Hyperlocal discourse: the new media & technology repertoire

After last week’s seminar presentation, I’ve been asked to clarify the repertoires that I think inform hyperlocal discourse. Those three repertoires again:

  • New media / technology
  • Community & alternative media
  • Professional / commercial media

I’m going to begin by unpicking the new media / technology discourse. In further posts I’ll describe the other repertoires in some more depth. In order to do this I’m going to run through one or two pieces of the extant literature that are guiding my thinking and, where possible, I’ll draw on some primary work to demonstrate how this repertoire is used.

What do I mean by the new media / technology repertoire?

We have some known ways to describe new and emerging (media) technologies. These ways of understanding technologies work in such a way that they can shape our impression of a new technology before we even experience it (see Flichy, 1999 for a really good account of the way in which we imagine technologies). There are, of course, pessimistic and optimistic approaches to imagining technologies; I’m focussing on optimistic approaches to technology in my work.

Flichy (1999) charts a techno-utopian discourse that emerges from counter-cultural movements in California in the 1970s and is inherited in mainstream discourse as people and projects spin out from it to become taste makers in wider public life. The leading technology magazine, Wired, is situated within this story, as is the rise of the technology company Apple. As you read across the literature, and in particular the popular academic literature (Leadbeater, 2008; Shirky, 2008), this techno-utopian discourse is prominent.

The repertoire of ideas on new media / technology that are used within hyperlocal discourse includes:

  • new technologies can contribute to an increase in social capital (after the work of Putnam, 2000 – I wrote about that here)
  • new technologies widen access to the means of producing and distributing media
  • new technologies have democratic affordances, and can revitalise the public sphere
  • new technologies, and those who work within them, are important contributors to local economies

Examples of the new media / technology repertoire informing hyperlocal discourse

Hyperlocal media is most commonly associated today with online news publishing, and so we should expect the way which we think about technology to shape the way which we think about hyperlocal media. Indeed, techno-utopianism seems to inform attempts to define hyperlocal, for example:

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

Here the act of hyperlocal publishing is described in terms of the democratic affordances of online publishing; the authors offer no evidence for this, instead it is a self-evident fact that this is what hyperlocal should ‘bring to mind’.

I recently pitched a ‘panel’ at an unconference of hyperlocal practitioners with the intent of teasing out some sense of the repertoires that they are using to understand hyperlocal practice. The idea was to provide minimal impetus and see what came back, and so all I offered the discussion was a question: ‘What does hyperlocal mean to you?’. As I hoped, technology emerged as one of the ways in which practitioners make sense of what hyperlocal is:

Local was what was possible on the previous technology platform. […] the print and broadcast technology platforms that were past and then hyperlocal is what’s made possible by the new tools.

It’s less about the geography then about what’s been made possible by these emerging technologies.

I’ve belonged where I live for years. I didn’t have access, I didn’t have, ah, you know, I didn’t have tools (their emphasis) to you know, reach the folk around me. You know. There were filters and… media owners and… a whole set of shit in the way wasn’t there? And that’s – that’s what changed. We have access now, don’t we? And we’ve ahm… you know it’s a different world isn’t it?


FLICHY, P. (1999) The Construction of New Digital Media. New Media & Society, Vol 1, No 1, pp. 33-39.

LEADBEATER, C. (2008) We-think: Mass innovation, not mass production: The Power of Mass Creativity. London: Profile Books.

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.

PUTNAM, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone. New York, NY, USA: Simon & Schuster.

SHIRKY, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody. London: Allen Lane.

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