The sustainability of hyperlocal community news websites in the UK.
Hyperlocal media is defined as “online news or content services pertaining to a town, village or single postcode or other small geographically defined community” (Nesta, 2016) Hyperlocal community news websites have been around for over ten years. There are currently over 600 active hyperlocal websites in the UK. Due to the decrease in traditional local print and broadcast media, these continue to grow and develop.
In recent years, the decline of local journalism has led to a democratic deficit in local news.Hyperlocal community news sites are filling this gap. The news and information that they provide is essential for better informed communities. What’s more, hyperlocal sites can hold decision makers to account and provide a crucial forum for information and debate about local issues. However, the main challenge that they are faced with is economic. How can these small websites, often run by volunteers, be sustainable or even profitable in the long-term?
In this dissertation I aim to examine whether these websites can be sustainable. Not just in economic terms but also in the services that they provide. I will be considering whether they meet the present needs whilst being able to diversify to meet those of the future. Are these websites able to be innovative and dynamic, continuing to provide relevant and interesting news and information? How can this be achieved with limited funding?
The methods of research for this study will include semi-structured interviews, structured questionnaires, academic articles, journals, books and relevant websites. There are several people who are well established in the hyperlocal field who I shall contact. Namely Emma Meese, Matt Abbott and Dr Andy Williams who are based in Cardiff, working within the University and at the Centre for Community Journalism. I intend to spend time over the summer in Cardiff to speak to them and make use of the resources at the university.
Ray Duffil, Editor of HU12 Online, is another person I will speak to. He is a former community development manager who lives in Hedon. He founded the Hedon Blog and is a correspondent for the Holderness Gazette. As a local contact he will be a valuable primary source .
I also intend to contact Dave Harte who is an Associate Professor in Journalism and Media Studies at Birmingham School of Media. Dave has widely researched local community hyperlocal news websites and has published many articles. I will be referring to his thesis “An investigation into hyperlocal journalism in the UK and how it creates value for citizens” (2017) for my own research. He is also joint author (along with Andy Williams and Rachel Howells) of a book, “Hyperlocal Journalism: The decline of local newspapers and the rise of online community news”, which is due to be released this summer and will become part of my bibliography.
Secondary sources of information include publications by Nesta, “Where are we now?” (2015) and “Hyperlocal revenues in the UK and Europe” (2016). Nesta is a UK charity who back “innovative ideas” to break down barriers to the success of projects. They focus on “fields that matter to the future well-being of the public”. They have published several research documents on hyperlocal news as have Carnegie UK Trust.
In order to gain information about the success or shortcomings of websites, I will compile a standard questionnaire. This will be sent to approximately sixty (this represents roughly ten percent) existing community news websites. The research will look at certain areas such as the revenue models being used, number of followers/subscribers and longevity. The questionnaire will be clearly structured in order to gain quantifiable data.
The research and writing of the dissertation will follow my SMART objectives. They are specific; the research area is UK hyperlocal community websites. Based on previous research and the information available there is sufficient material to make this achievable. The subject is relevant to present issues in the UK and I have a ten month timescale.
The theory that I will look at is the Alternative media theory which is particularly relevant to hyperlocal community news websites. This theory takes a social critical perspective where the mainstream media is under too much state control and other media moguls. The dominant media is inadequate to many groups in society. In the UK this situation is presently evident by the decline in local news. Hyperlocal favours a more grass-roots approach which is on a smaller scale and tends to be non-commercial. It is more hands on with active participation of those involved. Community news websites operate under a liberal media model. There is a free market with minimal state intervention.
In conclusion, I believe that the subject I have chosen is well worth researching. Having recently become more active in my local community, it is an area that I am interested to explore. I hope to gain a greater understanding of hyperlocal community news websites whilst establishing ways to make them sustainable.