News goes Hyperlocal

Hyperlocal news is all the rage in the UK and Europe at the moment, but what exactly is it and what does it mean for aspiring freelance journalists here?

Hyperlocal news as a concept is not too hard to grasp – it’s typically a social media news site or website that truly concentrates on a specific local geographical area. Not only that though, using the latest in online technology it allows – even encourages – locals to interact and post their own news and views, so building a true community heart.

For journalists and editors this is an important development and a terrific opportunity, but not without its challenges.

Hyperlocal news has, in part, started to grow because the traditional news outlets have either pulled out of the local areas, or they produce little more than glorified advertising publications interspersed with a bit of so-called editorial – all too often puff pieces for restaurants and businesses.

Established print-based news organisations also have legacy hardcopy newspapers that have to be printed, and they often only appear once a week. They have constrained space because the number of pages depends on advertising revenue, and they can never be up-to-date simply because they don’t come out every day.

Just a reminder now: are you revving up your laptop/picking up your pencil and notebook/inking your quill and unfolding your parchment and writing every day like I’ve been advising? I hope so, because at the end of the day (whoops!) practice, while it doesn’t necessarily make perfect, will help you rise above the ordinary in your work.

So there are real opportunities for journalists who want to connect with their neighbourhood but also build that neighbourhood too and really inform readers about what’s going on. The news can be posted immediately and it costs next to nothing to do so.

And it’s not too far fetched to see that for those sites that really build an audience with solid numbers there will be possibilities to pull in revenue from advertising, which will ultimately support the website financially.

But to start a really good hyperlocal news source you need two things; a good understanding of journalism (good writing, news sense, a knowledge of legal issues, etc), and local connections.

Without spruiking our credentials too crassly, it’s true to say you can learn all you need by completing a journalism course through the Australian College of Journalism. We can provide you with the skills, expertise and tools to make this cutting-edge idea work, and work well.

If you are going to be successful with a hyperlocal news site you definitely need journalism skills to make it work. There are plenty of sites out there claiming to cover local areas but most are purely gossip sites, often with very unpleasant posts at their core. That’s not what hyperlocal news is about. Hyperlocal news is taking the place of the typical established local newspaper, and delivering news swiftly, with input from locals too in the form of tip-offs and comments.

As a writer and eventual editor it’s important you lay down the foundations of the site with good compelling writing. You need to be mindful of legal issues including libel and defamation (all skills you can learn on our courses). You will need to moderate the site and invite comments, and let readers post information about upcoming events, or post pictures and reviews about events that have just occurred.

Of course, local connections begin where you live, you simply need to be engaged with your community. If you stop and think about it, you already know people in your area, and they know other people too. Once you start letting your friends and contacts know there’s an online news and meeting place catering to true local news and views, people will begin to come on board and the site will grow quickly.

Encourage readers to tip you off about news in the area too. Even investigate stories yourself, and very soon you will find people get to know and trust you as a reliable journalist.

It won’t be long before you have a lively and interactive home where all the folks in your area can come together to share news and views and help to build a true interconnected community.
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