Collaboration between hyperlocal sites, local government and larger media organisations has the potential to bring benefits to all parties, according to a report published by Nesta today.
"A lot of very good hyperlocal sites are out there and generating stories that a lot of other traditional forms of press don't," Jon Kingsbury, Nesta's programme director of creative economy, told Journalism.co.uk.
The report, titled Destination Local: Our Lessons to Date, said that hyperlocal websites can be a more "cost-effective" way for local authorities to engage with citizens who were less likely to do so through other channels.
In one example, URTV, an online TV news service, partnered with a local NHS Board in western Scotland to produce Your Health Matters, "a weekly show presented by a local GP," said the report.
The programme was seen as "an effective alternative to more traditional ways of communicating with potential users of NHS services in the area", with examples of episodes including a focus on epilepsy in the workplace and another on mens' health issues.
Referring to previous research carried out by Nesta, Kingsbury said "audiences trust hyperlocal sites more than they trust any other forms of local media, certainly national media, so that's very interesting."
The report also suggested that, where recent academic research had recommended commercial newspaper groups target their online services at a defined audience, online hyperlocal services may be a way to achieve this.
"The advantage to traditional local media in partnering with existing hyperlocal providers is the ability to leverage their established connections in the community," the report said, "in addition to potential cost savings. Such partnerships must be mutually beneficial in order for them to be sustainable."
Kingsbury referenced the ongoing troubles of local press organisations "cutting journalists' posts" as evidence that "they can't be as engaged as they have traditionally been".
Hyperlocal content providers, however, "are embedded in the community, they have the content, they have the authenticity of voice" meaning that a collaboration between the two could bring more relevant content to established media outlets while providing hyperlocals with "the oxygen of attention that they might not otherwise get".
"More experimentation is needed," said Kingsbury, "so in the future Nesta is going to convene some program work that tests some of this. So whether that's revenue sharing on a micro level or whether it's cross linking or whether it's sharing of content or resources, it's early days but I think we view the partnerships across all local producers and providers and services as a really productive area for change."
Kingsbury also urged a greater level of conversation between hyperlocal websites and the BBC in order to fulfil the needs of both sides.
"In the last three weeks the BBC Trust has asked BBC management to come back with new plans for local," he said, adding that there is a pre-existent "ecosystem" that the BBC could work with, by linking to or incorporating hyperlocal content, for example, without the need for "significant investment in new staff".
"The BBC has a public purpose and one of those is to encourage citizenship," he said.
"You don't need to only provide news in order to do that, you can also link to other points of view and rather than having to host forums itself this opportunity to be able to point to other more grass roots opinions and viewpoints is a way of encouraging citizenship in local areas."
Data from the report also reinforced the use of a "regularly refreshed video-rich service", "mobile-friendly" design and a strong social media presence in driving up page views, session length and overall engagement.
The research data comes from ten hyperlocal media services that received funding from Nesta under the Destination Local project, which aims to support and examine the role of hyperlocal media. A final report is planned for the end of the year.
Free daily newsletter
- Nesta study reveals UK is “lagging behind” other countries in funding of public interest news
- How journalists can help audiences understand the news
- How to find and succeed in journalism job abroad?
- How MyLondon built a hyperlocal news brand from the ground up
- Weekly journalism news update: artificial intelligence, podcast ad revenue and 'audience canvas'