Local media focus on web

Microsites offering community-focused coverage are becoming increasingly relevant in the UK

The past year has been a cruel one for regional media, characterised by closures, layoffs and mounting industrial activity. So it is heartening to find an area of growth that is transforming local journalism in a positive way.

Hyper-local journalism, which refers to local, community-level coverage, is taking off in the UK, thanks to the internet’s ubiquitous role in disseminating information. Earlier this year, the ABC released its first report tracking local news websites’ user numbers, in recognition of their increasing relevance.

For communicators, the trend offers opportunities and challenges. Perhaps the best example of the power of hyperlocal journalism comes from Northumberland, where The Journal in Newcastle has so far launched 22 microsites

The Journal is not alone in its efforts to drill down into smaller communities.

Brighton & Hove City Council head of corporate communications John Shewell notes his area is a ‘hotbed of online activity’, with at least five sites offering community-level coverage.

Shewell made use of the opportunity recently by running a ‘Be Local, Buy Local’ campaign in conjunction with The Argus’ local websites, but believes better research is required to map the area’s hyper-local environment.

‘We want to know where people are going and what they like to talk about, so we can engage and involve them in council decision-making,’ says Shewell.

He believes it makes ‘perfect sense’ that council PROs target these sites with stories but is sceptical that buying into them is a good idea.

Sally Keith, the regional chair of the CIPR’s North East group, says the opportunity to explore a local topic in greater detail can only benefit savvy communicators. But she also warns that a robust monitoring model is required. ‘You have to be much smarter to find your way around all the different sites and blogs,’ she explains. ‘It’s up to the PR practitioner to understand the specific audience as best they can. If you can rise to the challenge, it can be great.’

For local media owners, meanwhile, the growth offers some solace in difficult times. Whitfield says: ‘We would like to do more, but ultimately it depends on whether The Journal is not alone in its efforts to drill down into smaller communities.

Brighton & Hove City Council head of corporate communications John Shewell notes his area is a ‘hotbed of online activity’, with at least five sites offering community-level coverage.

Shewell made use of the opportunity recently by running a ‘Be Local, Buy Local’ campaign in conjunction with The Argus’ local websites, but believes better research is required to map the area’s hyper-local environment.

‘We want to know where people are going and what they like to talk about, so we can engage and involve them in council decision-making,’ says Shewell.

He believes it makes ‘perfect sense’ that council PROs target these sites with stories but is sceptical that buying into them is a good idea.

Sally Keith, the regional chair of the CIPR’s North East group, says the opportunity to explore a local topic in greater detail can only benefit savvy communicators.

But she also warns that a robust monitoring model is required. ‘You have to be much smarter to find your way around all the different sites and blogs,’ she explains. ‘It’s up to the PR practitioner to understand the specific audience as best they can. If you can rise to the challenge, it can be great.’

For local media owners, meanwhile, the growth offers some solace in difficult times. Whitfield says: ‘We would like to do more, but ultimately it depends on whetherwe can get outside funding.’

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