Hyperlocal and ‘postcode areas’

‘Postcode areas’ are often used to define the space – the hyperlocale as I’ve taken to calling it – which hyperlocal blogs serve, for example Sutton Coldfield Local used to be the B72 Blog and that sense of space is still fairly implicit in its coverage despite the name change (see also B31 Voices and many many others). I’m trying to wrap my head around what we mean by a postcode area, and what that means in terms of scale and reach. This table is useful in clarifying the various levels of the postcode system and what that means in terms of hyperlocal audience.

Average population size for postcode geographical areas

Average population

Area name

England & Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Postcode area (e.g. YO)

500,000

400,000

1,750,000

Postcode district (e.g. YO10)

22,500

12,000

21,500

Postcode sector (e.g. YO10 5)

600

600

600

Full postcode (e.g. YO10 5DG)

40

40

40

So interestingly, most times I hear people talk about postcode area they mean a postcode district, and a postcode district is probably larger than I thought it was…

What is hyperlocal media for?

Part 2 of a positioning statement ahead of TAL12. Part 1 is here.

There’s not yet a lot of published academic work on hyperlocal media. The work that’s out there tends to frame hyperlocal as a quest to improve civic dialogue and as a response to changes in media markets (Domingo and Heinonen 2008; Downie Jr. and Schudson 2009; Kurpius et al. 2010; Metzgar et al. 2011; Miel and Faris 2008; Picard 2003; Thurman et al. 2011). The thought runs that media organisations are not serving all communities as well as they could and that new (hyperlocal) activity is needed to fill in the gaps. These accounts tend to see hyperlocal media’s primary purpose as accountability journalism:

“The term ‘hyperlocal’ brings to mind images of engaged citizens storming town halls seeking better governance and better reporting thereof.” (Metzgar et al. 2011)

It is worth noting here that there is little evidence within the literature to support this position, it is simply offered as an ideology of what hyperlocal media does; hyperlocal, we are told, arrives fully formed as accountability journalism and doesn’t need to prove itself through its actions. This is not the case. Hyperlocal media is not radical or investigative by default. Accountability is not inherent in the form or through the act of mediation as hyperlocal.

So if hyperlocal media is not for accountability, then what is it for? Why do people do this thing? And who is doing it? If we take a look at UK hyperlocal media, and the people who produce it, we can quickly uncover a range of motivations, which can be typified through the following practitioner profiles:

  • Social media hobbyist: interested in processes of social media production and is using hyperlocal as a vehicle to learn more; also may be something of a “gentleman scholar”.
  • Aspiring journalists: an outlet for training in journalistic practice, giving a reason to produce material.
  • Unemployed journalists: keeping a hand in, demonstrating skill to potential employers.
  • Community minded residents: looking to represent their community.
  • Entrepreneurs: they see an opportunity for profit from the activity.

Accountability journalism and activism might be something that any of these types engage with to a greater or lesser extent, but it is really only central to the concerns of the hyperlocal producer who has community as their central guiding principal.

Holding power to account is a possibility of hyperlocal media work, just as it is a possibility in television, radio or newspaper media work; the extent to which that potential is realised depends on the various determinants in play at each and every instance of production, on each and every day, to each and every media producer – it is not what hyperlocal is for, but it is something that hyperlocal allows.

References

DOMINGO, D. & HEINONEN, A. (2008) Weblogs and Journalism: a typology to explore the boundaries. Nordicom Review, Vol 29, pp. 3-15.

DOWNIE JR., L. & SCHUDSON, M. (2009) The reconstruction of American journalism. Columbia Journalism Review [Online]. Available: http://www.cjr.org/reconstruction/the_reconstruction_of_american.php [Accessed 03/01/2012].

KURPIUS, D. D., METZGAR, E. T. & ROWLEY, K. M. (2010) Sustaining Hyperlocal Media. Journalism Studies, Vol 11, No 3, pp. 359-376.

METZGAR, E. T., KURPIUS, D. D. & ROWLEY, K. M. (2011) Defining hyperlocal media: Proposing a framework for discussion. New Media & Society, Vol 13, No 5, pp. 772-787.

MIEL, P. & FARIS, R. (2008) News and information as digital media come of age. [Online]. Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Available: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/pubrelease/mediarepublic/downloads.html [Accessed 25/11/11].

THURMAN, N. J., PASCAL, J.-C. & BRADSHAW, P. (2011) Can Big Media Do ‘Big Society’?: A Critical Case Study of Commercial, Convergent Hyperlocal News [Online]. SSRN. Available: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1925 [Accessed 23/11/11].

I don’t know what hyperlocal media is, but I’ve stopped worrying about that

A note on my PhD, and an invitation to talk to me about your practice at TAL12. Part 2 is here

You may or not know this but I’ve been working away for some time on PhD research into hyperlocal media in the UK. That’s harder than it sounds, not because it’s a PhD but because it’s pretty hard to nail down what hyperlocal media is anyway.

There are two places I can go to nail that: academic literature and media commentary (from within and without hyperlocal practice). And you know what? All of those wise heads can’t really agree on what hyperlocal is either.

One of the biggest chunks of academic work that is specifically on hyperlocal (Kurpius et al 2010; Metzgar et al 2011) spends most of its time dealing with media operations that represent entire US state. By comparison, much of the attention within practitioner communities in the UK is on individual placeblogs that might represent just a few streets. The quest for consensus becomes more problematic when you introduce the idea that “hyperlocal” is in fact a way of working rather than a quality of an organisation or a media text (Hartley 2010). So hyperlocal is a big thing and a small thing and a personal thing; it’s a network of stuff, a small activity near you, and just a way of working.

When you’ve spent some time looking at this, you realise that just pinning down the terms is a huge job.

At this point an academic could go one way and try to define all the sub-genres of hyperlocal. That’s tempting, because everyone likes a table with a taxonomy and lots of clever labels (link and citation bait, I’d wager). So I could spend a few years working to justify a table that says things like “Commercial Aggregator — Draws in content from many placeblogs, commercially operated” to describe those hyperlocal operations that work across whole states and countries. That’s one thing I could do.

The other thing I could do is not worry about that, and work with the fuzziness. That’s where my work is pitching right now, and it would be great if you could come and join me in this fuzziness.

What is hyperlocal media to you, the practitioner? Just what is it you’re doing, what are you making and why?

I’ll be pitching to have this conversation at TAL12 tomorrow. If I don’t get through the panel picker at the start, I’ll be buttonholing you at lunch for an interview. And if I don’t get you there, I’ll be asking for you to spout off in the comments below.

References

HARTLEY, S. (2010) 10 Characteristics of hyperlocal [Online]. Available: http://sarahhartley.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/10-characteristics-of-hyperlocal/ [Accessed 9/12/11].

KURPIUS, D. D., METZGAR, E. T. & ROWLEY, K. M. (2010) Sustaining Hyperlocal Media. Journalism Studies, Vol 11, No 3, pp. 359-376.

METZGAR, E. T., KURPIUS, D. D. & ROWLEY, K. M. (2011) Defining hyperlocal media: Proposing a framework for discussion. New Media & Society, Vol 13, No 5, pp. 772-787.