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].

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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