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What do we mean when we talk about hyperlocal?
By Matt Abbott | 16th May 2017
At the Centre for Community Journalism, we regularly get asked: what is a hyperlocal? And what is hyperlocal news?
As the only organisation in the UK actively and exclusively working to support the sector, we thought we should define exactly what it is we’re supporting, and why.
The shift to online has resulted in an upheaval of the traditional models of journalism. Jobs have been lost, revenues are in decline as advertising dries up, and public service journalism has been hit hardest as publications retreat from their traditional stomping grounds.
But this digital migration has also inspired individuals and communities to step up to provide an alternative source of information through social enterprises, businesses and voluntary services; delivering enormous civic value.
Defining a hyperlocal
We believe independent community and hyperlocal journalism, a movement which is still growing, helps promote social cohesion; connects and engages individuals to address local issues and affect positive change. A better-informed citizenry and increased local accountability mean stronger communities and a healthier democracy.
We define a community and hyperlocal news publication as a news service that typically pertains to a specific geographic area such as a town, neighbourhood, village, county or even postcode.
There are multiple ways to define this sector, and publications use many different terms to describe themselves. The defining characteristic for us is that a publication is independent of political, commercial, and religious interests, is community-focussed, and producing contemporaneous news content.
We believe in a relatively broad definition of news that includes breaking news, arts & culture, sports, news features, cultural and community entertainment events, campaigns, weather, transport, crime, local history and local business, and schools.
What do they do
There are over 400 of these dedicated outlets run by groups and individuals with passion and knowledge for the communities they serve. The outlets range from information hubs and arts and culture periodicals to more traditional models of news publications and investigative news services; each one bound by a strong editorial quality of public service reporting.
These independent community and hyperlocal news publishers are active in supporting or starting local campaigns. More than half engage in investigative reporting, which has helped uncover new information about local civic issues. Almost half of those publications are run by individuals with journalistic training or experience working in the mainstream media. The most common topic covered by independent community and hyperlocal news publications is community activities eg. local councils and the services they provide, festivals, events, and societies.
Where are they going?
Innovation and experimentation are vital if this sector is to thrive, and some publications have taken advantage of technological developments to produce highly functional content. The modern digital media ecology means that the majority of these publications are online. However, we are seeing a growth in the number of outlets taking their publication to print, to complement and broaden their digital offering, and to attract local advertisers.
As local newspapers close and long-standing titles are merged with regional titles, community and hyperlocal news publishers step in to fill the void, succeeding with fewer resources and smaller revenues where corporate models have failed.
The traditional local press still has a positive and essential role to play in helping inform, engage and scrutinise communities. We believe communities can benefit from both models of journalism and that each should be treated equally and held to the same standards.
At the other end of the spectrum, where there are no economies of scale and where profit margins are non-existent, individuals struggle day in day out to keep their publications viable. Chief among these struggles is economics: how to generate a sustainable revenue stream.
This is where a representative network will be able to assist, in helping to shape the new media ecology that is grounded in the belief that journalism benefits and belongs to the communities it serves.
For more information, please contact Matt Abbott on Abbottm2@cardiff.ac.uk
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