Public Broadcasters Venture into Online Hyperlocal News: A Case Study of NewsWorks

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  • 1. Public Broadcasters Venture into Online Hyperlocal News: A Case Study of
    • International Symposium on Online Journalism
    • Austin, Texas - April 1, 2011
    • Mark Berkey-Gerard
    • Assistant Professor, Rowan University
    • [email_address]
  • 2. Abstract
    • In November 2010, WHYY Inc., a PBS and NPR member station serving the Greater Philadelphia area, launched NewsWorks.org. It provides regional news and information in Eastern PA, Southern NJ and DE. NewsWorks also features a "hyperlocal newsgathering” effort in Northwest Philadelphia.
    • It is a pilot program of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, designed to test "the possibilities of online hyperlocal journalism, driven by public media values and skills."
  • 3. Research questions
    • R1: Why the public media organization (historically TV and radio) chose to embark on online hyperlocal project?
    • R2: How does the public media organization define hyperlocal journalism?
    • R3: How does the public media organization practice hyperlocal newsgathering?
  • 4. Methodology
    • Intrinsic, qualitative case study of WHYY
    • Conducted over a 12-month period (8 months prior to launch, 4 months after)
    • Project documents
    • Observations of strategy sessions, community meetings, newsroom, trainings.
    • In-depth interviews with WHYY staff members
  • 5. “ Uggh. Hyperlocal.”
    • Hyperlocal is a problematic term
    • WHYY staff ambivalent about term, preferred “local” or “community.”
    • Researcher used hyperlocal to stay consistent with the original language and intent of the CPB grant and pilot project.
  • 6. Philly News Landscape
    • Fourth largest media market in U.S.
    • Newspaper turmoil: Inquirer and Daily News acquired and sold off (2006), local ownership, bankruptcy (2010), Philly.com, most prominent online news publication
    • “ Vibrant media landscape... with niche reporting sites, legacy newspapers and an active community of creative technologists,” but also diminished local public affairs reporting. (J-Lab Report 2010)
  • 7. WHYY Inc.
    • Started in mid-1950s
    • Dual license public broadcaster: TV (Channel 12) and radio (90.9 FM)
    • $27 million budget, 160 staff
    • Produces nationally syndicated programs, "Fresh Air with Terry Gross"
    • Limited web presence: WHYY.org primarily program schedule and archives
  • 8. Origins of NewsWorks
    • Grew out of turmoil of newspaper industry
    • Philanthropic foundations involved
    • Several versions from 2006 to 2010
    • Scaled down version: $300K CPB startup grant for $1.2 million operation
    • Part of larger effort to digitize member stations
    • Compete with Patch.com and Journal Register
  • 9. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • "Experiment" in the context of four challenges:
    • 1. Legacy to Multiplatform
    • 2. Revenue and Membership
    • 3. Stronger News Brand
    • 4. Media Training and Education
  • 10. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 1. Legacy to Multiplatform
    • WHYY identity, culture, and practice
    • “ Until the advent of NewsWorks, online was frankly the stepchild of broadcast. There was recognition that you needed to be online, but there was no big investment in it."
  • 11. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 2. Revenue and Membership
    • Decline in government funding
    • Radio membership up; TV down
    • Philanthropic investment
    • Online underwriting untapped
  • 12. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 3. Stronger News Brand
    • “ For many, WHYY is not a news organization. It’s where they see Sesame Street or arts programming. And on 90.9 FM, it’s NPR. For our purpose, NPR is the more significant set of letters than WHYY. Part of our message is that we are taking everything you love about NPR to the web for a local news venture."
  • 13. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 3. Stronger News Brand
    • Distinct brand, logo, and messaging
  • 14. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 4. Media Training and Education
    • Dorrance H. Hamilton
    • Public Media Commons,
    • $12 million education
    • Center opened
    • May 2010.
  • 15. R1: Why Hyperlocal?
    • 4. Media Training and Education
    • “… better future for
    • a public media
    • organization than simply
    • being a PBS and
    • NPR member station."
  • 16. R2: Define Hyperlocal?
    • Philly is a city of neighborhoods
    • 8 zip codes in Northwest Philadelphia
    • 190,000 residents in 15 distinct neighborhoods
    • Largely residential, diverse racially/economically
    • Strong civic and religious life
  • 17. R2: Define Hyperlocal?
    • Added value for base of support
    • Zip 19118 - $120K avg annual gross income
    • (Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy)
    • 2. Outreach to target demographic
    • 30’s, educated, professional, civic-minded
    • (Manayunk and East Falls)
    • 3. Public service
    • Zip 19138 - $28K avg annual gross income
    • (Germantown and West Oak Lane)
  • 18. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • News content:
      • crime
      • real estate
      • schools
      • religious and civic events
      • zoning and development
      • open space and recreation
      • local history
    • … in context of larger city issues.
  • 19. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • News content created by:
    • 1. WHYY staff
    • 2. content partnerships
    • 3. paid freelancers and community contributors
    • 4. user-generated
  • 20. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • 1. WHYY Staff
    • Three community editors
    • mix of reporting, editing, and outreach
    • goal of 50/50 time in community/office
    • Additional reporters and producers
    • local angles in arts, health, science, govt. beats
  • 21. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • 2. Content Partnerships
    • 18 content partners
    • online news orgs (Notebook, PlanPhilly)
    • tech companies (Azavea mapping)
    • Daily News blogs (City Howl, It's Our Money)
    • weekly newspapers
    • universities (Temple, U of Arts, LaSalle)
    • civic organizations
  • 22. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • 2. Content Partnerships
    • "There is no way we are going to generate enough content by ourselves to sustain this kind of web play. So we have no choice but to partner. Partnerships are both a good idea, and clearly something that foundations are looking for.
    • Partnership is a buzzword, but they are hard to achieve."
  • 23. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • 3. Paid Freelancers and Community Contributors
    • Assigned to cover local meetings, events, and essays
    • Pay ranges from $10 for news brief to $300 for multimedia story
    • Maintain quality and participation
  • 24. R3: Practice Hyperlocal?
    • 4. User Generated Content
    • Numerous ways to participate:
    • -news tips
    • -lists
    • -mapping
    • -discussion areas
    • -multimedia
    • Driven by incentive system, “Ben Bucks”
  • 25. Conclusion
    • NewsWorks project impact on WHYY:
    • Web platform equal to TV and radio
    • New underwriting potential
    • Local reporting as a higher priority
    • Expanded newsroom staff
    • Outlet for media training facility
  • 26. Conclusion
    • NewsWorks project impact on WHYY:
    • Added value for dedicated audience
    • Outreach to target demographic
    • Public service to an underserved area
    • Partnerships
    • Engaging local community
  • 27. Future of
    • Redesign of website
    • Mobile applications
    • Seeking foundation funding
    • Membership model work on Web?
  • 28. Future of
    • "The key is... what kind of online experience creates a sense of ownership and community in a younger demographic that leads them to give money in the same way that older people give to public broadcasting?"
  • 29. Future of
    • "Who would be so stupid to think they were sure this was going to work? I think there is a pretty strong argument to be made for public media being a place – if it is going to succeed anywhere – it would be here. It is full of journalists working at a discount because they believe in the mission. Hyperlocal requires people to 'do windows,' to do things out of a sense of service."