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Lessons from Denmark: #2 – Hyperlocal sites can be profitable

The conference room in the Danish School of Journalism, Aarhus

The Danish hyperlocal scene is sprouting new sites throughout the country – with roughly 100 sites creating firm roots as hyperlocal contenders to regional newspaper giants.

When we talk about hyperlocal here, it’s worth pointing out after speaking to a number of Danes on the subject it’s clear they mean local news or community run news blogs and websites – as opposed to hyperlocal blogs in the broader sense of a website covering any topic (horses/tractors) for a geographical community (see Philip John’s excellent post exploring the definition of hyperlocal).

The annual conference run by research institute Update has been exploring issues around hyperlocal news blogs for a while.

Yesterday the conference took place in the second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus – home to one of the three main journalism schools in the country – the Danish School of Journalism.

Around 40 regional journalists gathered to discuss new developments on the local scene – you can catch up with the rest of the programme using Google translate here.

Much of the conference was in Danish – with questions and debate around my presentations in English for my benefit.

But it was still it was possible for me to digest a little from some of the other speakers at the event – so here’s a short fix of the morning presentations from three hyperlocal publishers in Denmark – if anyone (Peter, Kasper I’m thinking of you) reads this and thinks I got the wrong end of the stick please comment and I’ll update the post.

Konference - Photo: Hannah Waldram

Kanalhjoerring.dk

Run by Pallet W. Nielsen, this site focuses predominantly on offering a hyperlocal broadcast channel with at least one video uploaded a day cover news in the community. Pallet subsidises half of the week spent on the website with a part time job in PR and communications – and is currently looking into selling some of his hyperlocal content to bigger media channels.

Alken.dk

Run by Canute Abildtrup who became unemployed four years ago – this is a hyperlocal blog for Alken – with 300 subscribers and and 1,800 weekly visitors. One of the most interesting things I found on this site was the listings of birthdays, deaths and marriage announcements all on a page called ‘Folk in Alken’ – allowing a space for traditional village-style news for people to use for free…. take a look – it’s got hundreds of entries and looks a bit like the birthdays/marriages column on old local papers.
He also recently ran a local competition in joke telling – which I thought was a nice way for the community to engage with the site.

Bornholm.nu

On a small island between Denmark and Germany, Bjarne Hansen has been running Bornholm.nu – what he calls on the about page a ‘electronic local newspaper,’ but is essentially a hyperlocal news website – for 10 years. He gets 39,000 visitors per month (doesn’t say whether uniques or page views) and has made a successful living out of advertising revenue from local businesses. Advertisers can put their logo on a ‘supporters’ page for 300 euros a month – and there’s a pretty simple form embedded on the site for them to fill in.

One of the more interesting discussions to come from Bjarne’s blog was how, as a reporter, he could remain critical or impartial to news stories which came from the companies which were advertising on the site. I was unable to understand his answer fully – but I got the impression he gave a deadpan response that as part of his nature as a born and bred reporter (he spent quite a few years on the local paper he now competes with) he learnt the art of impartiality. An interesting question was also raised about the lifestyle of community publishers – Bjarne famously wrote up an important news story while on holiday in Budapest because he took his laptop – after being tipped off and a few phone calls later he had something up on the blog within minutes.

Interestingly none of these hyperlocal publishers said their websites could continue without them – since they have no successor.

I missed out on the afternoon talks to go and catch my flight back to Cardiff. But I did manage to get a bitesized version of two more interesting projects happening in Denmark.

Dialogue project

Dialogue project – this project is being run by a regional newspapera in Holbæk Amts Venstreblad and Kalundborg Folkeblad – three journalists in the newsroom are now given their story ideas (their newslist) by a group of roughly 30 readers. The readers come up with ideas for a story – and pitch it to the journalist who more often than not does what they’re told – which one of the journalists, Kristina Herlev Wulff, said was a complete mind change from telling the reader what they should know. The stories go in the paper blended in with other stories from the reporters there – but sometimes with a short paragraph about the reader and where the story came form.

The main types of stories which have come from this project so far (it’s only been going a few months) are profile pieces of local people – who have sometimes turned out to be the reader’s friends. Kristina also said the journalists have had to put in a bit more research into the readers involved in the project and their background and political inclinations – as it soon became clear some would use the project for their own agenda. Kristina said they have yet to really gauge the affect the project is having on the newspaper

Peter From Jacobsen also presented on his news project with ‘citizen reporters’ which I blogged about herehe’s blogged about one of my presentations here.

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Written by hrwaldram

February 11, 2011 at 8:45 am

2 Responses

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  1. Interesting post Heather, thanks for sharing. Might even give the births, deaths and marriages thing a go on alderleyedge.com.

    I think the title of the post wasn’t really reflective of the posts content. I know myself and other people running hyperlocal’s, with the intention of making a real business of them, are hungry for the sort of commercial information I had hoped to find when I saw the title of the post on twitter.

    I think there is a real need for someone in the UK to pull together an event/conference for hyperlocals where the emphasis is as much on the commercial side of making it work as the journalism and the civic good they can do.

    Martin Reeves

    February 11, 2011 at 9:53 am

  2. Thanks for your comment Martin – the title wasn’t meant to say many UK sites aren’t making a profit – but I still think there’s a strong argument to say a viable business model for hyperlocal hasn’t been found yet – lots of sites are trying some really interesting stuff – look at Blog Preston for example – and I do know some are making money. Th Talk About Local unconferences always have sessions about how hyperlocal publishers can make money from what they do as many aren’t yet. The title of this post reflected the two hyperlocal examples I looks at (Kanal and Bornholm) which are making a sustainable living for the publishers.

    I think you’re probably right that a get together focusing specifically on the business side of hyperlocal journalism could be had.

    hrwaldram

    February 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm


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