The Value of UK Hyperlocal Community News

Last year I was interviewed regarding my hyperlocal site Love Wapping for an academic study into ‘the value of UK hyperlocal community news’.

This work by Andy Williams, Dave Harte and Jerome Turner should be of interest to anyone interested in hyperlocal issues. Here is an extract:

“The public interest value of news is often viewed through the prism of its relationship to democracy. In this respect news should act as: a source of accurate and plural information for citizens; a watchdog on elites; a mediator and/or representative of communities; and as an advocate of the public in campaigning terms. All of these roles are under pressure in the United Kingdom’s commercial local news sector. This has led many to speculate, often without evidence, that the output of a new generation of (mainly online) hyperlocal citizen news producers might (at least partially) play some of these roles. To test this assumption, we completed 34 semi-structured interviews with producers, the largest content analysis to date of UK hyperlocal news content (1941 posts on 313 sites), and the largest ever survey of UK community news practitioners (183 responses). We found that these sites produce a good deal of news about community activities, local politics, civic life and local business. Official news sources get a strong platform, but the public (local citizens, community groups) get more of a say than in much mainstream local news. Although there was little balanced coverage in the traditional sense, many community journalists have developed alternative strategies to foster and inform plural debate around contentious local issues. The majority of hyperlocal news producers cover community campaigns and a significant minority have initiated their own. We also found that critical public-interest investigations are carried out by a (surprisingly) large number of community news producers.”

The usual bullshit

Grabbing at this chance at self-promotion here is my bit!

This unwillingness to balance sources in critical reporting is rooted, in part, in a pragmatic expectation that the PR office in question will not take any questions or allegations seriously (Kean talks of “bland meaningless responses”), but also in a certain amount of contempt for the uncritical way in which local newspapers already routinely provide a mouthpiece for the output of local government communications officers. Mark Baynes, of campaigning London blog Love Wapping, shares these critiques. When asked whether he balances his critical coverage of Tower Hamlets Council with quotes from relevant officers he told us:

“I don’t see why I should, as a resident, ring the town hall up or anybody else … Because I know all they’re going to give me is the usual bullshit. So what’s the point? And they’ve got a huge media machine … I don’t see, to be quite honest, why any hyperlocal should. Because if you look at it in the broader context of media and communications in our society: if Tower Hamlets wants to get on TV, they can get on TV. They can send a press release to the East London Advertiser [the local weekly newspaper] … and they literally print the press release.”
Gosh! Bit strong.

BBC Data Day

There again it’s not as strong as some of the views I might express next week during my talk at the BBC Data Day in Birmingham organised by the BBC College of Journalism.

Hello BuzzFeed. Goodbye Sunday Times. And the rest.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know I rarely write anything on here, but hey I spend too much time doing the whole hyperlocal thing over on Love Wapping – honest!

But when I read ‘BuzzFeed hires Heidi Blake to head UK investigative journalism team’ [from The Sunday Times] I couldn’t help but smile.

January isn’t even over and the most significant development in digital journalism of 2015 is done and dusted.

If you understand why you are part of the future.

If you don’t then you are internet roadkill. Squishy squishy!