This is the ninth 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.
● Awareness of hyperlocal services can be low, particularly if services are online only.
● Publishers can use print, campaigns and live reporting to raise their profile.
● Partnerships with traditional media – such as the BBC or local press – can help.
Discoverability has long been an issue for the UK’s hyperlocal media sector.[i] Yet evidence suggests that some audience members are regular hyperlocal consumers. A key challenge for hyperlocal publishers is therefore to increase consciousness of their offering.
The importance of digital visibility
Search engines and social networks are increasingly the gatekeepers to online material. As a result, all publishers need to understand the algorithms that drive these content discovery systems. This is essential to ensuring your content is visible and highly ranked in search results. For hyperlocal publishers the geo-tagging of content is also becoming increasingly important.[ii]
Major media companies have dedicated teams to focus on search engine optimisation (SEO), audience analysis and big data, as well as changes implemented by major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. In contrast, hyperlocal publishers do not enjoy the same levels of technical or human resources. Subsequently, they risk being left behind.
A 2013 report commissioned by Nesta, and produced by Mavens of London, identified the critical importance of appropriate SEO if audiences are to find hyperlocal content. Their analysis also highlighted how national platforms tend to dominate search results ahead of local publishers.[iii]
An under-appreciated skillset
Arguably many hyperlocal outlets underestimate the importance of these digital skills and the role that they can play in bringing wider audiences to their content.
“Need more technical skills” was ranked fifth, out of eight potential options, in a 2014 survey of practitioners, where publishers were asked “What do you feel is preventing you from expanding your hyperlocal site?”
Technical skills – which could include a myriad of other abilities such as filming, video editing, or coding – was identified by just 28.3 per cent of respondents as a barrier to progress, behind “more time,” “more volunteers,” money or sales support.[iv]
Going back to print
Examples include “print-first” titles such as Filton Voice[vi] and others like HU17.net[vii] and Hackney Citizen[viii] who have found that a good print product can attract new advertisers, reach audiences who are not online, and facilitate a different route to their digital channels.
The Carnegie UK Trust’s funding for a printed version of the Port Talbot MagNet, for example, meant that hyperlocal news – in an area with a lower than average take up of internet compared with the rest of Wales – could be accessed by everyone.[ix]
Partnerships with traditional media
Few hyperlocal services enjoy content sharing relationships with larger media organisations. There are exceptions, such as the Birmingham Mail’s Communities initiative,[x] and an informal arrangement between Hedon Blog and the Hull Daily Mail[xi] (Hedon Blog’s founder, Ray Duffill, also acts as the Hedon correspondent for the weekly Holderness Gazette), but these are in a minority.
Interestingly, a number of these partnerships – such as the relationship between Archant and EverythingEppingForest,[xii] or that between The City Talking and the Yorkshire Evening Post, involve the distribution of a print product.[xiii]
Arguably, partnerships are an area where the BBC can help to take the lead. Nesta has consistently called on the BBC to link from its websites to a broader range of hyperlocal media organisations;[xiv] More recently they have worked with the Carnegie UK Trust and others[xv] to support the BBC in the Corporation’s efforts to improve linking to external local news stories.[xvi]
The BBC’s current consultation “to formalise its commitment to ‘hyperlocal’ bloggers and community news providers online” is a welcome development; as are their plans to establish a twice yearly Hyperlocal Forum, as part of wider efforts to “ensure their [hyperlocals] strongest stories can be showcased on the BBC website.”[xvii]
8.1 Tech companies can support the sector by helping make hyperlocal content more discoverable through the provision of training (e.g. SEO and geo-tagging) and by modifications to their content discovery algorithms.
8.2 Hyperlocal publishers may underestimate their technical training needs. Training from tech companies and others in this arena could, therefore, be particularly beneficial.
8.3 Commercial media players can partner with hyperlocal publishers; thereby improving coverage of ultra-local communities or areas that are not commercially viable to cover.
8.5 The BBC could also open its archive to hyperlocal publishers. Unlike many of their commercial rivals, who seek to monetise these assets, the BBC is unlikely to monetise old local content.
[v] https://www.journalism.co.uk/news-commentary/hyperlocal-news-websites-should-consider-print/s6/a548997/, http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/hyperlocal-newspaper-be-launched-peckham and http://www.printweek.com/print-week/feature/1144797/micro-publishers-local-papers-headlines