A new report released today provides an in-depth look at hyperlocal journalism in the UK and the challenges it faces.
Commissioned by Cardiff University's Centre for Community Journalism and innovation charity Nesta, the report, written by Damian Radcliffe, found that the UK has more than 400 active hyperlocal websites compared with 1,045 local newspapers.
An analysis of the content produced by local and hyperlocal media showed that some of the news and topics covered by the two overlap, such as politics, sports and business.
However, hyperlocals focus more on local activities and they also have a presence in activism and campaigning within the community, as the report showed 72 per cent have supported a campaign in the last two years and 42 per cent have started their own.We've moved from a lecture to a conversation and it's important to remember that former consumers are now becoming contributors and collaboratorsDan Gillmor, Arizona State University
"We've moved from a lecture to a conversation, and it's important to remember that former consumers are now becoming contributors and collaborators," said journalist and academic Dan Gillmor, speaking at the 'What next for community journalism?' conference in Cardiff today.
The study revealed that 69 per cent of UK internet users have visited websites or downloaded apps to stay updated on what's happening in their community.
Furthermore, an equivalent of seven per cent of UK adults have used a smartphone to access hyperlocal content on a daily basis, showing that the growth of mobile devices is a "key driver" in people's increasing consumption of local news.
Some hyperlocal publishers defined their work as local journalism, while others thought of it as "expression of active citizenship", the report showed.
Those producing content can be entrepreneurs, reporters already rooted in a community, or citizen journalists, with a certain degree of journalistic training.
Hyperlocals played an important part in the coverage of the UK general and local election earlier this year, as it allowed them to be at the core of their constituencies.
Some of their initiatives included A Little Bit of Stone interviewing candidates and The Lincolnite's collaboration with the local BBC branches for a live debate with candidates and the audience.
The report also showed that people might not always be aware of hyperlocal websites or publications in their area, particularly those who are online only – partnerships with traditional media could help.There is the saying of the 'big US dollars in print advertising becoming digital dimes', but they have become mobile penniesDan Gillmor, Arizona State University
People's interest and need for community journalism may be increasing, but hyperlocals still face the challenge of finding sustainable revenue streams and gaining access to financial and non-financial resources available to other local media outlets, such as training.
Business models vary across hyperlocal media and can sometimes be unique to a particular region, but they often rely on advertising, one-off or regular grants, crowdfunding and community volunteering, the report highlighted.
"There is the saying of the 'big US dollars in print advertising becoming digital dimes', but they have become mobile pennies," said Gillmor, "because mobile is even harder to monetise."
UK investment in the hyperlocal sector over the last three years has been less than £5m and is often a one-time opportunity for publishers, according to the report.
A third of the participants surveyed said they made small profits, but 62.6 per cent of them fully fund the costs of running a website.
And while traditional newspapers have archives, hyperlocal media outlets have to consider what happens to their valuable coverage in the long term.
"You're doing history," Gillmor said, "so make sure it's available for a generation or ten to come."
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