What is hyperlocal and why should we care?

Last night’s Social Media Cafe had an over riding theme – hyperlocal. Put simply this means news of interest to the local community and is usually provided by free independently owned and run websites.  They have sprung up to fill the void left by the reduction in local news reporting over the last few years following widespread cut backs in journalists across print and broadcast media.
In attendance amongst the usual collection of PR’s and social media aficionados was Josh Halliday who runs the Sunderland local news site SR2. This covers a patch with 30k potential readers, so has a sizeable audience to connect with. (NB correction of notes from last night and earlier error claiming 30k readers)
Sitting in the hot seat were Nigel Barlow – ably supported from the wings by business partner Louise Bolotin- and Richard Jones. Nigel and Louise have launched Inside the M60 to cover what they see as a void of decent on the street reporting at a local level since the MEN shut its weekly offices and encamped its entire team into Deansgate. Nigel see’s the role of hyperlocal as 1. to report local stories and 2. to scrutinise them.
Meanwhile Richard runs Saddleworth News, his own hyperlocal news site. Candidly Richard discussed his decision to set up the site to keep his brain in-gear whilst looking after his young child (I can relate to that!), their family economics meaning his wife has returned to work.
So two fresh news outlets with a passion for local information sounds good so far and surely they must be based on similar models. Wrong.
Richard is happy to cover his minimal costs and has picked up some very localised advertising revenue to do just that. However, Nigel and Louise aim to build a sustainable business model that they hope will carry on long after them. Nigel spotted that there are similarities in the type of advertisers spending on hyperlocal sites across the country and sees potential in future networked ad deals to supplement local advertisers as well as revenue from other sources, potentially central Government. After all information is essential for democracy.
Richard is already finding that many stories are coming to him and that through open data on the web he’s able to find many more. Nigel confirmed they will be taking a much more active approach to being news hounds and hitting the streets – something Louise pointed out that the the MEN are now less able to do with their reporters facing potential 30 mile round trips to get to their patch.
Political stories, accountability of our elected leaders and traceability on where our funds go were recurring hot topics that seem set to be well covered on the sites. With my PR head on I asked what sort of content they would like to be approached with beyond Town Hall talk. The response will please fellow PR’s as they are open to anything of interest to their readers from culture to sport, food to fashion.
Probing further I asked whether they would be open to using genuine citizen journalism reporting if Mr or Mrs Jonny on the spot provided video or audio footage for example. Both said yes to this although this caused some discussion in the audience as to the quality of content. On that note, it was also discussed whether existing local Facebook groups already offered the content that hyperlocal will. The responses seemed to agree that while they have a role to play they can’t compete with the quality of the copy trained journalists turn out. Not to mention the legalities of libel claims arising from stories or even reader comments.
With local newspapers shrinking and ITV local news set to be scrapped in its current format by 2013, PR’s better keep abreast of hyperlocal channels if they want to keep their clients connected to local communities.