So thanks so much for all the comments on the last piece. I am now truly troubled and confused. Some of you seem to think that the regional press never will re-create itself, so it must be left to innovators to innovate and old brands to die. Yet those who are deeply involved in the regional press claim that the tools and utilities required for innovative services are simply not available. I decided to look at the latter this week, to look only in the UK, and to follow up some of the leads I received as a result of the first piece.
Since the premiere brand of Johnston Press is the Scotsman, I started my search in Edinburgh. There I found the Edinburgh Reporter, and a small team of local reporters working around an editor (Phyllis Stephens) to create, at www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk, a start-up local event site. This is powered by the nOtice web software currently being trialled (progress report awaited) by Guardian Media Group, which is itself an innovative newspaper project, given that it is an invite-only beta run by a group that sold its regional division and exited hyperlocal. But have a look at the intentions listed 18 months ago (http://gigaom.com/2011/10/28/guardians-n0tice-puts-a-new-twist-on-hyperlocal/) and look at http//nOtice.com to see what is being trialled. Clearly the effort here is to find ways in which users can post content and link to existing content. If you look at The Edinburgh Reporter, then you can see how they use Bambuser and You Tube to provide the image and video upload elements. The principle of hyperlocal is emerging here: we are all our own reporters and freelances, and whether or not we need an editorial hub depends more on brand and business model than on anything else. But the vital feature of this model is the need for someone to be able to signal what sort of news update they need so that those “closest” to the news can create media – video, audio, text – and send it back to be accessed and posted.
Which is when I was introduced to CivicBoom (http://civicboom.wordpress.com/about/). A great deal of the communication around nOtice is twitter-based. CivicBoom, from Canterbury in Kent, has its own mobile app, Boomlly, which acts as the reporting link, and the means of signalling when stories are needed. As far as I know, CivicBoom is not currently in active use in the newsroom of any UK regional, yet it is the perfect tool for experimenting with hyperlocal on the smartphones of a local youth (or mature) audience. As we move into the 4G world, the image and video output of an observant community can be turned into hyperlocal news and information, and the news organization/newspaper can tune and frame this content flow by using apps like Boomlly to request coverage, seek other views, repeat coverage or request similar coverage from different places. In other words, citizen journalism can now be organized on a far better basis than ever before, to the extent that it really does become the answer to “how can we do all that we need to do for hyperlocal on a reduced and reducing journalist workforce”. The first examples of citizen journalism at any scale that I mapped were in Florida in the early years of this century, and they plainly lacked the tools to do the job. Well, the answer is now clear – recognize and adopt your own community as participants and partners, follow the interests of that community, seek quality and set standards but do not forget who is doing what for whom. In order to succeed at hyperlocal the regional press may need to retire its editors, turn its remaining reporters into Boomlly operators and forget what was learnt in the age of print about editorial power. But since the alternative is a slow road to extinction then I strongly recommend anyone interested in survival to contact Lizzie Hodgson (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Civicboom and discuss the re-integration of community around news. Now.
And if the partial answer to “there is no hyperlocal news is a community answer, the other important reminder is to underline the fact that local news organizations do not mine existing database resources for hyperlocal news. Thus, for example, the national database of roadworks (www.elgin.com) is not used in any active news environment, as far as I know. Yet one of the most important pieces of information you can give anyone on a hyperlocal smrtphone service would be where delays and disruption can be expected, when it starts and when it is due to end. Much more data of this type is now becoming available, both through Open Data mandates and commercial efforts. You do not need Big Data in a local context to find it, and it blends beautifully with citizen journalism.
If the regional press is to hold its post-print position and move forward, then the size and shape of the local opportunity must be re-defined. Successful citizen journalism can point to entrepreneurial activity in local eBook or local eLearning activity. The media organization as a one delivery, advertising-driven, wholly broadcast news operation in the locality may finally be dead; visions of its future are experimental, but it is only by iteration that we drive netorked publishing forward. There are plenty of US models, and even if Patch.com will not eventually succeed then the broadcast media work around EasyBlock (MSNBC) and iReport (CNN) should provide some clues – and TownSquareBuzz and The Batavian suggest others. This is the eleventh hour – there is not a minute to spare!« go back — keep looking »