Today saw the launch of the UK Hyperlocal Community News report. It’s a welcome piece of (open access) quantitative research by three UK universities on the state of the British hyperlocal scene in a landscape where research has traditionally been a bit thin on the ground.
Talk About Local was a research partner and helped the academics get close to hyperlocal sites and community news activity, something we are also regularly asked about and happy to help with for organisations such as the big media groups interested in this sector.
Today’s report will no doubt form the basis of discussions from board rooms to back rooms and is to be be followed by more in-depth analysis from the academics involved in due course. They were Andy Williams, Cardiff University; Steven Barnett, University of Westminster; Dave Harte, Birmingham City University; and Judith Townend, University of Westminster.
Here’s just a few findings from the report that caught my eye:
The importance of events and culture
Local community events (meetings of local clubs or societies, community celebrations) are covered by almost all of our respondents (94 per cent), closely followed by cultural or entertainment events (86 per cent), all of which correspond to the “parish newsletter” model which some associate with the hyperlocal label. Information about local events is important both in letting people know what is going on locally, and in promoting the visibility of local groups.
The study found: “Beyond community information, however, the vast majority of sites also produce the kinds of harder political news and information more traditionally associated with the local and regional press. Around 80 per cent of respondents say they have covered council meetings and decisions, and a similar proportion more specifically mentioned planning decisions or disputes. Nearly two thirds said they had covered local election or local election candidates, suggesting that hyperlocal sites could have an important role in promoting participation in local democracy. In addition, the high numbers of respondents who say they have covered local history, businesses, and institutions such as the courts, police, and schools, is testimony to the broad cross-section of community life being reported by these sites.”
Campaigning community news
An integral function of local news outlets has always been to provide a platform for campaigning voices on contentious local issues, a job arguably made more important when recession-induced austerity measures are impacting hard on local government budgets and therefore local services. Such campaigns have often been a feature of mainstream local news outlets, speaking up for the communities they serve and providing a forum for public debate. Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of respondents said they had joined in or supported a local campaign in the last two years (n=159). The average (mean) number of campaigns was five, and the median was three (n=93). Moreover, 42 per cent had “started a campaign which sought to change things locally” in the same period, an impressive figure given the time and effort involved in starting, building, and sustaining a new campaign. (n=159). The mean number of campaigns initiated by producers themselves was three, and the median was two. Though apparently small numbers, we should remember that campaigns are often long-running stories which are covered repeatedly over time.
You can read or download the full report at the dedicated website here or below.