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Intervention for UK’s hyperlocal journalism sector

8 September 2015

Damien Radcliffe

Milestone report raises concerns on sector’s sustainability

A leading digital analyst will today issue callsfor greater support and recognition for the UK’s hyperlocal media sector, at a major conference on the future of community journalism hosted by Cardiff University.

Damian Radcliffe, researcher, journalist and Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture Studies (JOMEC), will launch a new report which examines the state of hyperlocal publishing in the UK and lays out core challenges facing the sector.

The report evidences the contribution of hyperlocal platforms to civic life and media plurality against a backdrop of closures, mergers, cutbacks and declining regional newspaper sales. It also showcases innovative business models and examples of community journalism influencing and informing grassroots decision-making.

A collaboration with innovation charity Nesta, the paper outlines concerns around the sector’s sustainability, covering financial and personnel pressures, funding models supporting the sector, the role of technology companies in aiding discoverability, publishers’ access to non-financial resources, and wider recognition and support from traditional media and decision-makers.

Damian, who later this month will become Professor of Practice and Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, will be joined at the event by other leading experts including Daniel Gillmor, Professor of Practice, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and Faculty Associate, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Daniel will set out the success of the Knight News Challenge (KNC) in the US - an offshoot of the not-for-profit Knight Foundation which, in five years, has awarded funding to 79 news local news projects to a total of $26.5m (£16.4m).

Damian Radcliffe, lead author of theWhat next for community journalism? report said: “Since 2012 we have seen a step-change in the empirical evidence base for UK hyperlocal media. Research by academic institutions, NGOs and regulators has deepened our understanding about the audiences, content and business models found across this sector.

“As a result, we have the strongest indication yet of the civic and public value hyperlocal media creates in undertaking a range of journalistic and community outputs; from holding authority to account, through to running campaigns and reporting on local events.

 “Yet, despite this increased recognition and understanding, the core issues that challenge the ongoing success of UK hyperlocal media remain unchanged, meaning the sector has no degree of long-term certainty. For too many providers, their existence remains hand-to-mouth which has an inevitable on both sustainability and the appeal of the sector to new entrants.”

He added: “With one in four internet users accessing local websites or apps, today’s report outlines the huge opportunities as well as challenges for community journalism in the UK, showing its potential as a vibrant sector that delivers demonstrable public value to society and for which there is greater a need than ever before.”

Kathryn Geels, Nesta Programme Manager added: “The report and today’s event demonstrate the substantial developments and successes that the UK hyperlocal media sector has seen in the past few years. From contributing to dedicated research, to innovations by individual hyperlocal media services, and filling civic engagement and information gaps within local communities, we are seeing a thirst like never before from practitioners to ‘make it work’. However, to progress the sector beyond economic fragility and develop innovation opportunities that go beyond experimentation, we need positive interventions from policy makers and the wider media industry“.

Among the report’s key recommendations are:

  • Offering hyperlocal publishers the opportunity to sell credited content to the BBC
  • Encouraging large technology companies such as Google to support community news providers by making their content more discoverable
  • Providing accreditation and recognition from the NUJ
  • Urgent clarification by politicians and regulators on the new press regulation regime and how this may impact on community news providers
  • Ensuring hyperlocal publishers are considered as suppliers for statutory notices (which amount to £45 - £50 million advertising spend a year) and local health campaigns
  • On-going research into the total size of the UK hyperlocal market, its financial value, and variety of successful business models
  • Exploration of new funding models, including potential interventions to provide continued financial support for sector

The event is facilitated by Cardiff University’s flagship Centre for Community Journalism and will showcase innovative examples of practice from hyperlocal journalists across the UK.

More than 150 delegates will attend, from organisations including the BBC, Ofcom and the Home Office. The day will open with Dan Gillmor’s address from Dan Gillmor, Professor of Practice, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.