A CIPR Cymru Wales event in Cardiff last night examined the phenomenon of community-based sites, covering very local news – the kind of news which local newspapers no longer carry because they now have less space and fewer staff.
Is this phenomenon just a flash in the pan? Well, serious people are taking it seriously.
And this video by the hugely respected Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) includes interviews with successful practitioners and intellectual insight from the likes of Ian Hargreaves:
“When the local paper goes, the danger is that the spirit of the community will go. You can’t do everything by word of mouth, even in a medium-sized community – a small town, or a small part of a city. You need a quality of information, you need to know how to get it, and you need to be able to get it quickly. Hyperlocal sites offer speedier updating than newspapers were ever able to do.”
So, with local newspaper sales in steep decline, hyperlocal sites apparently offer some hope for the future of local journalism. And Cardiff University and others are looking at professional training to ensure consistently high standards.
But there are two big issues here. Firstly, can these sites be financially viable? At present, a whole range of business models is in evidence – some take advertising, some sell branded merchandise, and some are just self-financed as a hobby.
Secondly, there’s that question of journalistic standards. If these sites can be run as a profitable business, they can employ professional journalists. Otherwise, they stick to “safe” material – a new shop, a jumble sale, a missing cat – and link to professional sites for crime and other hard news.
That’s all fine, but if hyperlocal news sites are ultimately expected to fill the gap left if (when?) local newspapers disappear, they will need to do much more. One of the many valuable roles of local media has been to hold policy-makers to account – and that can require real investigative journalism by real trained journalists, paid real salaries.
The title image is the cover of the Nesta report ‘Here and Now: UK hyperlocal media today’ which can be read here and now.
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