This is the tenth 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.
● Many hyperlocal services have delivered campaigns that meet local needs.
● Sites contribute to active communities and the creation of social capital. Their content has civic as well as news and democratic value.
● Local media plays an important role in community identity. The absence and disappearance of local papers can negatively impact on this. In some cases gaps are filled by hyperlocal outlets.
The work of hyperlocal publishers can have a discernible contribution to an area; going beyond news reporting to have a social impact that positively affects local communities. Hyperlocal media also has an emotional function, helping to root people in a community and reflecting a sense of place.[i]
The most obvious example of the local impact delivered by hyperlocal publishers is through campaigns. Kings Cross Environment has tackled noise pollution from the Cemex concrete plant,[ii] while the ‘Hedon Pong’ campaign,[iii] saw Yorkshire Water invest £3.5m in odour control and provide compensation in the form of a £50,000 community grants fund[iv] as a result of Hedon Blog’s efforts.
A 2014 survey of practitioners revealed a third of hyperlocal publishers have run local campaigns that champion community needs.[v] Many more have covered other people’s campaigns.
These activities can make a substantial difference in the visibility of a hyperlocal outlet. Tipping points for raising awareness can include local campaigns such as Brixton Blog’s successful effort to Save the Lambeth Country Show,[vi] or the investigative journalism manifest in The Bristol Cable’s analysis of the University of Bristol’s “ethical investment” policy[vii] and other exclusives.[viii]
Building active communities
Alongside more formal campaigns, hyperlocal sites also provide opportunities for communities to come together to discuss important local issues and to share information. The value of this is especially evident in the on-going success of forums.
Although a hangover from Web 1.0, these platforms – such as East Dulwich Forum or Sheffield Forum[ix] – remain remarkably resilient providing a simple, but effective, means for netizens to discuss local news and share tips and local recommendations with one another. Since 2002, 180,000 people have produced nearly 7.6 million posts, on more than half a million topics, on the Sheffield Forum.
Other opportunities to promote engagement include using tools such as the FixMyStreet app. Produced by MySociety, this widget can be embedded on a website so that hyperlocal audiences can report local problems including graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.
Reflecting cultural identity
Just as local newspapers have historically acted as a record of local life, so hyperlocal websites are also providing a valuable everyday snapshot of everyday life. In recognition of this, the British Library is creating an archive[xi] of online hyperlocal content, which will provide a digital record for the nation.
This archive will include local news, as well as other hyperlocal efforts that tell the story of the people and places across the UK. This includes the daily stories produced by Spitalfields Life[xii] and the “Voices from the Motherland” strand[xiii] on Digbeth is Good, both of which offer us an in-depth cultural insight into the rich tapestry of their respective communities.
Hyperlocal services also shine a light on geographic areas – such as the village of Parwich in Derbyshire through to communities such as Port Talbot[xiv] in Wales which have been deserted, or are too small to cover, by mainstream media. Their presence can be instrumental in helping communities to understand what’s happening in their area, as well as giving people a sense of pride in their locality.
Instilling civic pride
Perhaps the best manifestation of this ambition was found in the memorably named Birmingham: It’s Not Shit, which spent over a decade covering the UK’s oft maligned second city.[xvi] Similarly, Stoke’s Pits ‘n’ Pots, showed there was more to the city than a failing local government.
Meanwhile, after terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson told Fox News viewers earlier this year that Birmingham is “entirely Muslim” and that non-Muslims don’t go into the city, Birmingham Updates encouraged him to apologise and to make a donation to Birmingham Children’s Hospital; which Mr Emerson duly did.[xvii] His apology, posted by the site, has been retweeted 1,189 times.[xviii]
Local media plays an important role in helping to forge and reflect local identity. The loss, therefore, of local newspapers[xix] can have a noticeable effect on a community.[xx] By the same token, the community benefits of hyperlocal websites include: “Information sharing, neighbourly relations, collective efficacy, social inclusion and diversity, belonging and attachment.”[xxi]
9.1 Research is needed to evaluate the financial value of social capital created by hyperlocal.
9.2 These types of case studies would also benefit from wider distribution.
9.3 This impact should be tracked and reported to show the long-term impact. Such measurement is especially important if there’s increased intervention in the sector, bringing it in line with research into public funding for the Arts, or the impact of National Lottery good causes.