This is the third 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.
● Hyperlocal publishers produce a wide range of content, in line with the types of output historically produced by local newspapers and other local media.
● The most common topic covered by hyperlocals relate to community activities (e.g. festivals, clubs and societies), local councils and the services they provide.
● Publishers also engage in campaigns and investigative reporting. 72 per cent have supported a local campaign in the last two years. 42 per cent have started their own. Nearly half have engaged in investigative reporting; a mainstay of public service news provision.
Types of output
Hyperlocal media outlets in the UK produce a variety of valuable content. This includes traditional news reporting, sport and other subjects – such as events, arts, links to local services, property, food and drink features and what’s on guides – which have always been provided by local media.
“… this is a sector that produces valuable work, and which consistently contributes to civic discourse and dissemination of information in the public interest. In doing this, the sector is generating content which creates the same civic, cultural and community benefits that traditional media has been delivering for decades.”[i]
These outputs are accompanied by storytelling, local history, the running of campaigns and traditional outputs of the fourth estate; holding authority to account by reporting on electoral hustings, using open data to act as “armchair auditors” and live reporting from planning, local and parish council meetings.
To better understand this output, researchers from Cardiff University and Birmingham City University held 34 semi-structured interviews with producers, completed the largest content analysis to date of UK hyperlocal news content (1,941 posts from 313 sites), and worked with colleagues at Westminster University to produce the biggest ever survey of UK community news practitioners (183 responses).[ii]
Their content analysis coded every other story (odd numbers) on each site, a total of 1,941 posts from 3,819 posts published on 313 active websites between 8 and 18 May 2012. It showed the most popular subject covered was local community activities (13 per cent), followed by stories about local councils and council services (11.7 per cent). Other notably large categories included crime and business news entertainment, and the arts.
“This kind of coverage of local government contrasts somewhat with the UK’s mainstream local news media, which has scaled back its coverage of local politics in recent years.”[iii]
Publisher survey finds similar results
These findings were reinforced by a 2014 survey of 156 hyperlocal news producers.
It found that the most covered topics, as self-declared by website owners, in the past two years related to: local community events (97 per cent), entertainment and culture (86 per cent), local government council meetings (81 per cent), local government planning issues (79 per cent) and local businesses (75 per cent).[iv]
Figure 1: Thinking of the content that you have published in the last two years, which of the following topics have you covered? (n=156)[v]
Alongside these activity areas a significant number of sites run local campaigns and/or engage in investigative reporting. A 2014 survey of hyperlocal practitioners discovered nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of them had joined in or supported a local campaign in the last two years.
“Moreover, 42 per cent had “started a campaign which sought to change things locally” in the same period, an impressive figure given the time and effort involved in starting, building, and sustaining a new campaign.”[vi]
These campaigns cover a wide variety of topics; ranging from planning and licensing to public services, improvements to amenities, Council accountability and local business issues. Publishers reported that the most important of these topics were planning and licensing issues, although local public services, business and environmental issues were also ranked highly.
The average number of campaigns run by hyperlocal sites in the past two years was five, with the mean number of campaigns initiated directly by these sites being three. As the report authors’ note: “though apparently small numbers, we should remember that campaigns are often long-running stories which are covered repeatedly over time.”
For audiences, campaigns are broadly viewed as less valuable than local news information or community events, although older audiences have a higher level of interest in local campaigns. Nesta’s research revealed that “compared to 35-54 year olds, those aged 55 and over are more likely to select local politics, campaigns and elections as their most important genre of information.”[vii]
Nonetheless, the social impact of campaigns can far outweigh audience interest levels. Campaigning activities – such as the successful effort to save a community ambulance in Alston[viii] – are an intrinsic part of local media’s role.[ix]
2.1 Re-run the 2012 content analysis – using the revised Weblist database – to see if there have been any changes in the types of stories being covered.
2.2 Share more widely case studies captured by C4CJ, the Carnegie UK Trust and others, highlighting examples of great stories and content innovation from hyperlocal publishers.
2.3 Identify the societal impact of campaigns, including influential case studies, to more effectively demonstrate the role of this sector at a grassroots level.
[ii] Williams, Andy, Dave Harte, and Jerome Turner. “The Value of UK Hyperlocal Community News: Findings from a content analysis, an online survey and interviews with producers.” Digital Journalism ahead-of-print (2014): 1-24. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21670811.2014.965932#.VbUlZPlVhBc
[iv] Barnett, Steven, and Judith Townend. “Plurality, Policy and the Local: Can hyperlocals fill the gap?.” Journalism Practice 9.3 (2015): 332-349. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2014.943930?journalCode=rjop20#.Vdo87LJVhBc