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.


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.

Published by

Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org

  • Jon Hickman

    I had a few comments on this post which were lost in a little bit of a security incident. Here’s what people said:

    By simon gray April 27, 2012 – 3:53 pm

    Related terms which are also fuzzy are what ‘blog’, and ‘social media’ actually mean, and how interchangeable they are as terms.

    If I think about what I do on the internets which is called social media – talking online about wibble and important things with chums and strangers – then that means I’ve been ‘doing social media’ since 1986 when I started using Prestel, carried on doing it when I moved from Prestel to Bulletin Board Systems, then carried on doing it when Usenet replaced the BBS networks, moved on from Usenet to private email lists, shifted private email lists to blogs, and now primarily use the Twitterbook for my social media interactions.

    Each new technology has had its people who started doing social media at the point of its introduction and they have been the advocates saying that technology has been the game changer for ‘online’; each technology introduction has brought significantly more people to the world of online communication than its predecessor – blogging and Twitter are no different in this respect from what came before.

    When we talk about blogging, what makes something a blog rather than a personal website? Is it the ability for others to comment? Is it because it is made up of articles written by the author with some form of journalistic framework in mind rather than purely factual, informational menu-driven pages? Is it purely down to the layout and navigation structure that makes it a blog rather than a website?

    For me, what makes social media be social media is not the technology, the layout, the content, or whatever, but the communities which form around the media node. Well duh, what makes it social media is the fact that it is social!

    So Twitter is social media, or it isn’t, depending. When you get a bunch of people on Twitter talking around a key Twitter node, then that’s social media. Where you get a Twitter account which is effectively a broadcast tool with no further discussion, it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean to say they’re doing it wrong, they’re just not doing social media – and why should they have to?

    So in Birmingham, the communities which formed around the Created in Birmingham blog, or the Stirrer forum, or wherever – that’s what made the media social, not the fact that the websites were using WordPress or Blogger or PHPBB or whatever, nor the mere fact of them allowing comments.

    Thus in this regard – which is how my little hijacking of your post actually relates to what you want to talk about – the key thing about social media is it doesn’t scale. Like the fuzzy definition of hyperlocal, social media only works as what it’s trying to be if it’s on a small scale – a community small enough for everybody in it to be able to recognise everybody else in some way is a real community, a community which has grown to encompass hundreds, thousands stops being a community in any meaningful sense of the work – it basically becomes the bottom half of the internet, usually best avoided.

    By Jamie Bullock April 28, 2012 – 12:25 pm

    One way to approach this would be to measure something like ‘interaction frequency’ as a function of geographical proximity. This would be fairly straightforward to do with something like Twitter, where you get geotagged authors, and sometimes geotagged posts. You may get some noise, but it will still tell you something.

    I’d hazzard that the closer someone is to me geographically, the more I interact with then online. For me, the definition of hyperlocal is a relative boundary somewhere on that graph. We can then talk about hyperlocal as a continuum around that boundary.

  • Pingback: Hyperlocal discourse: the new media & technology repertoire | theplan()