While the conversation continues around legal issues, burning issue number two in my mind is the quality of hyperlocal content. I’m very fortunate that at the helm of The Lichfield Blog is former journalist and current journalism lecturer, Ross Hawkes. I’ve learnt a lot from Ross, mainly that as hyperlocal looks to play a part in local media, it needs to be underpinned by that traditional role of the local journalist. Knowing legally what can and can’t be reported, ensuring that coverage is, as far as possible, un-biased and that those involved in a story are given the right to reply. And there’s much more.
As I see it, new hyperlocal sites springing up in response to disappearing newspapers need a basic journalistic foundation if they are to provide real quality. Those so-called ‘citizen journalists’ need those skills if they are to provide a really valuable, quality alternative or replacement service. At the same time there are journalists sitting at home having been made redundant (and plenty who haven’t) who are looking at hyperlocal and thinking it’s a train they need to catch.
For the citizens, I reckon it’d be good to provide them with a bit of training in the importance of checking facts and the right to reply. This could include some legal training and making sure they have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. Some journalists might need a helping hand in figuring out online news gathering and social media, especially if they come from a very traditional media background.
Again, a hyperlocal alliance might be a way of providing this. It could act as a training and support hub for anyone interested in or running a hyperlocal. Those without the necessary skills can gain them and those with skills can improve upon them and support others. Like a collaborative support network, a big hyperlocal media surgery in the cloud.
Following the excellent discussion on Rhubarb Radio‘s Sunday Local with Birmingham Post editor, Marc Reeves and epic visionary Andrew Brightwell, the cogs started turning about existing local media. First I thought, could existing local media take advantage of all this enthusiasm coming from communities and deliver basic journalism training (especially on legal issues) in exchange for stories? It’s the news onion, again. The bloggers would effectively act as independent journalists, with their own site but as freelancers for local media. Thoughts very welcome on this one…
The way I see it, journalists are being made redundant by local media left, right and center. It may save some money short-term but long term, they’re lowering the quality of their output at the hyperlocal level. That’s why sites like The Lichfield Blog are springing up. Now, to my mind one of two things will happen moving forward; a) journalists will independently fill that gap left by existing local media and eventually send them out of business or b) citizens will fill the gap and local media will have to embrace them and actually use their content out of a lack of resource to get stories themselves. Okay, or c) a bit of both. I’ll be honest, my preference is with ‘a’ – why let all that talent go to waste?!
Either way, the same skills that we benefit from when reading the local paper are going to be needed, as well as some new ones. Who provides the training? Again I ask could we collectively provide the necessary training? How do we fund that? Who does it? How is it delivered? Or do you even agree that those skills are needed? We need to figure it out if hyperlocal is going to make a real difference.
Again, I’ve started a journalism discussion on the hyperlocal alliance group and comments are welcome here or on Twitter with the #HLA hashtag.