Hyper-local news; does it work?

 

As we all know the local and regional press have been facing problems since the introduction of the internet and the new technologies that come with the digital world. Over the past couple of days I have been looking at two articles on the Guardian’sGreenslade Blog” to do with hyper-local news websites.

The first of the articles is by Ross Hawkes the founder of Lichfield Live, exploring what we mean by hyper-local and why it works. He suggests that “patch reporters” are a dying breed in the traditional media as a lot of the time journalists are too remote from their audiences, there isn’t enough interaction with the local community and therefore those communities cannot be expected to trust their local journalists. This is where hyper-local news comes into play in making the local media more accessible to the communities that they are writing about. Hyper-local publishers have the opportunity to gain an emotional connection with their audiences via the use of social media such as Twitter allowing journalists to interact with people in real-time making them the centre of the local social circle. Journalists can become known and trusted by the local community via their physical presence that so many big, traditional media publishers are missing out on by being so far away from the local community. Hawkes shows in his article how the hyper-local newsrooms work with technology rather than against it. For example, there is the opportunity to set up a newsroom anywhere nowadays with technology on our side but the downfall is that a lot of journalists and publishers aren’t utilising this.

The second article I looked at is by Richard Jones, the founder of hyper-local website Saddlworth news. Jones also points out the positives of hyper-local news websites referring to why he set up the website as public-spirited. He says that when he moved to the area their was little news coverage but the area had such a distinct identity that he chose to do something himself. One of the positives he noted was that he could publish stories faster than other outlet meaning that his number of unique users doubled overnight. Jones also mentions the negatives that are involved in creating hyper-local news websites, the main one being money.

I’m a journalist, not a salesman. And I found selling ads on Saddleworth News difficult. I think this was partly down to my own lack of selling skills, and partly because most business owners weren’t used to internet advertising.

It’s obvious that all kinds of local media are experiencing economic difficulties in a time where users can access news online for free. I think it’s evident that the local media needs to find a way of using the internet and technology to it’s advantage just like the successful national media publishers have done. The House of Commons “Future for local and regional media” report states that hyper-local news websites are positive for these reasons:

-Valuable service to community

-Interacting with the readership

-The exchange of local information

-Maintaining a local identity and discussing local issues

In my opinion, after reading the two articles and the report, I can see why hyper-local news websites are becoming popular and why they are developing. They seem to do a much better job than the traditional local media in relaying news, events and stories to the local community because they are embracing technology and interacting with their readers making sure that the community remains feeling like a tight-knit social circle. Maybe the traditional local news could take a leaf out of the hyper-local book?

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The Future of Local News

 

This week I am looking at a parliament report from the House of Commons into the future of the regional and local media. The report takes a look into what is affecting the local media, why it is the way it is, if it has a future and whether it is under threat by the growth of the internet and technology. After reading this report, I have come to the conclusion that if the local and regional media is suffering and under threat then it is simply due to a lack of resources and innovation when it comes to making local news interesting.

The 2009 government report discusses the functions of the local and regional media and describes them as this:

– Scrutinises and holds to account local authorities and institutions

– Informs people of news and events in their local community

– Forms part of the local identity of an area. 

Now, to me these are good things for the local media to do. So why are they suffering?

The report notes that they have faced a number of challenges from the recession to structural changes to the internet and technology. The first two challenges are completely understandable as most businesses have suffered at the hands of our economic crisis and to an extent I do understand that the popularity of the internet will have hindered the local media’s circulation. However, I believe that it is so important for the local media to get on board with the new technologies and the internet and really use it to their advantage.

Take a look at a couple of websites for local newspapers in South London for example:

Do these websites look enticing to you? Are they interesting? Are they very different from one another? Would you want to visit them everyday to get your local news? I’m guessing that the answer to the majority of those questions is no. These websites for local newspapers are so boring and plain that they surely can’t expect people to want to access them. The 2009 government report even concluded that the local media needs to be innovative with their websites and use of technology in order to get out of this slump that they’re in and they suggested that the IFNC (Independently financed news consortia) should offer a skills and resource base in order to help local newspapers make the vital transition to online and print publication.

It’s not that people don’t value the local and regional media as the report showed that 90% of UK adults consume local media with 3/4 of those reading a local newspaper weekly but only a minute 1/5 accessing their local newspapers websites. I’m sure that for a lot of people the web is more convenient, it’s free and they can access it from their bed in their pyjamas so why aren’t they using it for their local news? I think it’s because of the lack of focus on these websites, the lack of care and perhaps a lack of staff and also knowledge.

On a positive note however, the 2009 government report highlighted the fact that people do value the local and regional media with the Press Association saying:

it’s a trusted source of public service information and accountability for local communities.

And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport stating:

Government recognises the importance to our democracy of local news, as a source of independent, local information produced to high journalistic standards, and news plurality. We believe that wide availability of news at all levels, national, regional and local, is at the core of public service content. Research carried out as part of Ofcom’s public service broadcasting (PSB) review showed very clearly that people trust and value the provision and choice in news services in this country, and they trust and value local and regional news in particular.

The local and regional media is obviously still very important, it just needs a little bit of help in keeping up with the digital world.

The impact of social media

As I mentioned in my previous post about citizen journalism the internet and social media has the ability to change mainstream journalism and the way we access our news. Social media is forever changing and evolving making it difficult to keep up with it and find ways to use it effectively.

However, Nic Newman states in his 2009 study “The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism”, that there are three main reasons behind mainstream news outlets getting on board with social media:

  • Telling better stories: Building on Dan Gillmor’s insight10 that there is always someone who knows more than you do, news organisations are crowdsourcing comments, pictures, videos insights and ideas. This supplements and complements their own newsgathering sources and enriches their output.
  • Making better relationships: Engaged users tend to be more loyal and spend more time, making them more valuable to advertisers or for promoting and selling other company services.
  • Getting new users in: With audiences spending more and more time withsocialnetworks,11 thesehavebecometheobviousplacetolook for the ‘hard to reach’ or reconnect with former loyalists. 

In my personal opinion, I think it’s great that big media organisations are using social media to their advantage rather than letting the changing technology scare them. It’s good that they’re working with the new technologies rather than against them as the use of social media can be so effective in hearing about new stories the minute they happen, gaining sources and images direct from scenes and engaging with their audiences.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that social media isn’t always a positive experience. Many media organisations are using social media and UGC allowing their readers to comment on news stories, blogs and anything else on their websites. Now, this can be a truly positive and a great thing to do when you get people interacting with the organisation and each other, sharing thoughts, opinions and stories. But there is always the possibility that there will be a few less than helpful comments from people that feel the need to share their views offensively.  It’s important to monitor the UGC received from using social media in order to make news organisation websites as effective as possible.

The revolution that never happened

Steen Steensen is yet another journalist to explore the ways in which technology is changing the face of journalism in his blog new journalism/new media.

Steen notes, as many others have done, that media executives and academics alike making predictions that technology will revolutionise and perhaps cause the end of journalism as we know it, are wrong. He rightly argues that the majority of online newspapers are still producing written text for their audiences just like regular print publications do when there is a whole world of technology including hyperlinks, multimedia and ways to interact with their readers at their fingertips. All of this “great technology” is readily available so why aren’t they using it if it is supposed to be so revolutionary? I suppose it could be that online readers still want the same types of journalism as they would get in a print copy without having to go out and buy it and with the luxury of being able to read it on their smartphones or laptops. But if that’s the case, then what’s the point of having all of this new technology? 

Steen also notes that everyone believed that the telephone, television, radio and computers would cause “the end of history, the end of geography and the end of politics” but they definitely haven’t. They have changed the world and the way people access information but with each invention and technological change the others haven’t been wiped out and become redundant. None of the previous changes have killed journalism; so why should the internet? 

I have to say that I agree with Steensen, the internet will, inevitably, change journalism and the way we approach things but it won’t happen as quickly or as a dramatically as people seem to predict. The evolution will be slow and journalistic practice will continue to be the same but with adaptations for the online world.

The future of journalism

This week I have been looking at James Curran’s literature on the future of journalism in Technology Foretold and The Future of Journalism; within these two texts Curran looks at previous predictions about how technology will change society and journalism.

In Technology Foretold, James Curran highlights how the expectation and predictions surrounding technology in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s were rather far-fecthed and indeed, wrong. Leading industry experts, the media itself and the public believed that changes within technology would lead to forms of old media being completely wiped out and journalism and society would change dramatically. Kenneth Baker, the technology minister at the time, said that Cable TV would have “more far-reaching effects than the industrial revolution 200 years ago.” This highlights just how high expectation was and how oblivious people were to the reality. In reality, only 1% of homes had cable in 1989 and only 13% in 2008. This fact alone shows that the hype that surrounded this new technology was unnecessary and misplaced; also making it clear that you can’t really predict the future and what or how technology will effect journalism.

However, Curran also shows that it would naive to think that the ever evolving world of technology will not have some effect on the journalism industry. In The Future of Journalism he highlights the fact that the internet has had an effect on paid journalism jobs and a number of redundancies have been made as a result. For example, between 2008 and 2009, 106 local newspapers closed in Britain and The Trinity Mirror reduced its staff by 1200. Although this suggests that the internet has hindered old media in Britain, Curran is also keen to point out that new medias have been affected too as ITV had to cut 1000 jobs in the same year. James Curran explores all arguments within his articles and gives a well-balanced point of view.

I think that he makes it clear that you cannot predict the future and we can’t really see what direction journalism will go in, the world is constantly changing and technology is constantly evolving. Investors, advertisers and the public will have constantly evolving opinions and needs and the media can’t always predict those needs.

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