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Dave Harte and Jerome Turner, 'Local Digital Media' presented at Communities in Digital Age symposium, Canterbury, June 2013
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Dave Harte and Jerome Turner, 'Local Digital Media' presented at Communities in Digital Age symposium, Canterbury, June 2013


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Dave Harte and Jerome Turner, Birmingham City University, UK, 'Local Digital Media – the role of ‘Hyperlocal’ in supporting community participation in public life' presented at 'Communities in the …

Dave Harte and Jerome Turner, Birmingham City University, UK, 'Local Digital Media – the role of ‘Hyperlocal’ in supporting community participation in public life' presented at 'Communities in the Digital Age' International Symposium, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, 12 June 2013

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  • This paper explores issues around audience reception of two hyperlocal publishers in the West Midlands, UK, with contrasting communities, backgrounds and working practices. Interviews with the hyperlocal producers explores their working practices, perceived role within their community, and methods of engagement. Workshops with citizens from those communities then explored their experiences of local news media. Issues of visibility, perception, and trust were evident and the paper explores the potential for communities of ‘produsers’ (Bruns, 2005) to be encouraged and developed.The research forms part of a 30 month Research Council funded project, ‘Media Community and the Creative Citizen’, investigating the role of the creative economy in connected communities. ----- Meeting Notes (10/06/2013 16:15) -----
  • What is ‘hyperlocal’? These are small, usually web-based news media that are run by journalists, or perhaps more often, non-journalists, intended to cover a small geographic area, similar to or smaller than, that covered by local newspapers. An existing database has nearly 700 of these sites listed across the UK and some earlier research by myself found that they produce collectively about 400 news stories per day.
  • I want to begin by drawing attention to the ways in which Hyperlocal is discussed in media and policy commentary.There are generally two positions taken up in commentary about hyperlocal. In each of these hyperlocal is pitched as a way to solve either industry or societal problems. In a piece on ‘The Value of Networked Journalism’, written by Charlie Beckett, he sees it as solving the “drastic problem of declining professional regional and local news media”. This isn’t an uncommon position. The local press is in decline – perhaps hyperlocal has a role here? Recent attention by Ofcom in reports from 2009 and 2012 suggest that Hyperlocal may plat a role in the PSB landscape.
  • The second way in which hyperlocal is discussed is in the context of community relations. Ironically here’s an example of a journalism commentator, Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, arguing that hyperlocal may have a role in repairing Britain’s ”fractured communities”. Although I can see some logic in these positions, as someone who does hyperlocal I can’t quite see myself in either of these roles. That is, I don't think I’m saving communities or saving journalism.
  • It is the civic role of hyperlocal that is foregrounded in emerging literature about hyperlocal. That is, its contributions to ‘public journalism’, as US academics tend to frame it. Metzgar et al. (2011) draw on empirical work carried out in the US, identifying hyperlocal’s function, amongst others: to promote civic engagement. (Metzgar et al. 2011: 774). Likewise, Hatcher, argues that hyperlocal journalism is “driven by the voices of community members more than by the agendas of policymakers” (Hatcher 2012: 244). Glaser notes that: “The motivation of starting independent hyper-local sites is often to tell the previously untold stories of communities […] (Glaser 2010: 585)” This civic/community role is also expressed by practitioners themselves. A group of hyperlocal publishers, have set up the ‘Hyperlocal Alliance’ with 73 members (as of April 2013) and defines: “A Hyperlocal is any web site which […]; encourages and facilitates debate within the community.”(Hyperlocal Alliance 2013)
  • So in academic, policy and media commentary, hyperlocal seems like it has a lot riding on it. It’s timely then to undertake a qualitative assessment of the relationship between publishers and citizens.
  • We’re engaged in two ongoing case studies, with hyperlocalsTyburn Mail and Connect Cannock. These have so far consisted of interviews with practitioners and workshops with communities in those areas. We decided on group workshops rather than individual interviews, as we wanted to explore communal experiences of news, and benefit from a conversation about local issues.
  • Activities involved discussions and also exercises such as this where we asked people to describe their typical daily news consumption on a timeline. Thisis interesting because it’s starting to describe their online local news consumption, despite people in the workshops also talking about heavy use of what we might think of as more passive, traditional forms such as radio and TV. BUT today we’ll draw on the transcripts of discussions.
  • Cannock is close to the National Park of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, so it’s easy to assume it’s rural, picturesque, quite well to do. This isn’t necessarily the case, it’s not that different to any other West Midlands market town. Tyburn Mail is just north east of Birmingham, very urban, quite deprived, and an area evolving from regeneration focus.
  • From our interviews we see differing working practices, background skills and experience. They both talk about serving their community, producing news and information, but whereas Tyburn Mail seek to be journalistic and retain independence, Connect Cannock is maybe more relaxed, describing it more as a hobby
  • Practitioner interviews give us an idea of their role within community. Tyburn want to be seen as independent, partly because their output used to be more promotional, but also to combat the idea that relationships with housing association affects their output, when in fact all that housing association does is take out advertorial pages in the paper. Connect Cannock’s stance is more relaxed, perhaps because the activity isn’t employment, and there are no revenue streams attached. Connect Cannock, in fact, says there was no initial agenda in setting it up. They both describe a role in informing, and explaining complex issues e.g. police commissioner elections. They have a good knowledge of the receding local media, and then can describe where local papers have disappeared in Cannock, or what they see as failings of local press like the Birmingham Mail
  • Tyburn interviews:Tyburn Mail describe a regeneration culture of strong community groups in the area. They advise theircontacts of their print deadlines to give them opportunity to contribute, and also talk about schools sending press releases and even people who they call “leakers, or informants”. The second quote here at least describe a strategicapproach to the web, but they’re also aware they don’t, in their words, “communicate with the average person who’s happy to keep their head down”, their passive readerships. There is generally a reticence to concentrate on the web, when their print readership is so strong; they see the web as being too transient, compared to their print stories.Tyburn workshops:In the workshops there was comment that stories often come from residents, based on issues and problems, with the activist element coming from residents rather than Tyburn Mail following up stories. Some commented Tyburn Mail is too negative, and crime-based, and maybe that’s why people don’t engage.Cannock interviews:Connect Cannock’s approach is more relaxed, as we see in this quote. He guesses lack of feedback to their content may be due to visibility and relevance of the stories, as opposed to issues with writing style or approach, for example. It’s interesting that the author isn’t hugely concerned by the lack of feedback and comments, despite some efforts to call for community engagement, e.g. readers’ photos.Now he is more known, he does think people engage with him more. Maybe there is no science to this anyway: both Connect Cannock and Tyburn Mail describe trying to guess what stories will get most feedback, and getting it wrong.Cannock workshops:In looking at a few stories during the workshop, participants appreciated Connect Cannock is local and part of the community, and said this increased their chance of being engaged.
  • Citizens seem a little confused about hyperlocal practice, or assume agendas that aren’t there. Connect CannockThe fragmented, personalised brands of hyperlocal might be an issue, as they’re unrecognisable; at first glance, they call it “an organisation”, but later, actually said they would trust an organisation more than an individual author because, in their words, “you’re getting it from more than one person”.When the site is revealed to be run by an individual citizen, they are also concerned about the fragility of this as a news source, the lack of business model to sustain it.Trust changes with each story: any mention of a business equates to advertorial in their eyes, whilst an appeal story is referred to as “community news”. Perception of Tyburn MailWhen shown the Tyburn Mail site, participants said there’s more in it than the paper, it’s more up to date, as thepaper is monthlySite feels more like‘news’ to them; paper is described as more of a ‘taster’.Whilst Tyburn Mail themselves said crime was an easy thing to report, some participants see Tyburn Mail as under-reporting it, others as over-reporting. There’s often an assumption the picture is skewed or not reflecting reality. There is also some mistrust of the web format, with assumptions thatTyburn Mail might be “profiling” readers, and that, in their words, “it can trace you back in terms of your personal identity. I don’t know what they do with that.”
  • There were various instances to demonstrate a potential for citizens as participants in local news.One person described how they additionally researched details of a story: “Well, they can’t chuck this bloke out because he hasn’t gone to court. I’ve enquired about him. Because he hasn’t gone to court and he hasn’t been found guilty, they can’t do anything about it.”Citizens also sometimes address the issues they feel Tyburn Mail avoided, such as negative portrayals of the council, saying: “the bin men had been and took the bins, and somebody took a photo of the stuff they’d left. The Council wouldn’t do that, but that came from the locals.”
  • As I noted at the beginning, Academics, commentators and policy-makers alike seem keen for citizens to play their part in the ‘networked public sphere’ (Benkler 2006) but too often the space left behind by a retreating local press is described in singular terms, rather than being various shades of messy and complicated depending on the locality. As we’ve seen, the relationships between citizens and the embedded local media producers we’re studying is complex. At times, it’s tense.Chen et al., argues how hyperlocals have the potential to “serve not only as a traditional information source but also as a forum for ongoing discussion of local affairs and a mechanism for building and strengthening relationships among local residents” (2012: 932). Our research suggests that practitioners are strongly motivated by their role in providing such a forum but without further research it’s hard to say that collectively, Hyperlocal, can move beyond its precarious present and play a more substantive role in the future of local journalism and community communications.
  • Ourongoing research is very much from the view of the practitioner and the audience. Ourintention is to explore the notion of everyday participation and activism through the practice of hyperlocal.Also say: one of three strands. Nov 2014 end.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Local Digital Media – the role of ‘Hyperlocal’ in supporting community participation in public life Dave Harte, Jerome Turner: Birmingham City University
    • 2. Abstract • Qualitative examination of Hyperlocal and its audiences. • Part of 30-month examination of ‘creative citizenship’.
    • 3. Hyperlocal will save us – version 1 “[…]hyper-local journalism is not simply a hobby or a pleasant localist addition. It is a potential amelioration of the drastic problem of declining professional regional and local news media.” (Beckett and Herve-Azevedo 2010: 11)
    • 4. Hyperlocal will save us – version 2 “The growing belief in hyperlocal media needs much more thought, especially in Britain. We have fractured communities here and there is an urgent need to find some glue.” (Greenslade 2007)
    • 5. Hyperlocal’s civic role Academics: “[…] to promote civic engagement.” (Metzgar et al. 2011: 774) “[…] driven by the voices of community members more than by the agendas of policymakers.” (Hatcher 2012: 244) “The motivation of starting independent hyper-local sites is often to tell the previously untold stories of communities.” (Glaser 2010: 585) Practitioners: “A Hyperlocal is any web site which […] encourages and facilitates debate within the community.” (Hyperlocal Alliance 2013)
    • 6. Researching Hyperlocal • Timely to consider the relationship between those who run hyperlocals and the communities they serve.
    • 7. Research Methods • Two case studies, Tyburn Mail and Connect Cannock • Semi-structured interviews with practitioners • Workshops with members of those communities
    • 8. Case Studies
    • 9. Working practices Tyburn Mail Connect Cannock Format/s Monthly newspaper, Wordpress blog, FB page, Twitter account. Wordpress blog, Facebook page, Twitter account Income Housing association buys advertorial, advertising revenue, grant support None (once tried selling advertising) Staff One journalist, supported by a few other staff One blogger, supported by partner for photography Hours 9-5, 4 days a week Evenings (otherwise full-time employed) Background Formal journalism training / experience No journalism training /exp., works in online tech industry Key skills “Journalism” Web, technical (initially) Motivations To be journalistic, to serve community, but to retain independence Hobby, to inform the community, less concerned about being ‘journalistic’ Story sources Readers, community groups, press releases from schools, police, attending community meetings RSS feeds, attending community meetings, email lists, word of mouth, relationships with police, council, etc
    • 10. Role within community “We, as a minor hyperlocal media, reflect the position of the general public.” Tyburn Mail “There’s no pretence that I’m going to fulfil a media role in the area, but I do think it does help and give an idea of what’s happening.” Connect Cannock
    • 11. Engagement “There are very large number of community groups that make the community accessible. Certainly, if you wanted to contact a pressure group or an interest group you would know where to do it in Castle Vale.” “I think our core audience is the middle aged to older generation of community activists. I don’t think that we can claim to be reaching, on a regular basis, the younger generation. When I’ve written an article and I want to reach the younger generation, I put a link to it on our Facebook page[…]” Tyburn Mail “I tend to find, initially I tried to do very much what I thought was proper journalism and write it in that style. But the [stories] that are more effective, I think, are the ones that are a little more relaxed.” Connect Cannock
    • 12. Perception and trust “I think what doesn’t work about local news, is if you try and use internet. You tend to get a lot of sites that claim to tell you stuff, but all they’re really doing is riding the back of advertising. It's just not worth it. Just don’t go there. The internet has got a little bit of a problem like that for some local news.” Cannock workshop “The problem is, I find, because CVCHA [housing association] actually own Tyburn Mail and Switch now, the problem is I think there’s a danger of it becoming more biased and I’ve noticed that. A lot of peoples’ negative articles or opinions are being filtered out. Especially if it’s against the housing and social.” Tyburn workshop
    • 13. Potential for produsers • Citizens describe doing personal research to further their understanding of a story, when Tyburn Mail hasn’t covered in enough detail for them • People have the confidence, story of woman at crime scene asking police on scene for more info • Locals taking photos of unemptied bins • Many in the Tyburn area already involved, having suggested stories, written in, delivered it, done radio work
    • 14. Conclusion Hyperlocals: “serve not only as a traditional information source but also as a forum for ongoing discussion of local affairs and a mechanism for building and strengthening relationships among local residents” (Chen 2012: 932)
    • 15. Further Research • Co-creation with communities. • Survey/interviews with practitioners.