Hyperlocals remain an undervalued part of the UK news supply chain

UK independent and hyperlocal news media remain an undervalued part of the UK news supply chain

We have been working on a project called Ping! Trends which is a collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and Omni Digital in Bristol. The aim of the project is to bring specifically tagged and themed hyperlocal journalist’s stories together to offer more opportunities to generate revenue from them. We want to pump prime hyperlocal content into the wider news ecology supply chain to generate new revenue streams.

The aim for Ping!-Trends:

  • Better enable the surfacing and grouping of news stories created at community and hyperlocal level against tags and locations. These stories can then be legitimately used and journalists can be credited and financially compensated by regional and national media for their work.
  • Operate within a platform architecture called Ping!. Trials of Ping! started in February 2020 with a small group of media organisations in the independent community news network in the UK.
  • Enable a deeper level of story searching via more fine grained tagging, e.g. U14 Rugby. It will also include the ability to filter by specific locations.

We were committed to benefiting community and hyperlocal media through testing new, sustainable, revenue streams and attribution for their work. We also wanted to help understand the value of hyperlocal and independent news content to national and regional media, e.g. feature writers, who will be able to legitimately enrich their stories with hyperlocal contextual case studies and identify trends to create a story of regional or national importance.

Mainstream reliance on independents

What we found out from interviewing ten mainstream editors is that independent community media and hyperlocals are an essential — and currently undervalued — part of the UK news supply chain. There is interest from large regional groups in supporting this as a network of independent ‘stringers’ or community correspondents — as a new way of resourcing journalism.

  1. News organisations want to better represent communities

There is a high demand for rich contextual case studies to improve regional and national news narratives
There is demand for genuine representation of real voices and what matters to them is important
There is a need for empathetic and real life case studies to make complex policy understandable
Need to deep listen

“We are very interested in sourcing stories more deeper in the communities”

“It is really important that we are reporting what [communities] are actually talking about rather than what we think communities are talking about”

“stories without case studies are just much harder to engage with and I don’t think they are effective”

“how economics is translated into everyday lives”

“The slow decline of local is sad and should be prevented — and helping to tell stories from within communities is really important”

2. News organisations want to avoid being London centric

There is a strong demand for beyond-London representation in the news agenda
The physical proximity of sources is an important way to challenge news disconnect
Representing out-of-London voices is hard for time-strapped reporters
Hyperlocals are valued for their local contacts

“being based in london it is a constant thing getting voices from around the country; obsession might be too strong but you get the picture — we want to represent more people”

“getting stories from different areas of the country from different types of people away from the London bubble”

“There is a disconnect with everyone else in the country and it is really dangerous for society”

“we all know it matters and we know we don’t want to speak to the elite and we want to hear non metropolitan Britain but we are busy and our resources are cut — and it’s going to get worse. Everyone feels we want to do it but it’s really hard.”

3. Regional and national news organisations want to avoid parachuting in to communities

  • There is value in a network of community reporters deeply connected with their communities
  • National journalists feel uncomfortable as they are disconnected from grassroots

“We try not to have this fly in fly out mentality. You are not going to get complexity and nuances that way, and those people know what is happening on the ground”

“I feel awkward about because I am flying in from London saying can I come in and steal your contacts”

“it’s not the same story I could get — it’s that they are telling it to me at a more local level than I can do: that’s the value. That person is in and of where they are that adds a dimension to a story that has a value to users of all of our services”

4. Regional and national media are dependent on grassroots media

Hyperlocals and community media are an essential part of the news supply chain
There is a dependency on reporting at local and hyperlocal level in order to feed up the supply chain
It is common practice to trawl local, community or independent news websites and other newspapers for story ideas
Hyperlocals can be used for their story ideas and then the story would be ‘redone’ by regionals souring their own quotes and editorial

We haven’t got the levels of content that we are going to need to be honestly saying we are genuinely representative of our communities

“[national newspaper journalists] are all terrified that local journalists will pop because we don’t have time to phone all the fire services. We rely on them to do that and for that to trickle up.”

“the best stories get kicked up from local to regional to national”

“nationals will nick regionals and piggy back on the footage”

5. Attribution practices are varied

The practice of linking, copying or following up stories from other media is not standardised
Facebook groups are regularly used as story sources

“if [a hyperlocal had a story that] was going to take a while we might say as reported by but that’s not usual… if we thought it was going to generate hits online but we wouldn’t nick it because we would want our own photos. If we did run it we would attribute quotes back to them…”

“if there was a story we would do our own version”

“we have a big focus on Facebook groups so I tell journos: be mindful of what traditionally qualifies as journalism doesn’t always drive interest so look at that..”

“ we are not in the game for taking news from anyone else.”

6. There is a tangible economic value in community reporting

Improving the flow of content from communities is linked to the economic resilience of news business models more broadly
Stories that generate longer engagement are economically higher value

“I think from a very high level you can draw a straight line from the eroding financial success of newspapers and their relevance to the community”

“local news is not good enough to pay for right now: we have to be more comprehensive and connected”

“if we are not just paying lip service to covering the community then that gives us a slow road back to recognising that relevance and all our future business models”

“there is a longer engagement time for stories from on your own doorstep”

7. National and international wires are used by regionals as a way to fill content gaps

Staff shortages mean there is increasing need for content produced by external news providers
Editors more than reporters use it to keep a general view of what is happening
Newsletters and email are favoured over a content management system as delivery mechanism
Sport, international, entertainment and court copy are often provided by wires to regional press

“We don’t have the staff to actually go out and do original reporting anymore so yeah I would use them as a jumping off point really”

“PA I don’t use that much find it quite difficult to use you have to know what you are looking for or you are flooded with info”

8. Exclusivity and speed remain of high value to news organisations in the competitive news landscape

Police and local council also act as news organisations increasing competition on exclusivity
Reporters are under extreme time pressure from multiple social media, What’s app, email and newsroom meetings to verify, respond and ‘turn around’ a story

“the new What’s app culture is quite noticeable people expecting stories to be verified and followed up within a matter of minutes.”

“everything is done out in the open now, there is no such thing as a private tip off”

“if it goes out on the wires then every other journalist is going to see it so its not original”

9. Budgets for story purchases are significantly squeezed

There is limited to no budget to pay for content produced by other media
Rates are negotiable for exclusive stories
Regional news titles have dedicated staff selling on to nationals
There are many regional news wires
Press Association is the leading wire service with £100–200k a year deals for varied bundles of content across many titles such as crosswords, court, international etc

“it is a shrinking business how much you are willing to pay. there’s a freeze on what you can pay especially when our own staff are furloughed”

“those rates haven’t gone up for 20 years”

10. Internal syndication within newsroom groups is evolving — and increasing

Syndication of some generic features is done internally as a way to fill up space in individual titles
There is no internal recharge for internal reuse of stories
There is no internal limit on how much a story is reused
Other regionals are a source of story ideas from the same group to do a similar version
Additional payments are made for reproducing photographs but rarely text
Regional and nationals share stories by linking and crediting with bylines
the BBC has very specific responsibilities for trusted content and standards which are subject to a level of specific regulation and scrutiny

“there is an internal hub of centrally interesting content. This is mostly features which can be used across the lifestyle magazines and local newspapers.”

“Its a shared news gathering machine”

“a regional to a national — we don’t have to syndicate internally. The only problem is that they might have paid to an agency which doesn’t always cover regional use.”

Impact

We are motivated by building the resilience of hyperlocal media as their stories have more chance of being picked up and appropriately attributed in regional and national media.

We have measured the % of hyperlocal journalists who are engaged and committed to using the platform once launched, together with the accuracy and frequency of tagging.

The hope is that news media will be incentivised and stimulated to improve story production by independent community and hyperlocal media, by better enabling their content to be picked up. We want to stimulate more mutually beneficial relationships between hyperlocal, community, regional and national media through a more intelligible and transparent environment. Measured by the level of national media engagement with the platform and its contributors.

The plan is to better innovate the media supply chain and will bring about a step change in transparency of digital markets and the ability of local and community media to better understand the playing field in which they operate.

Methodology

Ten semi-structured interviews were carried out in May 2020. Interviewees were selected to represent a range of corporately owned regional, national, and international public news titles across broadcast, print and online formats. Freelancers, specialist investigative services and press wires were also included. Represented organisations included the BBC, Archant, Reach, Reuters, Guardian, Daily Mail, ITV, Bureau of Investigative Journalism. All the interviewees were commissioning editors, senior reporters or managers. The sample was chosen to best illustrate the extent of mainstream journalists’ interest in using hyperlocal content — and the basis on which they would do that. Purposeful sampling was also used to represent news organisations in the media ecosystem of alpha participants in the Value My News Ping! Trend trial. Each interview lasted 30 minutes and included five parts: story sourcing routines; interest in hyperlocal content; trending practices; syndication arrangements; budgets. Interviews were transcribed and thematically coded. This work has been part of our project funded by Nesta’s Future News Fund.

Niche revenue models for independent media. Business. Resilience. Diversification. Innovation. @cecook www.mediainnovationstudio.org www.clarecookonline.com

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