Going native: Are hyperlocal blogs the future of regional news?
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As a former journalist little gets me more upset than the plight of regional journalism in the UK. Barely a day seems to go by without news of job cuts, strikes and falling circulation numbers.
While these trends do get me vexed, I can’t help feeling that media groups missed a trick. They had the opportunity and resources to change the way we consumed news.
Unfortunately that window of opportunity has now closed and we are daily faced with the spectacle of media companies scrambling to develop online income streams. And that scramble has led to some quite desperate stories of defeat, as was evidenced by Johnston Press’ experiment earlier this year.
But, all may not be as bleak as it seems. Necessity is indeed the mother of all invention, and people do want, or need, to know about what is happening within their local communities. With that in mind ‘hyperlocal’ has been a buzz word amongst journalism circles for the last ten years or so. But what does it mean and how is it changing the game?
Hyperlocal sites are thriving
Hyperlocal news sources tend to be synonymous with local blogs that only carry news relevant to a very small geographical area. As this article in Time magazine indicates, they gained greater traction in the US as the mainstream media severely contracted during the recession.
In the UK, there are numerous examples of local news sites or blogs emerging as popular resources in their local communities. In Leicester Citizenseye.org now even supplies occasional content to the city’s Leicester Mercury newspaper and in my neck of the woods the Leeds-based The Culture Vulture magazine blog continues to thrive.
While large media organisations continue to worry about content and pay walls, the whole debate has moved on. Whether we like it or not journalism is changing, it’s becoming less of a profession and more of a role that people assume.
Don’t get me wrong, the emergence of citizen journalism does concern me in many ways. But if I were in control of Johnston Press or Trinity Mirror i’d be taking these bloggers under my wing and nurturing them. In return you’d receive access to pockets of engaged local readers – the one thing that regional newspapers have lost over the years.
And with that connection re-established they will be able to serve up targeted advertising that suits both advertisers and readers.
As a PR practitioner we rely on a healthy media industry to disseminate information and news about our clients. While the numbers of opportunities to self-publish have never been greater, the third party endorsement and greater cross section of publicity generated by the mainstream media still means that it is vitally important to our industry.
In that sense we have a vested interest in the future of regional media. And if the hyperlocal model works then great, but if it doesn’t i’m not sure what comes next. Specialised sites – such as this brilliant regional business site thebusinessdesk.com and The Culture Vulture as mentioned above – continue to do well, but can general news sites do so well in this environment?
At the moment it is hard to tell, but one thing is certainly sure: if media groups stop thinking about their own future and start thinking about the industry’s future I believe they will find salvation.
Image credit: Stylianosm