Pen and paper…

Thoughts, ideas, questions, experiences

Thoughts on a hyperlocal project February 22, 2010

Filed under: Online journalism — Kellie Maddox @ 11:33 am
Tags: , ,

As hinted by my earlier post about ‘hyperlocal’ being the way forward, I have started to think about provisions for local news platforms in my area. I’m interested in pursuing this idea as part of my final year university project and below is my initial (in it’s very infant stage) proposal:

I would like to set up and run a hyperlocal news blog for my local area (Cannock Chase, WS12 and surrounding areas). As a journalism student, this is the area of the market that, I have observed, is currently developing and proposing solutions to the decline in local newspapers and other ‘traditional’ media platforms.

From initial research carried out, I have found that there is a gap in the market for hyperlocal news platforms. The only other one in the area is a website which is part of a national franchise scheme AboutMyArea – this lacks any real interactive features, UGC etc – and is mainly written articles similar to newspaper content.

A hyperlocal news blog responds to changing market conditions (we have one free-sheet paper and its related web presence) and provides a valuable service to the local community, especially those who increasingly access information online. It appears that there is an audience for these blogs (see the Lichfield Blog and a recent interesting blog post on hyperlocal) and that communities are becoming more interactive and involved in community-based initiatives.

As a hyperlocal blog, there are fewer commercial issues to contend with – technically it’s ‘free’ to set up (just a host like WordPress) – but obviously there is potential for it to ‘become’ a commercial investment (with local advertising etc). The purpose/role of hyperlocal platforms means that they are less ‘I am the journalist-here is the news’ and more ‘what’s going on in your community – let’s discuss it’. I would like the blog to contain more than ‘news’ articles (which many sites already offer) and include audio interviews/observations (e.g. audio boo), photographs, short video packages and more social media connections.

I think this challenge will build on and use my core journalism skills and develop the skills I’m currently learning in Online Journalism (which covers blogging, microblogging, podcasting, audio material etc).

There are obviously further areas to research: area covered, target audience, funding/hosting etc but this is my initial idea.

The following is some early feedback on my proposal from my tutor Sue Heseltine:

There are some excellent ideas here that are based on good research and it is clear that you have already begin to think through some of the issues involved. You also show some genuine understanding of how a hyperlocal blog might provide an alternative but more interactive and community-based type of service compared to the local newspapers. You also correctly identify potential areas for further research and – like all hyperlocal blogs – the issue of making it pay will be one you will have to consider. Definitely an idea worth pursuing, though.
 
So at least I feel as though it’s definitely an idea worth pursuing. Some other hyperlocal projects making their mark and offering inspiration include Stafford Direct, the Tamworth Blog, HashBrum and Capture Cardiff.
 
Diana Smith, who runs Stafford Direct, offered me some encouraging but realistic advice:
 
We really need good journalists. I have plenty of stories to tell!
 
[It’s] hard going. Will help if there are more.need to network and involve media
 
There’s a lot more research to do and things to consider but already I’m excited and motivated by the idea of contributing to a valuable local service and encouraging communities to contribute to a positive local asset.
 
Any ideas, thoughts, advice or examples of other hyperlocal projects are very welcomed. I’m interested to see how these projects begin and what the most challenging aspects of such projects are. Any words of wisdom? Are hyperlocal sites as rewarding for journalist and community alike as they seem?
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13 Responses to “Thoughts on a hyperlocal project”

  1. You might be interested in taking a look at a couple of hyperlocal sites i’m involved with – http://www.alderleyedge.com and http://www.wilmslow.co.uk. The Alderley Edge site is the more established of the two.

    As there are not any professionally trained journalists involved these sites are perhaps a little different. We are working hard on getting more and more content contributed by the community. We’ve successfully managed to get a number of schools, churches, and businesses involved and even the local police occasionally post. On the evening of a recent murder our hyperlocal site broke this major story thanks to the Local Police Community Support Officer posting the news on the site well ahead of any coverage in traditional media.

    • Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your sites, Martin. Given me some more food for thought! I think that’s the best thing about the idea of ‘hyperlocal’; getting to the story before everyone else does and getting reaction from local communities.

      It’s great that so many people have got involved with Alderley Edge – did you find people were quite willing to contribute or did it take some persuasion? Were businesses/local police etc easy to get on board?

      Thanks for your thoughts

      • It has taken time to get people involved but we make more and more progress each month. I think any hyperlocal initiative takes a fair bit of time to gain acceptance within the community. It often takes a major news story or an emotive subject, such as a contentious planning application, to get people to make their first post. Once they are over that hurdle and realise how easy it is to contribute to the site they invariably contribute further.

        With regards to businesses, we made it a no brainer to get involved as we provided many of them with free coverage. We allowed many of them to provide exclusive special offers to our audience which worked well for them and helped us grow the audience further. That also really helped develop relationships with local businesses.

        It took a little time to get the local police involved but we have been lucky that we have a PCSO and Inspector that ‘get it’.

  2. Philip John Says:

    Hi Kellie, thanks for mentioning The Lichfield Blog – always good to know we’re inspiring others!

    In an effort to provide more coverage to hyperlocal, celebrate things that are going on and encourage discussion on the future of hyperlocal, I set up Journal Local which might be helpful to you as you figure out the whole area. There are also some posts on my blog that may interest you.

    In fact, I have a post in the works at the moment highlighting those efforts by journalism students or recent graduates which should also be useful.

    All the best,
    Phil

    • Thanks for your pointers Phil – your Journal Local piece on the Future of News West Midlands meet-up is really interesting. Some of the ideas for funding hyperlocal projects have given me possibilities to think about so – thanks!

      Your series ‘Getting serious about hyperlocal’ will be very useful if my proposal does go ahead, especially the legal stuff which I need to brush up on! I look forward to reading your post about journalism students – keep up the good work!

      • Philip John Says:

        Hi Kellie,

        If things are starting to move along, please drop me an e-mail. Journal Local is progressing and now hosts a number of sites, including Inside the M60 and Online Journalism Blog (see our network). You’ll get more flexibility than WordPress.com and is free, too.

        Phil

      • Hi Philip

        Will email you next week once I’m a bit more organised! Journal Local sounds great – look forward to becoming part of it.

        Many thanks

        Kellie

  3. That’s a great proposal for a hyperlocal website.

    If you look to help your readers make their own connections, as well as inform and entertain them, you won’t go wrong.

    I’d be ready to wear a few hats alongside the journalist one, including sales rep, tech guru and ‘bright ideas’ person.

    But there is plenty of advice and support out there via Twitter, Facebook and blogs with people more than willing to help out.

    • Thanks Craig, reassuring to know that it’s a feesible idea that will hopefully make a difference to the way local communities engage with media and make that step from ‘readers’ to ‘contributers’.

      Having recently looked at many great examples, I feel there’s much to get out of the idea for me personally, but I’m more interested in how my community will respond to the site. I have my hats at the ready!

      Thanks for your comments – much appreciated!

  4. […] am confident, from the feedback received (see my blog), that this is a viable and challenging production project that will benefit me in my professional […]

  5. […] my local area in the coming months as part of my final year university project. Having drafted my proposal and discussed plans going forward with my uni tutor, there’s a couple of areas I’m […]

  6. laraoreilly Says:

    Hiya, I love your proposal. The best advice I could give would just be to get stuck in and do it! That’s if you have all the free man hours of course!

    Not meaning to do a shameless plug for my blog, but a post from a few weeks ago which might help you on your way is my Q&A with Dave Lee, the owner of The Olympic Borough hyperlocal blog. I hope it’s of interest: http://bit.ly/9Q3Z5c

    • Hi Lara

      Thanks for your advice, I’m looking to get my hyperlocal blog up and running in the next few weeks. Your interview was really interesting – thanks for pointing me to it. I think it will just be a case of getting stuck in and seeing where it goes and changing it when things go wrong!

      Ah the joys of hyperlocal blogging!

      Thanks again!


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