This is a guest blog from Professor Richard Sambrook, Director of the Centre for Journalism (the top ranking centre for postgraduate vocational training in the UK) at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and former Director of Global News at the BBC, and Hannah Scarbrough, Communications and Project Officer at Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism.
How do people find local news and information for their community? Unsurprisingly, audiences are increasingly turning to the internet to find out what’s going on in their area, with Ofcom reporting that 48% of those who say they use local media say they use the internet for local news information now more than they did two years ago.
Benefitting from this trend is the rapidly growing community or hyperlocal journalism sector, which is defined by Nesta as online sites or social media channels serving a small, geographically defined community (such as a town, village or postcode). However, although the communities these hyperlocal sites serve may be small, their impact is not.
A recent Carnegie UK Trust report found that “it is clear that the hyperlocal news sector has a considerable contribution to make to…accountability and information provision at a local level”, while Nesta has itself invested millions of pounds in hyperlocal news innovation. Meanwhile, hyperlocal websites such as Wrexham.com can attract up to 100,000 unique visitors a month, and Brixton Blog’s Twitter account boasts over 20,000 followers (vastly outstripping traditional nearby local news outlets such as the Streatham Guardian).
Community or hyperlocal news services are now an important part of the local media landscape, and an invaluable medium for getting your messages out to local, engaged audiences. Here we look at how charities and nonprofits can engage with hyperlocal media, with some tips and insights from community journalists themselves.
Do your research
The first step is to do an audit of the services available in your area, which will help you find suitable sites to reach your target audience. Hyperlocal media is hugely varied in its platforms and aims, from a Welsh language guide to what’s on in Wales’ capital, to investigative reporting in Bristol. As with any communication, it’s important to select the right platform for the right audience – it may be that your campaign is better suited to a community newsletter than a hyperlocal Facebook page.
Once you have found your community news services of interest, get to know the people behind them. Recent research conducted here at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies found that most (over 57%) of community journalists work part-time on their sites, often squeezed in around demanding day jobs. So find out what they want, and how they want it. They may just want to be included on your generic press release distribution list, or they may want a heads-up phonecall a week in advance of a story. Community journalists all work differently, and they are all short on time and resources. Your story has more chance of success if you forge a personal relationship and give them the information they need, in the way that makes it easiest for them to use and promote.
Partnerships between nonprofits and community media can be much more interesting than a shared Facebook post now and again. Get creative and find out whether you can co-host an event or find a community-led way of telling your story. Geraldine Nichols of Roath Cardiff explains: “We offered local cancer charity Tenovus some free advertising banners in early 2014, and they chose to use them to advertise their Goodnight Walk. They designed and provided the artwork to fit the space, and also asked a client to write a blog post to tie in with the promotion.” Tenovus received 40 new users to their website as a result of the campaign. Tenovus Digital and PR Officer, Bethan Rees, says: “The exposure on the free advertising banner on Roath Cardiff’s site helped us to get the word out to those who might not have previously known about our Goodnight Walk.”
Pool your resources
As mentioned, community journalists are low on time and resources. If you can provide more than just a story, you may yield even better results. For example, the South Wales news co-operative Port Talbot Magnet was provided office space by local community regeneration organisation NSA Afan, and have since forged a successful advertising relationship in return. You could offer one of your communications team as a ‘guest columnist’ to provide content, or a meeting room once a month. Pooling your resources could ensure the ongoing sustainability of your hyperlocal site – and provide positive results for your nonprofit.
Community journalism is a rapidly evolving field and it’s worth regularly updating your knowledge of it. Some useful organisations to follow include Talk About Local, Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism, Nesta and Carnegie Trust UK. Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism have also produced a five-week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in Community Journalism: Digital and Social Media, commencing 16 March 2015, which includes case studies from community journalists in the field as well as teaching transferable skills in social media promotion and digital publishing.