The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded study, set up in collaboration with Creative Citizens and in partnership with Talk about Local and Ofcom, was set up to look at the importance of hyperlocal journalism going forward.
Dr Andy Williams, of the Cardiff School of Journalism, announced the main results of the study at the Community Journalism Conference at Cardiff University on Wednesday (16 January), saying that it "seeks to understand the value of local news".
He said "7 per cent of us access local news websites once a week or more", while "14 per cent do so at least monthly."
With a growing readership of hyperlocal news, Williams was interested in finding out what kind of content was being read and what topics were being covered.
He looked at posts published on the Openly Local network over 11 days in May last year, during which time 3819 posts were published on 313 active websites according to Williams. The study took half of those posts to investigate.
It found that the largest proportion - 13 per cent - of posts related to the local community. Williams said "these were stories about local, non-political groups or community events". A further 11.7 per cent were about councils and local government "which could be of civic value, especially because these are in places where local newspapers have been shut down or lost revenue".
The study was also interested in the number and range of sources cited in hyperlocal sites. It found that 20.9 per cent were local political figures, while 12.4 per cent were members of the public.
Williams thought this was an important factor as he said "the press has become increasingly less local".
But he added that the study found "only around half of the sample featured sources in their articles at all.”
"This could be a lack of opportunity for audiences to learn about conflicting perspectives," Williams said.
Only around 3 per cent of the posts sampled "contained any kind of disagreement".
"While it is common practice for news organisations to provide a range of opinions, it seems that hyperlocal news sites are not following this trend".
"More research is now needed into the audiences of these sites – who is reading them and where."
Williams discusses the key findings of the research in more detail here.
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