The promise for hyperlocal’s place in UK news is there, the boundless optimism is not in doubt and there’s even hints of a local business model emerging. But the delivery of quality post-code level news across most of the country still a long way off, and sustainable revenues and — dare we say it — profits are even further.
There wasn’t much at the AOP’s Microlocal Forum on Wednesday to suggest that either semi-amateur, entrepreneur-led start-ups or big-league newspaper publishers will make real successes of hyperlocal in 2010. But that won’t stop them from trying…
— Birmingham City University media academic Paul Bradshaw, also co-founder of the DIY muck-raking site Help Me Investigate, said local sites should avoid being “handicapped” by an old-media, mass-reach-chasing ad model and instead sell products and services and organise events. “Are we expecting margins online that are coloured by our print experience? Why are we expecting to make as much money?”
— As I’ve said before, local grassroots news businesses need partnerships to survive: whether it’s via a nation-wide movement — through groups like Talk About Local — or through relationships with mainstream publishers. But Bradshaw warns that big media schemes aiming to work with local bloggers — like ITN’s proposed post-2012 part-publicly funded consortia — were considered by bloggers to be “partnerships on someone else’s terms”. Exactly how bloggers could be involved in the IFNC set-up is yet to be clear by any of the potential partners.
— And if you’re going to ask Newsquest to hear your hyperlocal partnership proposition, you better have a good proposition. The company’s digital managing director Roger Green spoke with refreshing honesty by saying he’s sick of upstart local businesses — or “zero-revenue publishers” as he calls them — looking for a free ride from the Gannett (NYSE: GCI) owned publisher’s commercial mass. “You should sit in on some of the joke meetings I’ve been in with with people from no-name start-ups who say we should help them start their business and pay them for the privilege… I’m glad bloggers are starting to suffer from this sort of thing.” He’s open to “reasonable” offers, but warns hyperlocal start-ups that they should either “work with us or take us on“.
— David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) Regionals, has a more measured view. As he told me in an interview afterwards, Trinity journalists have made overtures to local bloggers to build relationships — he admits reporters have been guilty of using bloggers’ stories without attribution (it happens in reverse too, of course) — and he’s thinking of ways to make relationships more concrete. Does Trinity make any money from its own hyperlocal projects such as the one in Teesside? Yes — it’s not much — but Higgerson says it reaches the kind of advertisers that regional sites can’t. Here’s the audio:
Public money could play a role: ITN, Press Association, Trinity Mirror, Ten Alps and all the other companies that have signaled their interest in running part-publicly-funded news consortia will be keen to involve grassroots news sites as part of the regional publishing mix — as per the original blueprint in Digital Britain — but there are more ifs and maybes surrounding that than certainties and the project won’t be fully up and running until 2012.
In short, 2010 will not be the year of hyperlocal — these are the foothills, the beginnings of localised online publishing. But the signs are auspicious: increasing levels of online literacy and broadband connections mixed with more inevitable local newspaper closures mean it’s natural that readers — and advertisers — will shift to new outlets. Whether anyone will be making a real living from it — as a mainstream publisher or a start-up — seems unlikely in the near future…