This is the fifth 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.
● Producers of hyperlocal content include trained journalists, community activists and concerned citizens. They do not necessarily describe their work as journalism.
● Seven out of ten producers identify their work as a form of active community participation; more than half define it as local journalism, and more than half as see it as an expression of active citizenship.
There is no such thing as a typical hyperlocal site; and no such thing as a typical hyperlocal publisher. Just as sites deploy a wide range of different business models so it’s also difficult to apply labels to the people behind them.
This loosely defined sector is made up of many constituent parts. New research by Cardiff University, and others, has provided greater clarity about the background and motivations of this cohort.
The drivers behind producing hyperlocal content can vary considerably. Publishers include entrepreneurial journalists, reporters already deeply steeped in a community, as well as community activists, concerned citizens and people with no previous media experience.
These groups have taken advantage of easy to use digital tools such as WordPress, Twitter and Facebook to create hyperlocal channels. Many of them have also embraced opportunities such as C4CJ’s MOOC[i] to more develop their skills and enhance their knowledge. Retired journalist Geraldine Durrant, Editor of East Grinstead Online, is just one person who fell into this camp:
“As weekly print editions across the UK continue to fold, I have long thought it was about time someone – and I had no thought at all of it being me – started an online news site covering the town from within the town, and not from miles away.
So for the past two or three years I have been waiting for someone to do just that, and had someone done so I would have been delighted to pile in and give them a hand. But no-one did. And eventually I realised no-one was better placed to do it than I was.”[ii]
Geraldine took part in C4CJ’s 2014 MOOC in community journalism and kept in touch for further support and advice. Her site now attracts c.50,000 unique visitors a month. More than 10,000 people participated in 2015’s MOOC and analysis by Cardiff University found “over 40 per cent of learners are already community journalists, or intend to set up or contribute to a community news site.”[iii]
Previous media experience
Respondents to 2014’s Hyperlocal Practitioners survey reflected the diversity of the sector; with respondents split almost 50:50 between those with previous – and current – media experience and those who stated that they had no formal media – or journalistic – training.
Figure 3: What sort of journalistic training or experience have you had, if any? (n=144)[iv]
Interestingly, many publishers would not describe what they do as journalism, even though much of their output would seem to be highly journalistic in practice. In a post-Leveson world, there remains a deep distrust – in some quarters – of these labels.[v] Instead, the survey revealed:
- Seven out of 10 producers identify their work as a form of active community participation, more than half define it as local journalism, and more than half as see it as an expression of active citizenship.
- 7 per cent self-identify as producers of local journalism, and 42.6 per cent as citizen journalism. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
4.1 Repeating the Hyperlocal Practitioner Survey every couple of years will enable us to observe change in the sector over time. This will include the media experience levels of practitioners, subjects they cover, audience reach, income levels and their specific needs.
4.2 This evidence base should subsequently be used as the basis for determining the most beneficial areas of on-going support and intervention from funders and policy makers.
4.3 The work of C4CJ shows the benefit of providing on-going advice to (often lone) publishers and offering a platform for networking and discussion. The Centre currently has 3,350 Twitter followers and 760 subscribers to its regular newsletter. This should continue.