Hyperlocal news projects have the opportunity to fill in the gaps left by mainstream media, and some even change the agenda by seizing that territory.
In the Argentinean city of Bahia Blanca, a hyperlocal "digital magazine" is successfully finding its own place covering the news others are failing to report, with minimum investment. The name is self-explanatory: SoloLocal.info, which roughly translated is 'JustLocal'.
Located 680km south of Buenos Aires, Bahia Blanca's 300,000 inhabitants are served by one daily local newspaper and five digital dailies. This was not enough for local journalists Sandra Crucianelli and Gabriel Bermúdez, who decided to start a blog covering the Bahia Blanca's area.
But Crucianelli and Bermúdez felt what they were doing was too similar to many of the other 200 local blogs, and so they decided to rethink the project and do something different: "We wanted a small digital medium, hyperlocal, that published news based on digital sources that, for some reason, weren't being disseminated by other media," explains Crucianelli.
Their process is quite simple: they look for information related to Bahia Blanca using search engines, databases and social networks, and generate stories out of them, highlighting issues relating to public budget management, public services, community actions, human rights, access to public information and environmental subjects.
The approach has led to them breaking stories later picked up by mainstream media, putting them on the map in local newsrooms. "Several radios read our headlines in the morning," said Crucianelli. "These are radio stations for niche audiences. Those small niches are our audience."
The pair have forged strategic alliances with a fortnightly newspaper, two radio stations and two television shows, giving them exposure to a broader non-digital audience.
The digital magazine fosters citizen journalism and has a group of regular contributers, supplementing the work of the two resident journalists and keeping it a low cost operation: "We don't have a staff of journalists on the payroll, except for some one-off collaborations. And every member of the team works from their home personal computers. We connect using social networks and all the free digital tools available."
Using free social network engineering and a free Joomla CMS platform to publish and distribute their work the pair are looking for outside-the-box revenue sources. While an advertising strategy is being thought out – which will look to a high number of small advertisers instead of depending on a single big one – they are also diversifying the products they can offer through their expertise. The project is currently being financed by consulting and instruction activities, teaching other communities how to replicate their model, introducing journalists and editors to the digital tools, and designing blogs and websites. The website has no subscription or membership fees, but they plan to open to microdonations via Facebook, a source of financing Sandra Crucianelli believes to be fundamental in the future of hyperlocal websites.
SoloLocal.info is a great example how professional knowledge and amateur participation can create a sustainable and relevant news project, stepping in where the mainstream media has retreated; investigating stories that have already resulted in political and judicial actions against local personalities. For Crucianelli this both establishes a new news agenda and has a real impact on society.
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