Brazilian journalist Melissa Becker, who is currently studying in Birmingham, has very kindly written a guest post for talk about local, about producing a hyperlocal supplement for the Zero Hora newspaper:
If you can publish a video on YouTube, an article on your blog and photos on Flickr, why can’t you publish news in your city’s newspaper? And what kind of news would a reader/user talk about? Any relevant news, for sure, but I believe hyperlocal facts are best.
In Brazil, I’ve worked in a vanguard project for Zero Hora, a newspaper in Porto Alegre, in the south of the country: eight hyperlocal supplements, each one for a different part of the city, which publish mainly readers’ contents. They aren’t eight or twelve pages filled with letters, but eight or twelve pages with news sent by people who live in these neighbourhoods. I edited the weekly ZH Zona Sul, about the south zone of Porto Alegre, for about a year.
This supplement has a blog ‐ the Blog do ZH Zona Sul ‐ fed by a group of residents, with a range of occupations and ages. Weekly, some posts are published in the printed version as well. These residents also alert us about the beginning of a construction project or a meeting with the community not previously announced by the city hall, for example. In monthly meetings at the newsroom, the bloggers comment about how the blog and the supplement are doing. In March 2010, my last month at Zero Hora, the blog reached more than 24,000 views, a record. The region covered by ZH Zona Sul includes about 108,000 inhabitants.
Different address, but the same kind of hyperlocal problems around the world: traffic interruptions, potholes, old trees, rubbish on the streets. Despite that, the supplements have sections for positive aspects, such as residents’ profiles, articles about why people have chosen that place to live, photos that show the past of the region and, of course, pets.
The journalists’ work involves picking the most relevant news (considering how it affects the whole community, avoiding neighbours’ quarrels), checking the information and asking for answers from the city hall or those responsible. A timeline, an explanation or an opposite resident’s point of view could be added to complement the news. Different logos mark what was sent by a reader (Leitor-RepÃ³rter, or Reader-Reporter, in English) or by one of the bloggers.
Some of the content sent by readers was picked up from the blog and used in the pages of Zero Hora, the 7th newspaper in circulation in Brazil (an average of 183,000 per day). For example, a post about a long queue to buy cinema tickets ‐ something so prosaic, but people were really angry. The post had more than 6,000 views and 150 comments in eight hours and was the main report in Zero Hora’s city news the day next.
A photo taken by a reader from his friend’s small airplane and published on the blog motivated another report. The future of Porto Alegre’s old shipyard area has been one of the main discussion points in the city over the last few years ‐ the project includes constructing tall buildings and has divided the population in inflamed debates. After the old buildings were demolished, the newspaper hadn’t shown in pictures how the area had changed until the reader sent the photograph to the blog.
These two examples were sent by a 73-years-old engineer, who hasn’t a personal blog, but is very active in his community and collaborative with the newspaper. Journalists must be open-minded regarding readers’ suggestions. Often they may have more information about a story than you ‐ and who could know more about a region than the people who live there?
The participatory possibilities of the Web 2.0 give anyone the power to post their own news. How long can the mainstream media insist on a one-way dialogue? At the same time, many readers, including who have their own blogs, don’t think their content could be in the newspaper. So interested editors must signal their intent and be open to answer readers’ enquiries. A good relationship with the public was essential to make the supplement and the blog more attractive and useful during my time as an editor in Zero Hora.
I don’t think readers’ contents can replace good journalism and the investigative work that a journalist does. I believe there is space for both to exist within a newspaper or a website and work together so that publications can become more complete and useful to their community ‐ and this is one of the main objectives of journalism.