What collaboration with hyperlocal journalists could look like
Why do journalists start hyperlocal websites? And what could collaboration with hyperlocal websites looks like? At the Behind Local News conference, Jane Haynes, a journalist with experiences on ‘both sides’ of this debate, shared her experiences. This is an abridged version of her talk at the BLN conference:
I’m Jane Haynes. I trained at the Shropshire Star back when the Express and Star had a training centre. Later I worked on newsdesks in Swansea and Nottingham. I would like to reassure you that my time away from the newsroom hasn’t diminished my enthusiasm for our craft nor my understanding of the challenges that we face. Nor, indeed, my own eagerness to learn new skills and develop as a digital journalist.
My fledgling contribution to the media landscape in the West Midlands is called Wyre Life. I set it up in Kidderminster this year. Traditional media interest in the district looks on the face of it, fairly healthy. There’s a weekly Kidderminster Shuttle run by Newsquest, the Express and Star has a daily edition for the area, there’s BBC Radio Worcester and several commercial radio stations operate here too.
But I found the reality of how the community was covered was less positive in recent times. Every reporter covering the patch has been made redundant by or moved to other locations. The local papers have closed their offices in my town. So essentially it’s a community on the margins. We’re stuck between Birmingham and Worcester, the economy is struggling. Our identity is rather blurred and ad revenues from my area are, I expect, pretty diminished.
As a result it seems to me that nobody locally was reporting in any depth about the issues affecting my 100,000 strong community nor properly holding local politicians and influencers to account.
The same people and self-interests still regularly the source of, and often the only voice in, stories. There is a real lack of diversity. It was clear to me there was a void that I felt needed filling and space for an alternative voice. I know many of the community journalists around the country will be motivated by the same circumstances.
In a perfect world there’d be no space for us — a regional media in rude health would mean we would not have been able to grow in particularly marginalised communities like mine. But here we are, a growing number of community-based and alternative-news operations with increasing influence and reach. Many are moving forward towards commercial sustainability.
So I guess the question I’d ask the room is: “What are you going to do about the independent news sector?” Nothing or something. You could ignore us which some do or treat us as an irrelevance.
You could actively try to kill us off or you could instead work with us, nurture partnerships and where possible, join forces. I think that’s particularly true in communities like mine that really need and deserve it. I urge you all to start a conversation.
You’ll almost certainly find that independent media ventures are run by committed, enthusiastic people who care about their communities. They give up their time, often for little or no reward, at least initially.
They are part of their communities, not apart from it. Many like me will also have experience and insight that we’d be happy to share. There will also be some of course, on both sides, who really don’t want to have that discussion and who are happy to stay separate.
Equally there will be those who will welcome the chance to build a trustworthy, two-way, mutually-beneficial arrangement with you.
So what could collaboration look like?
Well it could take many forms depending on the ambitions and motivations of both parties. It could be about sharing meetings diaries, ensuring crucial community events covered. It could be about joint working to investigate crucial issues, using joint resources and content to mutually agreed release dates.
What concerns me is that the kind of issues that really do matter in my community, that really need a light shining on them, don’t get that attention.
There isn’t the time, there isn’t the resources. One reporter based 10 miles away trying to fill the paper every week and all the online content. So for me to try to compete with that would be pointless in my opinion and it wouldn’t do my community any good.
So in a way I quite like that they follow up stuff I’ve done because they’ve got a much bigger audience. Ultimately I want the stuff I uncover, all the stories I do, to reach the people who matter.
For theose in power to be a bit shaken up by stuff. They’re probably not going be just through a small hyperlocal which they can almost dismiss by saying ‘they’ve not got much of audience, it’ll be ok.’
But if the BBC pick it up and run it, they might have to sit up and take notice. That’s the process some of us want to go through.
But I think having that recognition, and possibly some cash flow for the initial effort, would be a really good step forward and collaborating on other issues in advance would be too.
So rather than picking it up after we’ve reported it, we could agree that something is coming in advance, to run on Thursday and we all run it at the same time. That kind of collaboration I think would be really beneficial on both sides.
I think the starting point is to have a healthy and honest and robust conversation surrounding where we are and what the next steps are moving forward
It could and probably should involve reaching financial arrangements.
Money almost certainly will have to change hands.