Working with hyperlocal sites: 10 tips for reporters

As I’ve mentioned on this post, I spent part of Saturday at the Talk About Local unconference in Leeds, listening to what hyperlocal bloggers are up to – and picking up on their thoughts about the mainstream media. From that, here’s a list of things journalists working in the mainstream media may find useful about hyperlocal journalism:

1. Find out which hyperlocal sites are going on in your area: Finding new sites can be a bit of a needle in a haystack job on Google, but the Openly Local Hyperlocal site directory is a good place to start. More than 200 hyperlocal sites are listed on there, on a map. Hyperlocal sites can also be found more easily via search sites such as Addictomatic.

2. Make contact with the site: If you like what you see, make contact with the publisher to find out if they’d be happy to work together with you. At Talk About Local, it appeared that there were many motives for running hyperlocal sites, ranging from a parish councillor keeping his electorate up to date in Formby, through to sites to such as Wilmslow.co.uk which considers the local newspaper to be a rival.

3. Work out how you can help support those motives: Some of the hyperlocal bloggers at TAL did point out they had a good relationship with the local newspaper, especially when the motive behind the hyperlocal blog was around ‘civic pride’ – or doing more to improve an area. Can you help them with a campaign by highlighting it in print, for example? Or can you work together in other ways?

4. Don’t just take the content: One of the regular complaints made against mainstream media is that they just ‘take’ content from hyperlocal sites. I’m sure this isn’t as commonplace as made out, but there were examples given at TAL about it. As a journalist, you’ll want to check your facts, so if you trust the source enough to believe the story, surely it’s worth ringing them up to see if you can use it. Many sites are run for reasons other than financial gain, so just attributing the source of the story can be enough reward. Don’t like the idea of attributing the story? Ask yourself why you don’t – at the end of the day the more information you have, the better the content in the newspaper, and the better the experience for the reader. Another way to look at it is to think about how you feel when a national or news agency takes your copy and runs with it – hyperlocal journalists will feel the same.

5. Think about what you can offer in return: What can you as a journalist offer a hyperlocal site in your area in return? It may be that you might be able to pay for some stories, but generally I suspect it is a case of other support you can offer. Can you swap links between sites? Can the source of copy be promoted in print? Can you offer support and advice when needed? The community forum Accyweb based in Accrington used to count a reporter from the Accrington Observer amongst its members, and they would discuss issues on Accyweb which would then help inform content in the Observer.

6. Think beyond geography: Hyperlocal doesn’t just have to mean general coverage of one particular area, it could also be about a specific issue or subject within an area – as the site Leeds Grub demonstrated on Saturday. It does food across Leeds, and would love to be linked to from news sites in the area. It’s worth finding these sorts of sites and trying to build a relationship with these sites too.

7. Don’t be offended if the answer is no sometimes: The author behind Leeds Grub made a good point that it may not be possible for a blog or site to respond positively to all requests for help or support, but she advised not to take offence if that happens. Blogs and sites are often driven by a passion for an area or subject, so it makes sense that the blogger/writer will try very hard to ensure that the site continues to achieve its main goals, which may mean they can’t always help – but a no once doesn’t mean it will be a no all the time.

8. Make conversation a two-way process: If you’re working on a story in a particular area which is served by a hyperlocal site, can you contact them to discuss it if you’re hitting a brick wall? Or is there a way to collaborate which suits all sides. In 2008, the Liverpool Daily Post carried out a survey of more than 3,000 Liverpool FC fans in 48 hours with the support of fans forums, who were then credited for their support. Wilmslow.co.uk also quoted an example of a local newspaper which couldn’t make the switch on of Christmas lights so asked for a picture, which was published in print in return for a credit.

9. Talk about photos: Photos seem to be one area where hyperlocals and mainstream media really can help each other. Newspapers have big archives, and often try to sell photos too. What harm does it do to give a low-res images to a hyperlocal site in return for a link back to a site, in return for access to pictures of things the hyperlocal site may see and record.

10.  Don’t see a hyperlocal site as a threat to your job: I’ve yet to meet a hyperlocal writer who set out to put the local newspaper out of business. One of the common myths about the Lichfield Blog is that it set out to replace the Lichfield Post newspaper, which closed last year. As it turns out, the Post did nothing of the sort, it was already running when the Post closed, but certainly wasn’t the reason why it closed.

This isn’t meant to be a complete list, and if there’s anything I’ve missed, or you feel I’ve got wrong, please let me know…

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6 comments

  1. Brilliant post, and perfect advice – I would be as happy as Larry if this is the approach a journalist picking up on my blog’s content took with me. :-)

    I particularly liked the give-take attitude and ‘Don’t like the idea of attributing the story? Ask yourself why you don’t…’ A lot of us are doing our sites for free (for the love of it, for a cause, for the community’s good, etc.) and attribution, recognition and possibly a little link-love or other small support is often all we ask, and something I personally always ensure I give to others. It’s plain good manners in my book which, as my Mum always told me, cost absolutely nothing.

    1. Thanks Nicky. Like you say, some of it is just manners – hopefully we’ll see some new relationships forming soon

  2. A couple of weeks ago, we filled out a questionnaire emailed to us by a student journalist studying here in Sheffield. He wanted us to give various opinions and share experiences of the impact that digital social media and hyperlocal sites are likely to have on the outcome of the General Election. It was for a piece of course work he’d been set. We duly obliged … but haven’t even had the courtesy of a thank you or an acknowledgement since. So what are they teaching students on journalisn courses these days?

  3. This is really interesting – I attended the BBC Connecting Communities conference in Salford last week, where there was a lot of talk of collaboration between “legacy” media (ie regional press) and hyperlocal websites. I’m working on a hyperlocal website and wonder if you have advice about how hyperlocals can approach local press about working together -rather than waiting for local press to contact hyperlocals. For example, who’s the best person to approach? One of the local reporters? Or the editor?

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