Newsquest give power to the public with hyperlocal blogs, but what about potential problems with this news model?
It’s coming up to the first monthversary of the hyperlocal news website I set up for my local area – Bournvillevillage.com – and today Newsquest decided to jump on the hyperlocal band wagon and set up a number of local websites itself.
So media organisations are cottoning on to the success of the hyperlocal scene. Essentially a hyperlocal website is a blog which acts as an outlet for community news for a postcode area – news which is not already being covered by the local print newspaper. It was only a matter of time before local media organisations decided community blogs were the best way of filtering in news which they no longer had the number of reporters to cover. But Newsquest’s simple model for the local blogger threatens to overlook some of the bigger problems which have yet to be worked out in this very new medium.
In some way, Newsquests Northern Echo’s hyperlocal model vastly resembles the core structure of many hyperlocal blogs – pictures, stories and a basic CMS structure, roughly three posts a week, and the personal touch of the local writer themselves.
But there are a number of issues which arise out of connecting a hyperlocal blog to a local media organisation.
Firstly, there is no mention of pay for the local bloggers – who I presume are expected to write and research local stories in their spare time out of love for the community – but running a blog is time-consuming and can be difficult to juggle alongside a job and personal commitments. So where is the incentive for the local blogger to work for Newsquest as opposed to just starting their own blog and avoiding the thrice weekly deadline.
Security also becomes a key issue, as well as resources. Here are a couple of questions media organisations looking to take hyperlocal blogs under their umbrella might need to consider:
- Will the local blogger be properly protected under libel law? Will they be able to employ the same defenses as staff reporters if they commit libel because, having minimum or no training in media law, they may add quotes/pictures in a blogpost which unbeknown to them are utterly defamatory?
- What happens if members of the public contributing to the site write something their neighbours don’t like? Without the protection of an editor or eyeballs of a subeditor to check for editorial integrity and libel – the local blogger could fall into the same plight as the columnist Liz Jones who has been the victim of violent attacks by neighbours because she wrote about the community she lived in in an unsavoury light (local bloggers take note – slagging off your neighbours won’t make you popular).
If the local blogger lives in the community they are writing about, they run the risk of offending the very people they are providing the news service to. See more comments on the hyperlocal safety debate here.
Hyperlocal blogs cannot create investigative journalism in the traditional sense – because local bloggers don’t have the protection or experience to go poking around looking for dead bodies or unraveling council controversies. This is not necessarily a negative problem, however, as it means the focus of the hyperlocal blog is more on the community rather than generating ground-breaking news. But it is surely an issue the umbrella organisation needs to discuss with the blogger to make sure they know the parameters for their work, and vision for how it integrates into the community and the news organisation.
Talk about Local is a service which helps local people get blogs up and running – but the emphasis is on community empowerment and giving people a voice to talk about what they love – not providing journalism for an umbrella media organisation.
There are other examples of news organisations setting up a list of community or local blogsites as part of their newspaper website, such as the Dorset Echo. The fact news organisations are wanting to create more outlets for getting local news to foreground is, in its essence, a positive step in the right direction. But they must make sure the welfare of the blogger and the community is priority.