Can hyperlocals and regional newsrooms work together? Why not try?

Emma Meese

Emma Meese, the driving force behind the Independent Community News network, founded out of the Centre for Community Journalism at Cardiff University, believes there must be a way for local journalism to thrive through collaboration. But, as she told the Behind Local News conference last week, there are a lot of bridges to build first:

We are a formal representative body for small independent news publishers right across the UK, of which there are a growing number and they do the most the most amazing work.

It’s for anybody who publishes news in the UK who are small and independent. We offer advocacy support we offer a voice. We fight for the sector. We improve knowledge of the sector and we come to come to things like this to see if we can collaborate and work better with the people who work in the local news sector.

So our mission is to promote quality journalism to help address the democratic deficit in poor communities and to help create more jobs in journalism as a community at hyperlocal level .

So at this point I need to say: “Do not shoot the messenger.” But some of what what I’m going to say is not particularly pretty.I contacted our members and I said I’ve been invited along to speak to regional newspapers about potential collaboration between our sector and the news publishers.

“Tell me about your experiences,” I said. “Have you been approached for collaboration? Do you collaborate? Does it work? Does it not work?”

One response we had was ‘lol’ followed by ‘sorry will offer something slightly more constructive and pop it over to you’. You can see where this is going.

So here are just a few of the extracts — there are some better ones in a bit.

“What we found is that they give a cock and bull story about being willing to share content and they do not collaborate they simply do not.”
“When I launched my title eleven years ago Northcliffe as they were then spent a good two years trying every trick in the book to shut me down but obviously didn’t succeed. Since then the relationship has been of coexistence.“
“I’ve always enjoyed a good working relationship with Archant and we often supply photos for them if they have no resource to do so, which is a reciprocal arrangement. Obviously the commercial aspect is a little more tenuous but there is room for all our titles.”
“I have a lot to say on this from good relationships to very poor ones from sustained good relationships and that actually goes off to say with some editors. But then in the newsroom is not so good.”
“Our experience is that they have stolen our photos almost reprinted our stories and we feel like we almost just leave researchers for them.”

As I say don’t shoot the messenger.

“Information we publish is regularly picked up and repeated word for word and has been for several years. This week we wrote a bit about a crash which was literally cut and pasted as a story. We made a grammatical error in it that error was repeated.”
“Collaboration is not just crediting in our eyes is working together on specific things. As a reporter for a particular news service once told me they’ve taken a step back and just look at us to decide if something in our area is worth going out the door to.”
“I believe my site just recently is a news source. To our knowledge our site has never been mentioned by the paper and nothing’s ever been attributed.”

There is an acknowledgement that it’s natural for people to feed off within the news ecology.

“It is normal for news providers to feed off each other but actually some courtesy and good relations are always helpful.”

And here’s a strong one:

“Thank you for the opportunity to offload nearly 10 years experience of tangling with particular a news publisher. I’ve tried to jot down a few thoughts but every time I do work and feel a bile rising from the pit of my soul. They want to give me a byline, well I can sell decent stories or pics to contacts on the Mirror or Mail or Sun and get £800 a pop. So 50 quid in a byline is not going to do it for me.”

Another publisher had a contract with Local World for two years and it worked really really well. Trinity Mirror within weeks triggered the six-mont get out clause.

That particular publisher is open to suggestions of collaboration again. It worked well on both sides but isn’t in action at the moment.

“A photographer from a local paper just texted one of our photographers who’s a volunteer asking if he will send photos of three upcoming events in our town over the next couple of months.”

There are also stories of copy being taken and not credited and actually somebody else’s byline been put on their work.

“They never understand that my hyperlocal isn’t a member of the public has popped out their phone and shared on Twitter. Yes it’s a small hyperlocal but I feel a bit of understanding that being told we will give you a credit is irrelevant. They would pay in the news so why not budget for a quick and speedy payment of local hyperlocals”

It does get brighter.

“Privately we speak with one or two reporters and share information as any newsy type would. We are happy with them to use our stuff and be credited and the reverse is also true. However there is a fear at times from those sharing to not credit or they would get into trouble.”

So some reporters feel if they credit these community in hyper local news sites then they’ll get in trouble with the editor.

“We have no issues and collaborating but we we’d like a fair slice of the money being pushed their way by local and national government. We simply cannot survive otherwise at a local level. We have an amicable relationship with the understaffed and overworked local paper which has allowed me to carry on the occasional court report together with an appropriate credit for permission to reproduce when I’ve been unable to follow a case through to its conclusion.”
“In terms of collaboration Sky came to me during the general election to help find people and said I could use the results in video package decent BBC did similar in return for green room access to a live hustings event.”
“I agree there are opportunities but we would need to be treated as respectful equals. To be frank the general vibe I get is that they look down on us. A city could be better served by better media if we all work together instead of working alone. The dailies can do big things like court which we don’t do and we can do the community says that they don’t do.”

It’s important I point out here that some of our members actually do courts and they do it really well. Just this particular publisher felt that this should be a good agreement for them.

I think is the most important one. “If they go into it thinking they’re the Premier League and where the park’s team then it’s not going to work.

So there’s things we can do to collaborate?

If we’d have started this conversation five years ago I think we’d be in a different place. There’s always been the will on the side of our members certainly to collaborate.

But as you can see from the experiences I’ve just read they’ve had their fingers burnt.

Obviously they’re a little bit more apprehensive about entering into further so-called collaborations but there are some people out there are still willing to do it.

We just need to find a common ground and work out how that is going to work, and what does it look like.

The Centre for Co-operative Media in the US has some really good examples of how collaborative journalism can work and they define collaborative journalism broadly as’ the practice of executing journalistic endeavours using a cross entity approach.’

This encompasses news organisations working together and with the non- news entities on reporting projects, partnering onaudience engagement, collecting and sharing data or even teaming up to build technology that supports multiple organisations working towards a shared journalistic goal.

I think we can agree that all of us in this room and our members are all working towards the same goal of wanting to provide good quality news and information and tackle a democratic deficit in our areas.

We just need to find a way of doing that properly. Common themes in the American collaborations include sharing valuable content, sharing benefits, high levels of organisational autonomy, and editorial independence among partners.

It’s made perfectly clear that just because you collaborate, you don’t have to give away your scoop, or something big your working on, to rival publications.

What we’re talking about is things like if you’ve got limited resources on the ground with your journalists and there is an election or there’s something big in the court and there’s something happening in council there’s two big council meetings at the same time.

We might collaborate and say ‘I’ll go to one and you can go to the other’ and we’ll share.

In fact, I was a reporter on the Carmarthen Journal 23 years ago and we always used to do just this. If there were something on in one court, and something happening in the next court, we would swap notes afterwards.

We are all in this for the same aim.

But the big difference now is is that lots of people in our sector say their content just basically get stolen. They’re either getting paid very little or not getting paid at all. And I have to stress that does not have correlation to do with the quality of the work or the standard of the journalism they do.

A great number of them actually used to work for regional newspapers and lost their jobs so they are qualified journalists.

Look at it like this. If you’ve got a new local bakery and they have the best cakes and the best sandwiches, it doesn’t make them any less of a bakery just because they’re not profitable for the first six months of the first year of trading.

You wouldn’t go in and suddenly say ‘I’m going to take pastries from your shop because you’re not a a proper bakery.’

Another thing I just want to clarify is that some people are a bit worried about the quality and the standard of the content. It is an outdated view to think hyperlocals are ‘bloggers in bedrooms.’ Those days are gone. All our members adhere to the Editors code of practice. They have to have a robust complaints procedure.

They have access to David Banks as a media law expert so he is on call at any time so they have full legal support. There is a quality standard before you can actually become a member. So it’s not that the quality of the standard is poor by any stretch of the imagination.

One example where a collaboration working really well is the City Talking and the Yorkshire Evening Post. The City Talk has a really young demographic. The majority of the readers are under 35 and they produce a monthly newspaper.

Their newspaper gets distributed in the Yorkshire Evening Post so they get to deliver 25,000 copies instead of 10,000 copies and the Evening Post gets access to a great audience — and a younger audience.

There are a number of ways that we can look at collaboration and I think it’s really important that we start having these conversations.

I’ll end with a quote from the academic lead that runs our projects at the university.

“We believe in the value of local news we believe it contributes to maintaining a sense of community and supporting health democratic engagement. Digital technologies have allowed communities to redefine the role of news in local areas.” That applies to us all. What do we do about it?

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