Over the past few months, I’ve been researching ways that hyperlocal sites and local newspapers/websites could work together. In my opinion, in many cases the relationship between the two is improving although most would probably suggest there’s a way to go yet.
The idea for this list came out of a few of those conversations. While few, if any, hyperlocal sites seek to replace the local newspaper, I think there are a fair few principles hyperlocal sites could take from local newspapers to attract a wider audience.
To anyone who works in newsrooms, the list below won’t come as a surprise. It’s not intended to be the musing of an arrogant journalist seeking to tell those with hyperlocal sites how to do things – it’s really just ideas from local newspapers which have evolved to serve their communities for over 100 years and, in most cases, continue to do so very well.
There’s a reason why newspapers spend a fair bit of money on weather for their newspapers – people want it, and the more local the better. That’s good news for hyperlocal sites, because widgets such as the ones from the Met Office make that a quick win for you.
This might be just a lack of experience on my part, but I haven’t seen any hyperlocal news sites which campaign, other than those sites which are set up for a campaigning cause. Newspapers run campaigns which they are hopeful of winning, and which they know will resonate with large sections of the community. Why not do the same at a hyperlocal level?
3. Find space for people to have a voice
It might seem an odd thing to say when websites have the ability to instantly comment on stories, something newspapers don’t. But to me there’s a big difference between the letters page of a newspaper and the comments box – the letters page is a fixture of the newspaper whereas as the comments box can be subservient to the journalist’s story. It’s a place where the reader sets the agenda. It might not be the agenda which you like, but it’s the agenda the reader likes.
4. Don’t get carried away with pet issues
Every now and again, newspapers can feel a little lop-sided towards one particular issue or cause. This can be often because a reporter enjoys writing about that issue. I can’t remember why, but I once developed an obsession with the fact that one of the platforms at the local train station didn’t have a roof – maybe something to do with the fact I used that platforms most days. The local council swore blind I was obsessed, I argued it was a story readers were interested in. Maybe they were, but in hindsight I understand why the newsdesk groaned every time platform four was mentioned on my newslist. In other words, stick to stuff which you know will appeal to your audience.
5. Readers don’t care about rivals
Ok, so we all know there are some regional newspapers which break this rule but generally, you won’t see a regional newspaper attacking a rival publication, or even criticizing them. The reason for this is that the reader doesn’t really care.
6. Pictures, pictures, pictures
I can guess why hyperlocal sites are sometimes short on pictures – it’s the hardest part of the story package to get because it can be time consuming. But there are other ways – submitted pictures, perhaps, or use of Flickr images (with permission). Maybe even approaching the local paper for the image might be a good way of starting a relationship.
7. Wider news
Many newspapers still pay for access to national news services and carry national news stories. Now while that may not be an option for many hyperlocal site operators, how about applying the principle to regional news sites? Taking an RSS feeds of regional newspaper sites would, I think, provide more things for users to look at, providing them with the opportunity to get access all the news they need via you – rather like the principle of the national news page.
The old newsroom joke that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be couldn’t be more wrong – it’s as popular now as it always has been. Again, a good working relationship with the local newspaper (and its big archive) would help here – but delving into the archive section of the local library is another alternative.
Chosen correctly, columnists for even the smallest newspaper can drive sales and help provide even better coverage of a local area. One mistake some papers have made is to assume that a print column can be transformed into an online blog without any changes being made. It can’t – interaction being the key difference here – but a column can still work online, as long as it is marked as such.
10. Sharing tips
It’s not uncommon for journalists working in different parts of the country to work together on a story if it helps them get the story. Could the same work for hyperlocal sites by working with local newspapers if you haven’t got the time/resource to complete a story?