The Time Must Finally Be Now For Grassroots Media


Credit: sskennel

You don’t need to be reminded of the crisis facing local newspapers; after a brutal year of cutbacks, many are being emasculated or dropped entirely, leaving many communities less informed. After years of hype about hyperlocal, many of us had hoped that independent, local amateurs would use free, online reporting tools to fill the gap with an eclectic mix of home-brew community reporting and commentary…

But it just hasn’t happened. The usual uncoordinated rag bag of amateur and semi-pro bloggers is still persevering around the country, start-ups are even still trying to make a business out of the hyperlocal dream. But there are no such successes in my area, and chances are there aren’t in yours either. If the worst should happen and local media die a death, here’s what must happen to finally create a viable DIY local news ecosystem…

Publishers and enthusiasts must work together: We need more partnerships between local amateurs and big-brand newspaper proprietors, who have the platform, technology and commercial clout to create editorial products communities will embrace. Simple steps like linking out to the best content locally may sound basic, but there’s a real cultural opposition to it in many newsrooms. Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) blazed a trail back in 2006 when it launched a postcode-specific series of blogs on the Teesside Gazette‘s site Gazette Live. Since then, CN Group in Carlisle, Newsquest, Johnston Press and now Northcliffe have all developed local projects in partnership with local communities. The publishers may be creating own-brand local titles on their own turf, but so far they’re not embracing the local content that their patches’ best bloggers are already producing.

Community contributors must be properly rewarded: Trinity Mirror is paying local correspondents with school diplomas; CN Group offers them a share of online ad sales. But the returns are miniscule, and won’t incentivise contributors to write more. Why not collaborate with them on commercial, as well as editorial? While you wouldn’t necessarily want community bloggers acting as ad sales reps, online sales team are missing a trick by not using correspondents to find new sponsors and classified ad customers.

City papers should stop competing with nationals, return to their neighbourhoods: The relaunched Evening Standard still offers very little on a local, district level online. In a city made up of inter-connected but often distinct boroughs, it surely makes sense to offer Londoners something relevant to the specific areas they live in. The Standard should become an umbrella for local blogs and news start-ups — a platform for local people to write news about their area. When I floated this idea on Twitter the other day the Standard‘s deputy political editor Paul Waugh gave it a warm reception. So we look forward to hearing of progress on that one…

Pro-ams should work together to reach scale: If mainstream publishers won’t help local start-ups, then the start-ups need to work together to help themselves – William Perrin of the Talk About Local site suggests just that. While there is a loose-knit community of London local sites, a firm, national consortium of publishers, collaborating on technology, commercial strategy and advertising, surely has a better chance of success than a disparate assortment of sites. Rob Powell runs and and has devised his own listings platform which he says could be exported to other local sites if it proves to be successful. Powell also hosts affiliate links to things businesses like the O2 Arena and New Look — something other local sites could financially benefit from with hardly any cost involved. Budding local publishers should consider giving him call…

Realise readers already have direct-data news: Much is made of journalists‘ role in shaping democracy and informing the public, but there are now online tools provide more detailed local information about people’s lives than any newspaper. I follow my MP’s actions on TheyWorkForYou and report problems in my neighbourhood on FixMyStreet, two MySociety projects. I can keep up with planning applications, local news and event listings with HopHive, a free local aggregator. They’re the kinds of information local papers used to enjoy a monopoly on — but thanks to these new tools people have direct access to much of the same raw data that reporters rewrite. Local papers should acknowledge this and add complementary, not competing, content. Just like embracing outside bloggers can add a new range of authoritative voices, showing readers the source of a story can also free an editorial team to focus on interpreting and investigating news elsewhere.

What online tools would you use if local papers disappeared overnight? Fill out our experimental wiki list here

(Photo by Martin Deutsch, some rights reserved)



Very interesting article, Patrick. Trick for me is to provde people with the tools to monetise their hyper-local content better… and offer them rather more by way of a reward than a school diploma.

Think times may, just, be a-changing.


Bit by bit a business model forms for the "newsblogger" revolution. Bloggers will have to build up reputations…

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