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One of the great questions about hyperlocal journalism and community sites is around sustainability. How can you make it work in the long term?

"It's a very mixed picture," said Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism at Cardiff University.

"There was a lot of initial optimism, then some sites discovered how difficult it is to be sustainable and to get funding and all the rest of it, and there was a bit of pessimism.

"We've got beyond that now and there are a lot of examples of hyperlocals which have grown and crossed over the threshold into becoming quite a well-established and sustainable business."

Sambrook leads a free online course in community journalism, which covers the basics of reporting as well as setting up a site and building a funding model.

The course, organised by the Centre for Community Journalism at Cardiff University, will start on 8 February and is now running for the third time.

Updated to include new tools and skills such as livestreaming from smartphones and working with data, the course also focuses on how to build a project that's sustainable at least in the medium term, if not for longer.

"Otherwise they're just going to come and go very quickly, or else they're entirely reliant on one person doing everything and that's, in the end, not going to be a sustainable operation," said Sambrook.

A mixed funding model, combining revenue from crowdfunding, advertising, grants, and membership or from related activities such as training, has proven to be a successful strategy for hyperlocals.

Sambrook pointed to The Bristol Cable as an example – set up as a co-operative, it received a £40,000 grant from the Reva & David Logan Foundation in November.

And the makers of The Peckham Peculiar, a hyperlocal covering the South East London neighbourhood, are now crowdfunding to start a similar publication covering Dulwich.

Their crowdfunding campaign for The Dulwich Diverter has already raised over £6,000, already passing its goal of £5,000 with over a month still to go until the deadline.

"I think that's a very interesting model – they're doing it off the back of success in one community and trying to expand that out into a neighbouring community."

As community sites find their footing from a financial perspective, they have also proven their editorial value in the last 12 months, Sambrook explained.

The national election in 2015 was an opportunity to produce innovative coverage, and many hyperlocals rose to the challenge.

"It shows that even on a big national story, there is a role for hyperlocals and community sites. And actually, they can do things that mainstream media can't always do, don't always do, and carve out a particular position for themselves," he said.
Hyperlocals have more freedom to innovate, as they are not bound by the constraints and expectations that come with working within a mainstream media framework. Community journalism enables more creativity to come through.
"Obviously they can be much closer to the community than even local newspapers or local radio. That allows them to have a different tone and a different approach to their coverage."

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