With more than 100 hyperlocal newspapers and news sites in the UK, the community news sector is well-established.
However, with declining advertising revenue, it is increasingly difficult to finance hyperlocal news.
Created by the Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) and funded by the Google Digital News Innovation Fund (over £220k), the Value My News project is set to help hyperlocal publishers track the sales of their stories and copyright existing content.
Hyperlocal publishers are also often too small to attract investment. But the most serious problem is that their content is often used by larger regional newsrooms without correct attribution.
Value My News is not the first initiative designed to boost hyperlocal media in the UK. BBC acts as role model with its Local Democracy Reporter scheme and Shared Data Unit. Facebook Community News Project is also aimed at empowering hyperlocal newsrooms.
Cook said that the biggest flaw of these initiatives, however, is that the support and funds often go to the three largest regional media organisations: Reach Plc, Newsquest and JPI Media, leaving little room for the small players.
Out of 58 Local Democracy Reporter contracts, for example, 51 went to the three big regional organisations, which represents 135 reporters out of 144 financed by the scheme, according to the latest available data.
The Facebook Community News Project, launched in collaboration with NCTJ last year, forked out £4.5m to create 82 local reporting roles. Reach Plc, Newsquest and JPI media have so far used the funds to finance 70 reporters between them, with Archant and Midlands News Association only having four and three reporters funded by the scheme, respectively.
"51 per cent of hyperlocal sites want to generate revenue from their content,” Cook added. "With more than a half (54.5 per cent) saying their content is often reproduced without payment."
Hyperlocal sites, which can cover an area as small as half a square mile or as large as 65 square miles, are often less than 10 years old. In fact, many have only launched in the past five years and earn less than £500 a month, which means that even the smallest increase in revenue can be transformative.
Without getting paid for their content being reproduced, the newsrooms rely on display and native advertising, and memberships as a main source of their revenue.
Value My News wants to help them leverage their community reach to finance their journalism. The first area would be helping commercial brands market their products or services through the hyperlocal content, either as a one-off sale or on an ongoing basis.
Tailoring an advertising campaign to dozens of hyperlocal communities would be too time consuming and expensive, so Value My News wants to become a one-stop shop that would works as an agency for the cluster of hyperlocal news sites and their communities.
Another idea is to sell hyperlocal content via taxonomy sales. This means hyperlocal content could be searcheable by, say, a postcode, but also by topic, such as health or football.
"There needs to be a new understanding of the value of hyperlocal content creation," said Cook, adding that there are key criteria which could determine this value. These being time, resources needed to produce the story, unique access to local networks, content form, use of multimedia, exclusivity, timeliness, and journalistic values.
Determining the value of hyperlocal news will be crucial to continue the project once the Google DNI fund runs out; Cook said the team is still working on finding a sustainable model.
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