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Hyper-local Media: A Small but Growing Part of the Local Media Ecosystem

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"Hyperlocal media has expanded significantly in the UK in the past 12 to 18 months, notes Damian Radcliffe. Supported by new funding and training initiatives, interest from academics and policy-makers, as well as the increased take-up of internet-enabled mobile devices, the result has been a step-change in activity and interest in the hyperlocal scene." Contribution to “What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism” – published Sept 2013 by Abramis Academic Publishing and edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble, Neil Fowler: http://www.abramis.co.uk/books/bookdetails.php?id=184549593

Summary version available on the BBC College of Journalism website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/blogcollegeofjournalism/posts/Hyperlocal-media-A-small-but-growing-part-of-the-local-media-ecosystem

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Hyper-local Media: A Small but Growing Part of the Local Media Ecosystem

  1. 1. Hyperlocal Media: A Small but Growing Part of the Local Media Ecosystem Hyperlocal media has expanded significantly in the UK in the past 12 to 18 months, notes Damian Radcliffe. Supported by new funding and training initiatives, interest from academics and policy-makers, as well as the increased take-up of internet-enabled mobile devices, the result has been a step-change in activity and interest in the hyperlocal scene Part One: Background and Context Defining Hyperlocal NESTA’s landscape report Here and Now – UK Hyperlocal Media Today defined hyperlocal media as: ‘Online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small geographically-defined community’ (Radcliffe 2012: 6). It also noted: ‘Hyperlocal content can be found across all media platforms and supports a number of different civic and journalistic purposes, including local news, campaigns, scrutiny of public bodies, and supporting local identity’ (ibid: 14). Much of this content is more localised – in terms of geography and types of content – than mainstream media outlets. It also covers a wide variety of genres, not just traditional news services.
  2. 2. Business Models Hyperlocal content is produced and funded through a variety of different models. As a result, there is no such thing as a typical hyperlocal site. Here are a few examples which demonstrate this diversity:
  3. 3. Funding Models Although many hyperlocal sites are run on a voluntary part-time basis, an increasing number of commercial enterprises exist. Their income sources are diverse and varied, as reflected below. Examples of types of funding mechanisms used by UK hyperlocal publishers1 Typology Not surprisingly, given the range of ways in which hyperlocal media is produced and funded, there are also a wide range of types of hyper-local media. The first comprehensive typology for the UK sector was produced by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris (2010) in their study, London’s Digital Neighbourhoods. They reported: From our review of approximately 160 local sites in London we have identified eight types. Six of those can be described as citizen-led sites, typically set up with a civil purpose. The remaining two types are run on a commercial basis (ibid: 5).
  4. 4. It will be interesting to see if this typology (illustrated below)2 has evolved as the sector has matured, or if older communication methods such as forums continue to resonate with audiences. Sites such as the East Dulwich Forum remain rich platforms for local discussion and discourse, sitting comfortably alongside Wordpress sites, Facebook groups and other hyperlocal hubs. Key Data Points Earlier analysis of hyperlocal media tended to focus on the role that these sites play in delivering public value (Ofcom 2009), the implications of local citizen- run websites for local service providers (Flouch and Harris op cit), or an analysis of the issues faced by the sector and the ingredients needed to make it successful (Radcliffe op cit). Research gaps were identified in a number of areas including the size of the hyperlocal audience, the negative impact of this in attracting advertising, and the wider societal impact of hyperlocal media on local communities (ibid).
  5. 5. If we are to grow, sustain and support this sector, there are many areas that would benefit from further research, and practical experimentation (ibid: 40). Since this clarion call, a numbers of detailed research projects have been undertaken. Supported by NESTA, Ofcom and academic staff at Birmingham City and Cardiff University, we now know considerably more about this sector than we did twelve months ago. Headline research conclusions include: • 45 per cent of all UK adults (and 53 per cent of those with Internet access) have accessed some form of hyperlocal media (Kingsbury and Pearson 2013: 2). • The number of outlets is growing. Analysis last year showed that 400 active hyperlocal websites collectively produce almost 2,500 stories a week (Ofcom 2012: 103). • 75 per cent of hyperlocal stories are published by a third of the sites (Harte 2012, cited by Turner 2013). • Between 7am and 7pm, a hyperlocal story is published every two minutes (ibid). • Publishers may need to invest more efforts in discoverability, so that their content is easier to find. As Mavers (2013: 24) commented: ‘A desire to share local news doesn’t always come with a handy guide on search engine marketing.’ • Hyperlocal advertising holds little appeal for national advertisers, but may be of more interest to local businesses. Due to limited budgets, any transfer of advertising to hyperlocal outlets is likely to be away from other advertising outlets (Oliver and Ohlbaum 2013: 7). • Partnerships will help the sector to grow and have more impact. This includes developing greater cross sector links (hyperlocal to hyperlocal), links with traditional media (e.g. newspapers, radio and television) and partnerships with academic institutions or community groups. (Radcliffe op cit: 33). Part Two: The UK Hyperlocal Landscape Although earlier fears about the death of local journalism have proved unfounded, (Toynbee 2009 or Brook 2009) evidence provided to the Leveson Inquiry (Enders 2011) concluded that 40 per cent of regional press jobs have gone in the last five years – compared to 10 per cent at national level – and that £1bn of annual classified advertising has gone from the regional press since 2008. Separately, research in 2012 by the Press Gazette found that 242 publications had closed between 2005 and the end of 2011. In the same period, there had been 70 just launches (Ponsford 2012). This has inevitably resulted in geographic and content gaps, which some hyperlocal publishers have sought to plug. The Port Talbot Magnet is one such example. Ken Smith, one of the team of journalists behind the site, spoke of
  6. 6. their ambitions, noting: ‘We want to do quality journalism, not regurgitated press releases’ (Slattery 2011). In 2013, the team began to also include a regular print edition ensuring the town had a local newspaper for the first time in four years.3 Efforts like this provide considerable value to communities, but it should be noted that the web is not always able to fill gaps at the same pace as they are being created. According to Johnson (2009): There should have been a ten-year evolutionary process: the ecosystem steadily diversifying and establishing its complex relationships, the new business models evolving, the papers slowly transferring from print to digital, along with the advertisers. Instead, the financial meltdown – and some related over-leveraging by the newspaper companies themselves – has taken what should have been a decade-long process and crammed it down into a year or two. A growing industry Hyperlocal media is a small but growing part of the UK’s local media landscape. The number of known sites rose from 432 in May 2012 (Ofcom 2012) to 633 by February 2013 (Turner 2013) and consumption levels are growing too. Ofcom recorded in 2009 how hyperlocal consumers had ‘increased their use of such websites over the past two years’ (Ofcom 2009: 10). This momentum has been maintained by increased broadband take up and the growth of connected devices. As a result, Kantar has observed: ‘Just over one-half of hyperlocal media users use hyperlocal media more than they did two years ago’ (Kantar 2013: 26). How levels of hyperlocal use have changed over a period of two years (ibid) Alongside these developments, there has been a flurry of ‘top down’ activity in this space, including:
  7. 7. • NESTA provided £500,000 of funding to support 10 prototype services for the next generation of hyperlocal media. This funding kick-started their wider Destination Local programme.4 • As part of the same programme, the Technology Strategy Board funded 11 projects5 designed to encourage ‘the creation of innovative, hyper-local cross- media platforms and enabling technologies.’6 The value of this joint funding was £1 million. • Cardiff University launched the Centre for Community Journalism7 with an emphasis on supporting and understanding the sector in Wales through research, networking and advice, training, outreach and monitoring.8 • The Carnegie Trust funded a £50,000 competition – Neighbourhood News – to improve local news reporting.9 Five winners received £10,000 funding in return for participating in an external evaluation of their new local news project.10 • A 30-month research project, led by Cardiff University, into ‘understanding the value of the creative citizen’ was funded by the AHRC.11 • Ofcom featured hyperlocal media for the first time in their annual state of the nation Communications Market Reports (Ofcom 2012). • Following consultations with practitioners, DCMS revised proposals for the post-Leveson regulatory regime ‘to make sure “micro-business” blogs are outside of the scheme’.12 As the journalist Sarah Wild recently said on Twitter: ‘It’s all hyperlocal these days.’13 Why Hyperlocal is Growing The growth of this sector can be attributed, in part, to a number of technological and economic factors, including: 1. Availability of production tools and platforms which have made it easier – and cheaper – for citizens and journalists to publish their own content. 2. Changes in media behaviours – smartphone and tablet owners consume content differently, whilst mobile broadband has encouraged location based content consumption. 3. In some places traditional media has exited stage right – this has created opportunities for entrepreneurs and digital publishers. As a result, new entrants have joined more established players such as the Sheffield Forum (established 2002) or the London SE1 community website which is now 15 years old. Many community newspapers have an even longer history.14 The impact of this is a landscape where, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commented (2011): ‘Professional media have been joined by a wide range of local blogs, email lists, websites and the proliferation of local groups on national websites like Facebook or Yahoo!’
  8. 8. An Uneven Picture Just like traditional media, the availability of hyperlocal content varies. Not surprisingly, research suggests that much of this is focused on major conurbations such as London and Birmingham. But Ofcom has also noted: ‘…some rural areas were well served, with South Gloucestershire having 11 sites, largely aimed at small towns and villages, and Wiltshire having ten’ (Ofcom 2012). Alongside this, areas such as the North East, the East Midlands or the Devolved Nations appear to be disproportionately underserved by hyperlocal. The reasons behind this may merit further investigation (Ofcom 2012: 110) The Real Picture May be bigger It is likely, however, that these figures underestimate the size of the UK hyperlocal sector. Because anyone can launch a hyperlocal website, there is no licensing structure which makes it difficult to ascertain the size of the industry. The figures quoted by Ofcom, therefore, represent a ‘best guess’ derived from sites listed on the Openly Local Hyperlocal Directory.15 Sites on the directory are typically self-registered, which inevitably means some will be missed. Similarly, the directory does not include social network based content like What’s on Offerton16 or Remember Old Cardiff.17 That said, in the absence of a more effective solution, this remains a great starting point for those interested in understanding the size and geographic scope of UK hyperlocal media. It will be interesting to see if policy makers, researchers or hyperlocal publishers themselves can come up with a better way of showing the size of the industry.
  9. 9. Understanding the Value of Hyperlocal Content Hyperlocal websites can play an important emotional and functional role (Radcliffe 2011: slide 10) in providing timely information to citizens and cost effective advertising opportunities for local businesses. They also help to reflect local identity and ensure that local businesses and government are held to account. As a result, politicians and policy-makers worry that the loss of local media may result in a democratic deficit, whilst citizens appear to be concerned about the creation of an information deficit at a community level (Moss 2009). It is therefore interesting to understand what content is produced by hyperlocal publishers. Last year the Creative Citizens project explored ‘… sources (who gets to define hyperlocal news and in what ways); topics (what news is covered?); the “local-ness” of this news; the civic value of the news (in relation to coverage of politics), but also the role of this developing cultural form in fostering (or not) different forms of “citizenship” in communities)’ (Williams 2013). Not surprisingly, the researchers discovered that hyperlocal publishers produce ‘a lot of stories about local councils and the services they provide’ with the team noting: This kind of coverage of local government contrasts somewhat with the UK’s mainstream local news media, which has scaled back its coverage of local politics in recent years. Other notably large categories included crime and business news entertainment, and the arts (ibid).
  10. 10. Image adapted from: http://interactivecultures.org/wp- content/uploads/2013/03/poster_jerome_small.jpg Consumption Patterns As research by the Creative Citizens team demonstrates, hyperlocal media fulfills civic purposes. It is increasingly valued by consumers too as part of their media mix. To those that use them, local community websites are very important, with 37 per cent of users rating the importance of services as 7 or more out of 10. Although this is not as high as the importance ascribed to TV by viewers (59 per cent), it is greater than other services such as local newspaper websites (27 per cent) (Ofcom 2012: 103). Arguably, hyperlocal really comes into its own at times where mainstream media’s ‘bigger picture’ is not local or specific enough. The 2011 riots are a good example of this. One site, the West Londoner18 enjoyed record traffic of 1.9 million page views during that week, including 1 million page views during a single 24 hour period.19 At other times, mainstream media remains the primary source of local news for most audiences. Hyperlocal consumption is not insignificant, but it remains someway behind that enjoyed by traditional local media outlets. As Ofcom commented (2012:
  11. 11. 103): ‘… around 1 in 7 (14 per cent) of people state that they use a local community website on at least a monthly basis.’ Source: Ofcom 2012 Part Three: Maintaining the Momentum As we have seen, UK hyperlocal media has enjoyed considerable growth and attention in the last year. Whether this growth is sustainable is a moot point. I believe that it is, but a number of structural considerations will continue to present challenges for some hyperlocal players. These include sustainability (in terms of both personnel and income) and discoverability. Nonetheless, hyperlocal media is becoming a more established player in the local media landscape. Looking ahead, there are three areas where the hyperlocal sector may wish to focus its attention: 1. Partnerships: although these do exist this is an area which is currently underdeveloped. BBC Online, which was recently criticised by the BBC Trust for the quality of its local offer (BBC Trust 2013), in particular, can play a key role in supporting the sector by linking to hyperlocal sources – broadening its depth of content in the process. Alongside this, hyperlocal outlets can also work more effectively together – and with other media providers – on campaigns. It is perhaps surprising how seldom this occurs. A collaborative project on graffiti between hyperlocal publishers and the Seattle Times shows how this can be done20 although it must be noted that J-Lab encouraged this collaboration with initial funding and support. Similar incentives may be required here, although J-Lab’s experience suggests that once the value of these partnerships has been proven they can grow. The Seattle Times now partners with 54 local news sites and blogs.21 2. Relationships with councils would also benefit from further development. This does not just include resolving issues around reporting access (McAthy
  12. 12. 2013) but also exploring opportunities for genuine two-way relationships. Many councils already benefit from content published on hyperlocal websites (Flouch and Harris 2010) but this often feels like one way traffic. Literally. Given the continued popularity of cuncil websites (Kantar 2013), these publicly owned sites could also link to a wider range of local material, including hyperlocal content and that produced by traditional online publishers. 3. The sector may benefit from a trade body to represent it. As the hyperlocal industry continues to grow and mature, it may find it beneficial to have a body which can provide publishers with a voice, and which can lead on work with government, policy makers and regulators. Given the ‘cottage industry’ nature of hyperlocal media – with many practitioners working in silos – this body could also help share best practice and promote cross- sector debate and discussion. By the same token, it could also lead on identifying and supporting training needs (such as SEO, html5 and writing a business plan), as well as establishing some much needed industry wide audience data. Funding such a body will probably not be easy, but the potential merits of such an organisation mean the idea is worth exploring. Having a more cohesive, unified, voice may be needed if hyperlocal media is to move to the next level. Conclusion: Moving Forward Alongside these potential next steps, practitioners should also carefully review the hyperlocal research NESTA has commissioned and published over the past 12 months. These reports provide valuable insights into the hyperlocal content consumed by users, how they search for it, as well as addressing wider questions around audience demand and changing media behaviours. In effect, these reports provide the basis for publishers to undertake a review of their services, so they can ensure that their activities are in line with audience and advertiser needs and behaviours. By harnessing NESTA’s findings in this way, hyperlocal practitioners may be better placed to ensure that they are getting maximum bang for their hyperlocal buck. After a busy 2012, and a hectic start to 2013, it is going to fascinating to see where UK hyperlocal will be in another 12 to 18 months’ time. Notes 1 See http://www.neighbournet.com/, http://montv.yourlocal.tv/, http://www.london-se1.co.uk/, http://www.hu17.net/ , http://www.caerphillyobserver.co.uk/, accessed on 3 July 2013 2 Image available online at: http://networkedneighbourhoods.com/?p=105, accessed on 3 July 2013 3 See http://www.lnpt.org/2013/05/18/magnet-more-great-news-for-port-talbot/ accessed on 3 July 2013
  13. 13. 4 See http://www.nesta.org.uk/areas_of_work/creative_economy/destination_local, accessed on 3 July 2013 5 See http://www.nesta.org.uk/areas_of_work/creative_economy/destination_local/assets/f eatures/technology_strategy_board_destination_local_projects, accessed on 3 July 2013 6 See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130221185318/www.innovateuk.org/cont ent/competition/convergence-in-a-digital-landscape.ashx, accessed on 3 July 2013 7 See http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2013/news/university-launches-centre-to- support-hyperlocal-sites/, accessed on 3 July 2013 8 See http://cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/communityjournalism/ourstrategy/index.html, accessed on 3 July 2013 9 See http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/changing-lives/neighbourhood-news, accessed on 3 July 2013 10 See http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/news---events/latest/carnegie-uk-trust- announces-neighbourhood-news-win, accessed on 3 July 2013 11 See http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/newsandevents/news/12ahrc_connected_communitie s_programme.html, accessed on 3 July 2013 12 See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/leveson-new-proposals-to-ensure-small- blogs-are-exempt-from-press-self-regulation, accessed on 3 July 2013 13 See https://twitter.com/Wild_Sarah/status/337150544693055488, accessed on 5 July 2013 14 For example, Leys News, a free monthly newspaper in south-east Oxford, was established in 1998, whilst the ECHO Community Newspaper which reaches residents in parts of Coventry was first published in April 1979 15 See http://openlylocal.com/hyperlocal_sites, accessed on 3 July 2013 16 See https://www.facebook.com/groups/178753568830557/, accessed on 3 July 2013 17 See https://www.facebook.com/RememberOldCardiff, accessed on 3 July 2013 18 See http://www.thewestlondoner.com, accessed on 3 July 2013 19 Via http://www.multimedia-journalism.co.uk/node/2002 – The Story of The West Londoner 20 See http://seattletimes.com/flatpages/local/graffitiproject.html, accessed on 3 July 2013 21 See http://www.j-lab.org/projects/networked-journalism/seattle, accessed on 3 July 2013 References BBC Trust (2013) Service Review of BBC Online and Red Button, 20 May. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/services/online/service_reviews/online_re dbutton.html, accessed on 3 July 2013 Brook, Stephen (2009) Half UK local and regional papers could shut by 2014, MPs are told, Guardian, 16 June. Available online at
  14. 14. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jun/16/half-local-papers-could-shut-2014, accessed on 3 July 2013 Enders, Claire (2011) Competitive Pressures on the Press. Presentation to the Leveson Inquiry. Available online at http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp- content/uploads/2011/11/Presentation-by-Claire-Enders1.pdf, accessed on 3 July 2013 Harte, David (2012) cited by Turner, Jerome (2013) Media, Community and the Creative Citizen at the AHRC Connected Communities Showcase, Interactive Cultures, 18 March. Available online at http://www.interactivecultures.org/2013/03/media-community-and-the- creative-citizen-at-the-ahrc-connected-communities-showcase/, accessed on 3 July 2013 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (2011) The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age, Washington DC: FCC/Federal Communications Commission. Available online at http://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc- report/The_Information_Needs_of_Communities.pdf, accessed on 3 July 2013 Flouch, Hugh and Harris, Kevin (2010) Typology of Citizen-run Neighbourhood websites, London: Networked Neighbourhoods. Available online at http://networkedneighbourhoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Online-Nhood- Networks-Typology-rev-1a.pdf, accessed on 3 July 2013 Johnson, Steven (2009) Old Growth Media and the Future of News, personal blog, March. Available online at http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/2009/03/the-following-is-a- speech-i-gave-yesterday-at-the-south-by-southwest-interactive-festival-in-austiniif-you- happened-to-being.html, accessed on 5 July 2013 Kantar Media, (2013) UK Demand for Hyperlocal Media Research Report, April. London: NESTA/Kantar. Available online at http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/UK- demand-for-hyperlocal-media-report.pdf, accessed on 5 July 2013 Kingsbury, John and Pearson, Mark (2013) UK Demand for Hyperlocal Media: NESTA Research Summary. Available online at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/Hyperlocal-Media-Research-Summary- April13.pdf, accessed on 7 July 2013 Mavens (2013) A Report Mapping High Level Topics of Interest and the Digital Landscape around Hyperlocal Content in Three Areas, London: Mavens/NESTA. Available online at http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/Understanding_Use_Of_Hyper.pdf, accessed on 5 July 2013 McAthy, Rachel (2013) New guidance states councils should allow meetings to be filmed, journalism.co.uk, 14 June. Available online at http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/new- guidance-states-councils-should-allow-meetings-to-be-filmed/s2/a553272/, accessed on 3 July 2013 Moss, Stephen (2009) Stop press, Guardian, 2 April. Available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/apr/03/local-newspapers-journalism- democracy, accessed on 3 July 2013 Ofcom (2009) Local and Regional Media in the UK, London: Ofcom. Available online at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/other/tv-research/lrmuk/, accessed on 3 July 2013 Ofcom (2012) The Communications Market 2012, London: Ofcom. Available online at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr12/CMR_UK_2012.pdf, accessed on 3 July 2013
  15. 15. Oliver and Ohlbaum (2013) Research on Local Advertising Markets, London: NESTA. Available online at http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/OnOHyperlocaladvertisingreport.pdf, accessed on 5 July 2013 Ponsford, Dominic (2012) PG research reveals 242 local press closures in 7 years, Press Gazette, 30 April. Available online at http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/49215, accessed on 3 July 2013 Radcliffe, Damian (2012) Here and Now: UK Hyperlocal Media Today, London: NESTA. Available online at http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/Here_and_Now_v17.pdf, accessed on 3 July 2013 Radcliffe, Damian (2011) 21st Century News, SlideShare presentation. Available online at http://www.slideshare.net/mrdamian/21st-century-news, accessed on 3 July 2013 Slattery, Jon (2011) Port Talbot Magnet aims to attract support and revive local media in town left without a newspaper, Personal Blog, 23 May. Available online at http://jonslattery.blogspot.com/2011/05/port-talbot-magnet-aims-to-attract.html, accessed on 3 July 2013 Toynbee, Polly (2009) This is an emergency. Act now, or local news will die, Guardian, 23 March. Available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/24/regional-newspapers-lay-offs, accessed on 3 July 2013 Williams, Andrew (2013) The Value of Hyperlocal News Content, Centre for Community Journalism, 11 January. Available online at http://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/research/the-value-of-hyperlocal-news- content/, accessed on 3 July 2013 Note on the author Damian Radcliffe is an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. He has written about hyperlocal media for a number of organisations and media outlets including: Ofcom, the BBC College of Journalism, Networked Neighbourhoods, journalism.co.uk and the Democratic Society. In 2012, NESTA published his report, Here and Now – the first comprehensive review of the UK’s hyperlocal scene. Links to his extensive hyperlocal writing and research can be found via his personal website: www.damianradcliffe.com/hyperlocal.

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