New Year is here. Media pundits have been busily trying to forecast the future of print news and paywalls as journalism struggles to survive the worst recession of all times.
I have been reading up all year on one of my favourite topics – hyperlocal initiatives – and would love to know where that is heading towards.
The need for community-level reporting platforms seem to become increasingly evident with every new local newspaper that shuts down. But do they have any commercial viability in the long run? And is there a workable model of mutual collaboration with mainstream media?
Here is a roundup of what journalists and bloggers have been foreseeing with their crystal balls for 2010 and beyond.
The cash factor
Jo Wadsworth (@BrightonArgusJo), web editor of the Brighton Argus, well-known for her work with community reporters, predicted in a Q&A on Jon Slattery's blog that in 2010 hyperlocals will start making money.
Patrick Smith (@psmith), on reporting about the AOP's Microlocal Media Forum in paidContent:UK, came to a less sanguine conclusion...
"Whether anyone will be making a real living from [hyperlocal] – as a mainstream publisher or a start-up – seems unlikely in the near future..."And yet, Philip John (@philpjohn), the technical geek behind the Lichfield Blog, believes it is possible for hyperlocal sites to make money and even blogged a list of suggestions.
Birmingham City University lecturer and Help Me Investigate founder Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw) thinks new models require new (financial) strategies. He was reported by paidContent:UK as having said:
Are we expecting margins online that are coloured by our print experience? Why are we expecting to make as much money?”The problem is that many consider 'hyperlocal' synonymous with amateur enterprise and hyperlocal blogging as "comment" as opposed to a journalist's "news". Matt Wardman (@mattwardman), who is compliling a directory of ultralocal blogs, says on his website:
"This is a ludicrous position to take, bearing in mind the extent to which news and opinion are mixed in the local (and especially the national) media, and also the miraculous range of howlers and planted stories which appear regularly."Any hyperblogger approaching the managing director of Newsquest's digitial division, Roger Green, about possible partnering in the near future, can expect to be met with total scepticism. As the Press Gazette reported, Green didn't mince words in making his views known at the AOP Forum:
"You should sit in on some of the joke meetings I’ve been in with people from no-name start-ups who say we should help them start their business and pay them for the privilege."The journalist-over-citizen bias
On the positive side, however, Walsall Council's Dan Slee (@danslee), has started calling for other local government press offices to treat local bloggers with the same respect as they would journalists from traditional media and vice-versa.
Slee deserves much credit for the initiative because, as Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah) wrote in The Guardian about the TalkAboutLocal's first 'unconference' in Stoke-on-Trent, the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) "looks unlikely to change the definition of who gets treated as a journalist". The Guardian quotes an NALC spokeswoman:
"We can say anecdotally that we would encourage councils to treat only accredited journalists as journalists. And treat citizen journalists as citizens."One more reason why a change of attitude to accept local bloggers filling in market gaps "needs to come from the top", as Philip John commented on Sarah's personal blog.
The synergetic view
I have a huge respect for the opinions of multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook (@AdamWestbrook). He is the type of progressive-thinking mentor the next generation of young journalists can only benefit from.
On the News: Rewired site (he is one of the speakers at the event on 14th January), Westbrook identified three ways to be an entrepreneurial journalist, the first of which is to match needs of the market with what you can offer in the same way "James Dyson [...] realised people were tired of bags in vacuum cleaners".
"Hyperlocal websites which start up in areas well served by mainstream media will struggle, because they’ll be trying to offer an alternative to a market which is quite content."In Westbrook's vision, mainstream giants co-exist symbiotically with hyperlocal businesses:
"The future of journalism landscape still has the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, BSkyB and all the other big names in it – just with other, smaller, businesses around it. They will be complimented [sic] – not threatened – by start-ups."Alas, the backlash
Of course not all share that view, particularly the change-averse, stick-in-the-mud old-schoolers.
Software developer Dave Winer (@davewiner), compared the rise of citizen journalists to the arrival of "amateur skiers" at professional ski slopes but says, seemingly with regret, that "the exclusivity is gone".
"The pros have to share the slopes with people who don't take the sport as seriously as they do."As I wrote in my comment to his blog, should saving professional skiers by keeping the "amateurs" out take precedence over saving skiing as a sport by embracing the positive aspects "amateurs" can bring into it?
My personal hope is that, just like ethnic profiling for anti-terrorism scanning at airports is causing an outrage now, one day linking words starting with "citizen" and "hyperlocal" with incompetency will be taboo and a thing of the past.
And what does your crystal ball say about hyperlocal? Add your views below.