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January 04 2012


2011: the UK hyper-local year in review

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some topline developments in the hyper-local space during 2011. He also asks for your suggestions of great hyper-local content from 2011. His more detailed slides looking at the previous year are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

2011 was a busy year across the hyper-local sphere, with a flurry of activity online as well as more traditional platforms such as TV, Radio and newspapers.

The Government’s plans for Local TV have been considerably developed, following the Shott Review just over a year ago. We now have a clearer indication of the areas which will be first on the list for these new services and how Ofcom might award these licences. What we don’t know is who will apply for these licences, or what their business models will be. But, this should become clear in the second half of the year.

Whilst the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t directly been looking at local media, it has been a part of the debate. Claire Enders outlined some of the challenges facing the regional and local press in a presentation showing declining revenue, jobs and advertising over the past five years. Her research suggests that the impact of “the move to digital” has been greater at a local level than at the nationals.

Across the board, funding remains a challenge for many. But new models are emerging, with Daily Deals starting to form part of the revenue mix alongside money from foundations and franchising.

And on the content front, we saw Jeremy Hunt cite a number of hyper-local examples at the Oxford Media Convention, as well as record coverage for regional press and many hyper-local outlets as a result of the summer riots.

I’ve included more on all of these stories in my personal retrospective for the past year.

One area where I’d really welcome feedback is examples of hyper-local content you produced – or read – in 2011. I’m conscious that a lot of great material may not necessarily reach a wider audience, so do post your suggestions below and hopefully we can begin to redress that.

September 15 2011

Sponsored post

October 15 2010


Johnston Press chief: BBC should be limited to three stories per city per day

A curious strategy by Johnston Press’ chief executive John Fry, who has reportedly written to the BBC Trust asking the body to limit the number of news stories the BBC’s website publishes online to three per city or region.

The BBC’s coverage could thwart JP’s plans to launch more paid-for digital services. No mention of its failed paywall pilots though…

Full story on Telegraph.co.uk at this link…Similar Posts:

September 30 2010


The Independent: Regional press challenging bad forecasts

The Independent has an interesting article by Ian Burrell this morning comparing the current situation for local media – in terms of production levels, revenues and staff – with previous predictions.

The overall picture it paints is that the regional press, despite facing predictions that half of the industry would be closed down by 2013, is proving forecasters wrong.

A year or so later, the picture is somewhat different. Whereas 60 local newspapers did close during 2009, only eight have gone to the wall in 2010. The UK’s local press isn’t quite ready to draft its own obituary.

Early on Burrell discusses the impact of the American press situation on encouraging the bleak outlooks for British media, but adds that action taken by the press such as the increasing use of hyperlocal sites has helped it survive.

The earlier predictions of Armageddon were influenced by events in America, where the regional press has suffered badly. The closure in February last year of the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News in Denver caused great alarm, as did the demise the following month of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which moved to online-only production after 146 years in print. The company that owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy. But the New York Times reported recently that hedge fund “vulture” investors are circling newspaper businesses in anticipation that the worst days are over.

But the article also raises the question of how you should measure the pulse of the local newspaper industry. Therefore as well as looking at the number of titles (and money) still being made, Burrell asks what the wider impact on the journalists within these newsrooms is?

Barry Fitzpatrick, head of publishing at the National Union of Journalists, says not. “Most of our journalists are working multi-platform and they are working long hours to deadlines that are increasingly difficult to meet. I’m fearful of what the long term effect will be on journalism itself and on the health of a lot of people that are trying to earn a living as journalists.”

See the full article here…Similar Posts:

August 25 2010


Hyperlocal – what does it mean?

Not long ago it was the buzzword of the media and news industry – but what does ‘hyperlocal’ really mean today?

It’s a question Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley has sought answer on her blog, putting forward ten characteristics which represent the meaning of the phrase as it evolves.

First, she discusses the growing range of the term, which has developed from a postcode-focused news patch to now being used to describe focused subject matter, story treatment, or even geographical areas which are actually large in size. “Can these things be considered hyperlocal in nature?”, she asks.

Here is a summary of the main characteristics Hartley associates with the term:

  • Participation from the author.
  • Opinion blended with facts.
  • Participation from the community.
  • Small is big. Scale is not important, impact is.
  • Medium agnostic. Use of different platforms.
  • Obsessiveness. Sticking with a story.
  • Independence.
  • Link lovers.
  • Passion.
  • Lack of money.

Readers are invited to comment on her blog on whether it is time to find an alternative to the term ‘hyperlocal’ or whether it is well used enough to keep.

See her full post at this link…Similar Posts:

July 02 2010


Manchester Evening News lets football fans take over its masthead

Much has been written about the positives and negatives of personalised features on news websites, from user profiles to personalised homepages.

For me the Manchester Evening News has got its personalisation priorities right: registered readers can now choose between a blue masthead, designed for Manchester City fans; or keep the site’s traditional red colour theme if you a Manchester United fan.

(NB – for those of you that know my football allegiances please note that logging in as a blue was purely for work purposes)

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June 30 2010


Scoopland: Alternative NUJ Regional Press Award Winners

Deputy editor of the Camden New Journal Richard Osley shares his thoughts on prize-worthy regional journalism, following last night’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Regional Press Awards.

The News in Portsmouth took four awards at the event yesterday. While congratulating the paper, Osley recommends the Cambridge News, Kent on Sunday, the Argus in Brighton, the South London Press and Birmingham Mail.

Full Scoopland post at this link…Similar Posts:

April 21 2010


Roy Greenslade: Brighton’s Argus and saving local newspapers

Media commentator Roy Greenslade gives a no-holds-barred review of the local news scene in his home city Brighton, in particular the problems faced by the Newsquest-owned local newspaper, the Argus.

As we all know, regional evenings have been in decline across the country, but the Argus has lost more buyers faster than many similar titles. Is this Newsquest’s fault? Well, a publisher cannot be entirely free of blame.

However, the central difficulty facing any editor of the Argus (and, arguably, all regionals and locals) has been demographic, trying to identify, and then appeal to, a target audience. In plain terms, should it be The Times or The Sun or the Daily Mail?

The paper, again like others, has tried to be all things to all people, without managing to satisfy any sector. Its front pages have tended to be red-toppish, with an accent on crime. Indeed, much of the news follows a tabloid-style agenda.

Comments from former Argus journalists, contributors and some readers make for an interesting anatomy of the difficulties faced by regional and local newspapers across the UK – a worthwhile read for all regional hacks.

Full post at this link…

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April 16 2010


Media Release: Birmingham Post launches sister title Birmingham Post Lite

As reported by The Business Desk West Midlands earlier this week, Trinity Mirror is launching a new freesheet as a sister paper to the paid-for Birmingham Post, which changed from a daily to weekly publication last year.

Birmingham Post Lite will be delivered to around 18,000 homes in the south Birmingham areas of Harborne and Moseley and will contain a selection of the Birmingham Post’s editorial content and material from its Post Property magazine, says a release.

The new newspaper will not carry the paid-for Post’s specialised business
and financial news. Instead it will combine south Birmingham news with the features and leisure content from the Post’s award-winning team.

The BusinessDesk (TBD) had the date pegged as April 22, but suggests the launch is a direct response to plans for a new rival title, the Birmingham Press, from newspaper entrepreneur Chris Bullivant.

“The title (…) is intended to go head-to-head with the Press in the battle to secure advertising from the city’s mid-market estate agents,” says TBD’s report.

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March 30 2010


Civic Edition: Text message marketing for local newspapers

This blog post from Civic Edition, a site looking at new and innovative business models for community news, considers whether local businesses offering discounts via local newspapers could be improved as a revenue stream for both the papers and the merchants.

Via the paper’s website users could opt in to receive information about offers from local businesses by text message – but most importantly, says Civic Edition, these offers could be sent out in real time and instantly updated by the merchants to reflect their business needs.

Using an imaginary pizzeria, Julie’s Pizza, as an example, the post explains:

The new system allows her to adapt in real time to business circumstances, and give her customers information that they can actually use. This ultimately creates far more value for the merchant, making it something that she will actually want to pay for. As more merchants catch onto this far more efficient marketing model, it will provide a way for the newspaper (turned newshub) to monetize its pre-existing community base.

Full post at this link….

If your paper is already doing this, do drop us a line.

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March 18 2010


allmediascotland: Scottish government drops plans to remove public notices from newspapers

The Scottish government has scrapped its plans for legislation, which would have allowed local authorities to place public notices solely on the internet. The proposals had been heavily criticised by representatives of the local press, who feared the legislation would cut off a much-needed revenue stream.

But the fight from local authorities isn’t over – a spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says the portal for public notices will still go ahead and evidence to support the future introduction of such legislation will be gathered.

Full story at this link…

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January 29 2010


How digital media changes are affecting local media

This article – an overview of the local media scene in the UK – appears in the latest issue of Government Gazette.

The local media are currently trying to ride through a perfect storm of change, from a decline in readers that long pre-dates the internet, to advertisers fleeing their pages in droves and a new medium that steadfastly refuses to give them the profits they enjoyed in print.

It’s a complicated picture, and anyone who pretends to blame one company, or one business model, for their demise, probably wants something.

Digital media – and in particular the internet – have in a very short space of time transformed the way the business of publishing works. Fundamental to this is the difference between atoms and bits, the disintermediation of the web – and the rise of a currency that most publishers don’t even know exists.

The great decoupling

The first big change that local media are facing is the ‘decoupling’ of elements that they previously packaged for profit: a platform, content, and advertising. Online, those elements have become increasingly separate.

Unlike print, publishers don’t own the platform. Users have already paid for access to the internet, and for mobile phone contracts. Furthermore, the content publishers so carefully packaged for mass market appeal in print, is a virtual pick and mix online. If someone wants to read one story, or cartoon, crossword, or TV listings, they no longer have to buy everything else that went with it. If you want your sports coverage from your local paper but your politics from a national and celebrity news from an American website, then you’ll do just that.

But finally, and most importantly, advertising and content are becoming decoupled, on two fronts: firstly, because the web is a place full of tools, advertisers can choose to advertise against actions rather than content. This is why Google is successful – it does not sell advertising against content, but against searches. Likewise, sites like Autotrader and RightMove allow advertisers to reach potential customers when they are actively looking to buy.

But secondly, because advertisers can create their own content, and communicate with audiences without the need for publishers, they have started reducing their advertising spend in favour of communicating with potential customers directly. In some cases publishers are adapting by offering content production services themselves – for example, producing video ads for local businesses.

Cutting out the middlemen

It costs a lot to print and distribute newspapers. That’s why most towns and cities have only one newspaper. With only one newspaper serving a community’s information needs, basic laws of supply and demand have dictated the price of advertising to a local community. It has been a hugely profitable industry that has become increasingly concentrated in ownership and lumbered with associated debt. From highs of around 30% the margins are now closer to 10% – still better than Tesco, but the debts remain. And for most publishers the reaction has been to implement efficiencies wherever they can – moving out of city centre offices, publishing less frequently, and laying off enormous numbers of staff.

In contrast, it costs very little to publish online, and the distribution infrastructure is controlled by no one. The commercial and the communal share the same space, and for those who are trying to make money, competition is fierce.

As a result, for a local advertiser, the difference between buying an advert online and in print couldn’t be more pronounced. The enormous competition online, coupled with low cost bases, means advertising is cheap. In fact, competition is so fierce that display advertising – the idea of selling an advert next to some content – has been overtaken by other forms that promise more results: pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, for instance, only costs an advertiser money when someone clicks on an advert (this is the model that Google uses). Pay-per-action (PPA) only costs an advertiser money when someone takes action by, for example, booking an appointment.

Most local advertisers stuck to print. But recent research suggests the recession has increased the rate of change with increasing numbers of businesses looking to move advertising online for its low costs and measurable results.

The difficulty for local publishers, however, is that the profits are so much smaller than selling print advertising. For ad sales staff paid commissions based on the price of the advertising they sell, there is very little incentive for selling web ads.

The local get more local, and the nationals get local too

The buzzword of 2009 was ‘hyperlocal’ – a fuzzy concept that could range in scope from a single street to tens of thousands of people. Johnston and Newsquest have both offered community-level detail on their Yorkshire and West Midlands titles respectively, while Trinity Mirror’s hyperlocal project involved offering postcode-level news on their branded websites that also linked to local blogs. Northcliffe, meanwhile, launched Local People, a collection of forums, listings and the facility for user generated content – but little news.

Meanwhile, publishers at the national level have been eyeing up the local opportunity, with players including ITN, ITV and the Press Association partnering with video production companies, universities and regional publishers in their bids for the Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) proposed by Ofcom to fill the local news gap left by ITV. While there has been much talk of the online opportunity in these consortia from Ofcom, the reality of the bids suggests that this will be an opportunity missed.

In contrast, The Guardian is set to launch ‘beatblog’ operations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds in early 2009 that focus entirely on the opportunities that the online platform presents. Integral to the operations will be working with local bloggers and other online contributors, while the sites will integrate with MySociety and other services that provide civic information.

2009 also saw the launch of MSN Local, which aims to provide a local information service based on a range of data that can complement news stories elsewhere on MSN.

While large newspaper chains close offices and lay off staff, dozens of ‘hyperlocal’ websites have been springing up around the country to cover areas that local residents feel newspapers no longer serve – or never did. Many feel strong civic obligations and regularly attend the council meetings that local journalists no longer visit, while there’s a noticeable absence of the human interest and crime material that fills their print contemporaries.

My own operation – Help Me Investigate.com – launched in Birmingham in an attempt to find a way to pursue investigative journalism on a local level with the involvement and engagement of local people. It had a number of successes, most notably the uncovering of a £2.2m overspend on Birmingham City Council’s new website, and is in the process of expanding to other cities in 2010.

The business models for these startups are varied. Some are run as volunteer operations, while others see a commercial opportunity in a news operation without the costs of printing and distribution, and self-serve ad sales solutions such as those offered by Rick Waghorn’s Addiply – currently being trialled by Trinity Mirror in the north east. AboutMyArea has a franchise model; others sell products or services (such as consultancy).

Ultimately the internet has opened up a new market for local news and local advertising – with new rules. Some entrants are better placed than others to take advantage of the new forms of advertising, new forms of news production, distribution and monetisation that that presents. It’s early days yet.

November 13 2009


Guardian Letters: GMG, Coventry Telegraph and Cumberland news respond to Monbiot on local press

Les Reid, political correspondent for the Coventry Evening Telegraph; Mark Dodson, CEO of Guardian Media Group’s regional media division; and Neil Hodgkinson, Cumberland News and News & Star editor, have responded passionately to George Monbiot’s criticism of the UK’s local press earlier this week.

In his Comment is Free piece entitled ‘I, too, mourn good local newspapers. But this lot just aren’t worth saving‘, Monbiot said:

“For many years the local press has been one of Britain’s most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.”

“They [local newspapers] continually uncover stories that need to be told. They campaign for and champion the underdog with a tenacity that would shame many in the national press. Their community relevance is what keeps local titles alive,” writes Dodson in response.

“In Greater Manchester our journalists stand up in court at least three times a week attempting to have reporting restrictions lifted so that stories can be told in full. I know that other regional press publishers share our commitment to real local reporting.”

Full letters at this link…

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