There’s tons of talk around hyperlocal and local media at the moment and some of it is about the kind of skills journalists need*. Not being a journalist, I’m looking at it from a business perspective.
We have a good system with The Lichfield Blog. Ross is the journalist, that’s what he does – he writes a large proportion of the articles and works with the contributors. I deal with the technical, behind the scenes stuff and the advertising that we’re trialling.
In my view it’s the best way for it to work; Ross is left to do what he does best without having to worry about anything other than serving his community and doing what he feels is his responsibility as a local journalist.
I worry that if journalists are taught or expected to be entrepreneurs as well we risk distracting them from that core purpose of reporting. Just think of the to-do list they’d have;
- Distribution (printing, web site development)
- Sales & marketing
- Business admin
Okay, so it doesn’t look like a big list but there’s a lot there. Creating and maintaining a web site can be hard enough, selling advertising to local businesses is going to be very hard without a unique proposition or sales skills, and business admin can be a whole minefield if you haven’t got business experience.
Expecting journalists to effectively run a business, I feel, would just soak up time and energy that they need to be journalists, threatening their ability to actually be journalists. Not to mention whether or not those journalists would even have the drive to commit to all that extra work.
I know plenty of people in the hyperlocal space won’t agree with me, so what’s the alternative?
As good as the role split with The Lichfield Blog is, it’s not sustainable in the long term. There will come a time when I can’t afford to spend so much time on it and I’m sure Ross’ wife will want him back on evenings and weekends eventually.
So imagine this; a network of journalists all working off the same platform. This platform would provide a range of tools and resources to help them deliver news in their community out of the box. It would save the need for the journalist to set up their own web site and all the costs and pitfalls that come with it.
Imagine this platform was part of a service that provided training. Traditional offline journalists could get training in online news gathering. All the journalists would get training on using the publishing platform and training on how they can use other platforms to interact and engage with the community. Training on audio and video production could be given for beat reporting. Journalists who sign up would receive legal guidance on issues like comment moderation.
Meanwhile, in the background the service would be providing revenue streams on the back of the journalist’s content by engaging with local businesses. The journalist would take the revenue, earning (hopefully eventually) a living from it. As the network grows, the combined content production could begin to serve existing regional media, opening up opportunities for more revenue streams.
Another benefit of such a network would be the economies of scale that it would give to independent hyperlocal journalists. It could be that the network eventually brokers relationships with content providers like the BBC, ITN and the Press Association.
I would really love thoughts on this, especially from those already engaged in the hyperlocal space and considering where it’s going. Agree, disagree, sit on the fence, have an alternative? Let me know in the comments.
*Although I’ve been thinking about this for a while, this post was inspired by the C&binet Forum and the following thoughts from attendees;
- Saving local journalism: Some thoughts ahead of C&binet by Paul Bradshaw (on the train!)
- C&binet notes part 2: 10 things government can do to help local journalism by Paul Bradshaw
- What journalism students need to know: New skills for a new model by Hannah Waldram
- What should government do to help hyperlocal news? C&binet group – post it notes by Will Perrin