Posted by: William Perrin | October 5, 2008

Talking hyperlocal, ultralocal workshop at mashup*

Mashup* ran an interesting event last Friday on the ‘hyperlocal’ agenda.  I have been merrily using the term ultralocal when in fact hyperlocal has apparently been trademarked in the USA for local news beneath the radar of the conventional media.  There was a crowd of thirty or so software developers and investors interested in how to make money out of ultralocal or hyperlocal news.  As far as i could make out, there were only two or three hyperlocal content creators there – me, James Hatts from SE1 and the engaging Walid Al Saqqaf of TrustedPlaces.

I did a pitch on Kings Cross and disappointed many by suggesting that there was no way to monetise this sort of thing. If you are ultralocal or hyperlocal enough to be interesting to your community you are almost by definition serving an audience niche too small to be funded by advertising. Kevin Harris who animated  the event extremely well seems to concur.

There is a paradox for local news – it can’t support its industrial era costs in a world where interest in news is moving online.  But at the same time conventional local news isn’t interesting enough to people because it isn’t local enough.   So it faces a lose-lose situation – to cut costs (and still broadcast or print) it has to concentrate production at a regional level and so is less interesting to its audience.  Communities lose out as they lose an albeit imperfect voice.

With only a few exceptions, it is hard to see how solo ultralocal or hyperlocal sites can support a paid member of staff (at the very lowest £25k inc overheads).  So unless new sources of funding arise, a conventional paid for journalist model looks unlikely at an ultralocal level.  The only way to gather hyperlocal news for an industrial era news model is by tapping into a volunteer base to write news for you.  Which is what seems to be happening in Teeside according to Roy Greenslade.  Trinity Mirror seem to be attaching volnteer driven hyperlocal model to a traditional news cost model – which reminds you a bit of trad. bookshops attaching online businesses to their trad. model – it was entirely web-based competitors that prevailed.

For more on the Trinity Mirror plans for hyperlocal go to Sly Bailey’s recent speech here and scroll through to 11 minutes 30 seconds in.  Sly claims the hyperlocal sites have created five spin off print products.  She also describes geo-tagged news running in beta on the Liverpool Echo site.

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Responses

  1. […] William Perrin has now blogged his analysis in more detail: There is a paradox for local news – it can’t support its industrial era costs in […]

  2. Interesting post, and good work with Kings Cross! We spent a few years in the late nineties trying to work this out as part of what was Brixton Online, but that was before we all reached some kind of critical mass of participation (although by no means universal) with the advent of blogs and myspace, etc. It couldn’t work then without pump priming funding. I wonder if things are potentially different now.

    You say “conventional local news isn’t interesting enough to people because it isn’t local enough” but I am not sure it is just about how local things are. Local media have always understood that it is not just about news, and classifieds have been a big part of the ‘community’ proposition of the newspapers. As a kid, I never really read mine for news, but mostly for ads and notices as well.

    I think you are really on the right lines with a voluntary group blog, whose cost model is of course a lot more sustainable than previous models. What Trinity are doing is interesting, and I am not surprised they are pioneering this. Beyond that, I think outside.in and broader sites like netlog.com are worth following, and of course craigslist is a beacon of hope. I can’t help thinking there is a sustainable model for small teams to co-ordinate local contributors, but perhaps not for the kind of return expected by the rolled up regional newspaper groups.

  3. You said
    “The only way to gather hyperlocal news for an industrial era news model is by tapping into a volunteer base to write news for you.”

    These volunteers of course do exist based on the print industry model in the form of Parish Magazines and local newsletters, but I have found it difficult to get the contributors to the former to become contributors to the newer local online service. It also seems difficult to get new online authors.

    In the past I tried to get a local entrepreneur (who voluntarily edited a local newsletter) to do an online version but he wouldn’t do it: now I see that there is what looks like a donated web site that covers much of the same ground. No problem as there should always be more than one way of telling a story and reaching an audience (http://www.puckeridgevillage.co.uk/Publications).

    What of course is needed is a proper marketing approach, key attractors to get people to want to read online, and support to the authors.

  4. […] Talking hyperlocal, ultralocal workshop at mashup* « Ultra Local Voice: communities, communicating William Perrin on his hyperlocal work in kings cross and the future of local media (tags: media social community london kingscross local news) […]

  5. […] Talking hyperlocal, ultralocal workshop at mashup* – Will Perrin on local digital media […]

  6. […] Talking hyperlocal, ultralocal workshop at mashup* […]

  7. […] is bad but predictable news for local democracy in the UK – we need plural local news so that we know what our elected […]

  8. […] ‘can’t make money’ warns community […]

  9. I think this is true. Instead of trying to monetise hyperlocal we ought to be thinking about it can intersect with social networking which creates relationships and communities in a very organic way. Then we ought to think about how it connects with public media. Local organisations spend millions on communications every year. Supporting voluntary hyperlocal media seems like a good way to spend some of that. It’s no different to Council job adverts supporting local papers.
    I don’t think that the decline of mainstream media will make the job much easier overall. It does open up a space and perhaps even funds. But I think that hyperlocal thrives best when it can network with bigger news organisations.
    cheers
    Charlie Beckett, Polis, LSE

  10. Very interesting debate; and I’m not for a moment suggesting that we have the answer…

    But on the back of launching http://www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity and done the whole niche/local thing for the last two years, building a sustainable revenue model has been one of our fundamental challenges.

    Particularly given that we also own http://www.mylocalwriter.com – with its ability to drill down to a postcode, a street or a scene… http://www.mylocalwriter.com/nw1 etc etc…

    To that end we’ve built our own banner advertising system http://www.twadservices.co.uk, but over and above that we’ve launched our own PPC, CPM, pay-per-month, pay-per-week DIY advertising system called ‘Addiply’ – Kyle McRae blogged about it here on…

    http://www.scunnered.com/?p=44

    It’s currently beta-trialling through the niche ‘scene’ – French ex-pats via Craig McGinty – http://www.thisfrenchlife.com – the gardening niche – http://www.landscapejuice.com and, indeed, this Transport of Delight scene via http://www.sellyourbusphotos.com

    The next challenge is to see whether it can monetise a hyper-local news site; I don’t expect it to ever fund a full-time journalists position; maybe a part-time role is all any of us can aspire to – a curator of local news conversations, perhaps.

    But, there we go… and if anyone wants to bolt it onto their hyper-local site and give it a beta-trial we’re always looking for volunteers… it’s an empowerment tool; a piece of kit that allows you, the publisher, to offer advertising space to your own choice of model and cost; that then empowers the local/niche advertiser to place highly-targetted advertising where they see fit rather than be beholden to a mathematical algorithm.

    Well, that’s the theory…

  11. […] Read more here [link] Tags:advertising, hackademic, hyperlocal, Journalism, revenue […]

  12. Ultra/Hyper-local can survive economically. I have a site in a community of 20,000 people that also has a tourist economy (which helps us as we have 1/3 of our audience that aren’t full-time locals). With that caveat, we have a site that gets between 15,000 and 30,000 uniques per month and about 500,000 pageviews as well as a e-newsletter that has nearly 7,000 daily subscribers (and drives >50% of our site traffic). We outsourced our tech and then have one site producer who does a little of everything, one full-time reporter and one sales person. I have also blogged and periodically helped on sales and random other things (this only became full time for me recently). We have done a lot to encourage the “Pro-Am” model of journalism that combines the best of both worlds and helps keeps costs manageable.

    We made a little money last year and are on track to make a healthy profit this year. It hasn’t been easy and we’ve experimented a lot but it is entirely possible with the right strategy. You can check out the site at http://www.sunvalleyonline.com if you want to see what the site looks like. [As I type this, we are doing some system maintenance over the weekend in case you run into any issues.]

    The biggest gap I see in other hyperlocal efforts is most do a miserable job of quantifying the value of their audience in a way that is meaningful to small businesses that support sites like this. I think we’ve cracked that nut and it has been a big obstacle (lots of trial and error).

  13. Some very interesting points made in this post and the comments. One thought – this idea of “tapping into a volunteer base to write news for you”.

    Why should anyone write news for us (the “us”being big media companies)?

    They are already writing and doing that for their community so a better approcah might be to work with them – facilitate and network. Collaborate with those who are passionate enough to bother anyway. Through my many contacts with Manchester’s bloggers, I know that they invest a great deal of time and effort into what they do. So yes, embrace the volunteers and respect their motivation – but don’t expect them to become an unpaid workforce.

  14. […] specific local communities are not financially sustainable.  Blog Talk about local  claim that if you are ultralocal or hyperlocal enough to be interesting to your community you are almost by def…  With only a few exceptions, it is hard to see how solo ultralocal or hyperlocal sites can support […]


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