” [xv]
Many local commercial radio stations reduced their levels of local news and production after Ofcom revised its localness guidelines in 2010. Ofcom notes: “networking has become far more prevalent, and some operators have chosen significantly to reduce the length of local news bulletins.”[xvi]
Meanwhile the success of the new tier of Local TV broadcasters has been mixed. Although 16 stations are now on air,[xvii] Birmingham based City TV failed to launch[xviii] and London Live’s CEO has admitted that its future is under “constant review”.[xix]
Local content matters to audiences
Research by Ofcom and Nesta has identified the value placed by consumers on hyperlocal content.
Nesta’s work in 2013 with Kantar outlined the often highly functional nature of hyperlocal media consumption. Among survey respondents, weather, news and entertainment were the most popular types of content being accessed.[xx] Hyperlocal media also plays an important civic role which helps root people in a community and reflects a sense of place.[xxi]
Ofcom’s 2015 report into “Adults’ media use and attitudes” reported 17 per cent of UK internet users use websites or apps each week for news about their local area or community; a further 31 per cent do so quarterly. These numbers were up year-on-year.[xxii]
The regulator’s Internet Citizens 2014 report[xxiii] had previously recorded that 51 per cent of UK adults browse online for local news at least monthly, and that one in five say that online is their most important local news medium. Perhaps most significantly their report revealed “one in ten say they use local community websites or apps at least weekly (7% in 2013).”
Separately, Ofcom’s 2012 Communications Market Report stated that “use of hyperlocal websites is growing”, and identified “around 1 in 7 (14 per cent) of people state that they use a local community website on at least a monthly basis”.[xxiv] This data reinforced earlier Ofcom research (2009) which established that – while consumer definitions of local are blurred – 92 per cent of adults consume local media with 88 per cent using multiple sources for local news and information.[xxv]
Investment in hyperlocal
Since 2012 we have seen a number of investments designed to grow UK hyperlocal media, and to further understand the sector’s potential. This includes grants from Nesta and Innovate UK, partnership funding from the Carnegie UK Trust, as well as support from Cardiff University.
Investments have funded editorial overheads, service development, technical innovation, training and provided opportunities for practitioners to come together. By creating a space for hyperlocal journalists to share and showcase work, C4CJ has, for example, developed detailed case studies which highlight innovation, breadth of content and evolution of practice.
The Media Standards Trust has determined that “altogether this amounts to less than £5m in the UK over three years, as compared to over $400m in the US over two years.” As a result:
“The funds invested in the transition of local news and information to the digital era in the US are at an entirely different scale to the funds invested in the UK.”
This conclusion reflects several major differences between the UK and US and the remedies available to address challenges in the provision of local news and information. These differences include: recognised need, charity status for non-profit news organisations, support from large foundations and the availability of contestable funding.[xxvii]
Few of these mechanisms are available in the UK, even though the need is just as acute. Moreover, most investment in the UK has been one-off. As a result, on-going support – designed to grow and sustain the sector over the medium to long-term – is probably what is now most needed.
1.1 Revisions of http://localweblist.net/ by the Carnegie UK Trust and Talk About Local will provide a richer understanding of the size and scale of the UK’s hyperlocal sector. However, there is a need for more regular monitoring, with incentives for publishers to self-register, so that this map does not go out of date.
1.2 Researchers should undertake a regular census of sites – including the frequency and types of content they produce – based on the revised map.
1.3 Ofcom’s consumer research should continue to chart usage of hyperlocal and community media, as well as more traditional media outlets, giving us a valuable longitudinal dataset.
1.4 Without a different mindset, or approach to intervention, investment in this space will still fall considerably behind other markets where similar local media issues are being addressed.
[v] ‘Active’ was defined by researcher Dave Harte “as a website having posted a news story at least once in the 5 months prior to the sampling date or functioned as an active forum-only or wiki-based website.” http://daveharte.com/research/hyperlocal-news-websites-some-2014-stats/#more-1914
[ix] Harte, David. One Every Two Minutes: Assessing the Scale of Hyperlocal Publishing in the UK. JOMEC Journal, Vol 1 No 3. Available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/jomecjournal/3-june2013/Harte_Hyperlocal.pdf
[xvii] http://media.ofcom.org.uk/news/2015/aberdeen-ayr-dundee/ – figure correct March 2015.
[xxvi] Barnett, Steven, Judith Townend, Andy Williams, and Dave Harte. The state of UK hyperlocal community news: findings from a survey of practitioners. 2014. Available at: https://hyperlocalsurvey.wordpress.com/
[xxvii] Moore, Martin. Addressing the Decmocratic Deficit in Local News through Positive Plurality. Media Standards Trust, 2014. Available at: http://mediastandardstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Positive-Plurality-policy-paper-9-10-14.pdf