Hyperlocal wars: commenters defend online local news sites

As my colleague Laura mentioned in a news article earlier today, a blog post on the Manchester Evening News’ website by chief reporter David Ottewell, written in defence of the Salford Star, raises concerns about new hyperlocal sites. An extract:

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘hyperlocal’ sites. The idea is that journalists working in a small community can cover stories that might get lost at, say, a regional or local level.

Too often, though, these sites disappoint. They end up simply regurgitating press releases, or ripping off stories from local newspapers, because they are one-man bands run by amateurs who don’t have the time, resources, or sometimes skills to dig out the news.

As Ottewell probably could have anticipated, this has sparked off some lively and heated comment. Hyperlocal trainer and publisher Will Perrin answers with examples of his favourite local news sites. Philip John, the developer behind Journal Local and the Lichfield Blog, raises an important point about future collaboration with Trinity Mirror (something Trinity Mirror’s head of regional multimedia David Higgerson talked about at the recent Polis/BBC College of Journalism conference):

We are also now actively talking with Trinity Mirror publications about collaboration and I know we’re not the only ones. I mention it specifically because they’re your ‘sisters’ within the TM family now and you might want to ask why they are so openly embracing hyperlocal.

Nigel Barlow, the co-founder of the Manchester site InsidetheM60 also responds, inviting Ottewell to further discuss these issues:

The spirit of your blog is not really in the best interests of what David Higgerson has for some time been promoting as cooperation between the main stream media and the Independents.

You have to recognise that there are some endemic problems within the media industry which local and regional papers seem to be bearing the brunt of. Not all their fault I accept but stances like yours do not help. Attack is not always the best form of defence but I take heart from the fact that you notice us. If we weren’t on your radar then surely we would be of no concern to you.

Sarah Hartley, who formerly worked at the MEN and now edits Guardian Local, says:

…your (probably) link bait assertion about what hyperlocal sites do ‘too often’ shouldn’t be left unchallenged. There’s heaps of sites up and down the country doing the sort of scrutiny you should applaud and unearthing stories of genuine importance to their communities – and that’s the point ‘their communities’. Maybe those stories don’t appeal to your professionalised view of journalism? I know not. Rather than generalise about these sites, perhaps some credit where it’s due and then name names if you have examples where churnalism is going on rather than tarring everyone with the same brush.

It has generated commentary away from the MEN site too; Philip John has a link round-up here.

5 thoughts on “Hyperlocal wars: commenters defend online local news sites

  1. Andy

    It’s good to see those who spent most of Friday getting into a tizzy about the fact their responses to David’s post weren’t published instantly are behaving a bit more like grown ups today. However, if you look at Nigel Barlow’s twitter feed, he never misses an opportunity to have a go at the MEN. So it’s rich for him to suggest that attack isn’t always the best way forward as this is what he spends his time doing. I’m sure those who accused the MEN of censoring them will be apologising soon

  2. Simon

    Fortunately none of this matters to those who matter, ie the readers of hyperlocal sites, such as my own. They just want to be better informed, quickly, and preferably for free, about what is going on within their own community, and what they can get involved with. If they were best served by some pompous old journalist 50 or so miles away, who was clueless to the needs of the community, they would stick with them. most local newspapers are weekly ones anyway, which means that by today’s standards they have no news, only a history of what has happened over the last week, and which has already been reported on by decent hyperlocals.

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  5. John Murray

    I am webmaster for a hyperlocal site Handbridge.com in Chester. We have been operating successfully for 5 years. We have a good relationship with the local media and have tipped off journalists to some key stories. The local rumour mill isn’t a bad starting point for investigations. We have enjoyed the support of student journalists who have investigated and written stories for us. It has been good experience for them in providing work to add to their portfolios when seeking work. The two can co-exist. Big media organisations do not have the resources to keep their ears close to the ground locally and rely on tip offs from the public for many of their stories. News rarely lands in their lap. As for regurgitation of press releases, I would doubt that hyperlocal sites are the worst culprits!

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