Do ‘hyper-local’ news websites work?

I have read a selection of articles and papers on the success of ‘hyper-local’ news websites. A few of these show how they work and how they do not work. I personally feel that they provide a gap in the market, but some require more change and entrepreneurial thinking , to make sure they run successfully. 

On Roy Greenslade’s blog, on the Guardian website, he presented two articles concerning hyperlocal sites from two individuals who successfully and unsuccessfully ran a local news website. These were Saddleworth News and Lichfield Live.

Ross Hawkes the founder of the hyperlocal news website Lichfield Live showed how the websites work. The ongoing development in technology has changed and revolutionised the way newsrooms work today. The ability to create a newsroom anywhere with technology, is incredible but there is a problem when journalists do not utilise this technology. The public still have not found the ability to put trust in the modern newsroom, whereas even despite some rocky events that could have put the trust in traditional media under threat, they would still believe traditional media over modern.

Hawkes shows how obviously there is a problem with creating a profit from the websites but he also displays a large amount of positive information that show why hyperlocal websites work:

  1. Passion and knowledge behind the build of the websites
  2. “one of us” mentality
  3. Easy interaction
  4. Emotional connection
  5. Gap in the market – entrepreneurial journalism
  6. Free news information creates greater support
  7. Spirit to succeed

All of these factors overall provide this sense of community through an online news website.

Part of the growth and perceived success of the new hyperlocal movement is down to passion and knowledge for the communities they serve – and recognising that “local” is no longer a catch-all term.” Hawkes, Greenslade Blog Post, 21/05/12.

However on the other hand, Richard Jones the founder of Saddleworth News showed how the websites are hard to keep running. The two reasons why Richard Jones created the website was because: 1) His selfishness of not wanting to leave journalism 2) He wanted to be more public-spiritied and wanted to do something for the local community. Before setting up the website he had previously worked at Sky News, but he then became a stay-at-home father, so decided to set up the website to keep his journalism mind going.

It’s easy to become a publisher these days. A quick purchase of some web hosting and an evening tinkering with a free WordPress theme, and Saddleworth News was ready to go…” Jones, Greenslade Blog Post, 25/05/12.

The website quickly grew, due to the amount of news Jones was providing over other local newspapers. He was publishing stories faster and was providing more indepth stories, because he had the unlimited space of the internet.

The main issue, which meant that Jones had to sadly give up the website was:

  1. MONEY

I’m a journalist, not a salesman. And I found selling ads on Saddleworth News difficult. I think this was partly down to my own lack of selling skills, and partly because most business owners weren’t used to internet advertisers.” Jones, Greenslade Blog Post, 25/05/12.

Jones did finally get some advertisers who were readers of the hyperlocal website, but unfortunately was only providing him £150 a month.

Although Lichfield Live provided a long list of positives to keep a hyperlocal website running, without the funding or support to keep it going it could never be a full-time job for anyone.

In a Culture, Media and Sport select committee report from parliament, it closely discussed the local media online. It came up with quite similar problems and successes of hyperlocal news. They did mention:

The relatively small start-up and maintenance costs of web-based projects such as hyper-local websites and blogs, as opposed to the heavy costs of print and distribution, mean that there is a smaller risk in setting up, but also a smaller financial return.” Parliament Paper, pg.66.

But the question is how do we keep up with the change in media while being able to also afford it?

Rupert Murdoch believes that we will soon completely revert to only online media.

I can see the day, maybe 20 years away, where you don’t actually have paper and ink and printing presses. I think it will take a long time and I think it’s a generational thing that is happening. But there’s no doubt that younger people are not picking up the traditional newspapers.” Murdoch, Parliament Paper, pg. 60.

Obviously this bold statement is very unlikely but I don’t think anyone can predict what will happen to the future of print journalism. I personally do not like the idea of not being able to pick up my local paper at the weekends (as mentioned in my ‘The Future for Local and Regional Media‘ blog post).

It is clear that there is a gap in the market for hyperlocal news websites and the public are interested in reading and following them. But, like I mentioned previously, changes need to be made and someone needs to think up a way of creating profit from the website (preferably without a paywall) to make it successful.

Links to other hyperlocal websites.

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Posted on November 21, 2012, in Online Revolution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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