Hyperboring? In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 1

An appearance on Radio 4’s The Media Show last week helped focus the mind. Critics, lining up against hyperlocal as a form of reporting, have four broad lines of attack.

Namely:

  1. Hyperlocal is hyperboring
  2. It can’t be trusted (Read>>)
  3. It won’t make you any money
  4. Nobody is doing it well

Over the next week or so I’m going to address each in turn, starting with:

1. Hyperlocal is hyperboring
Yes it can be. There are plenty of examples of self-indulgent navel gazing. But that’s true of traditional media. If you want self-indulgent and navel gazing, try most Sunday colour supplements.

The mistake here is to blame the platform for the message.

Hyperlocal, done probably, can be ultra relevant and ultra interesting.

Take a big story from earlier this month – the tower block fire in a Camberwell estate.

This is how hyperlocal works:

  • For a national audience it was probably enough to locate the story in inner London.
  • For a Londoner, was it north or south of the river?
  • A south Londoner would want to know the borough.
  • For those in the borough, which area?
  • And for those in the postcode, they certainly want to know the name of the estate and the name of the tower block (Sceaux Gardens Estate and Lakanal House, respectively). And plenty more detail, besides.

Consider a story’s audience made up of concentric circles based on distance from the incident. For those in the smallest circle, the story is most compelling. And not just in the short term.

When the broader media has long gone, there are still issues that concern the hyperlocal community – when are the affected going to be re-housed? Is my block going to have a fire safety check? When is the inquiry due? How are the victims doing? And so on.

So hyperlocal has a role in not just to cover the initial event in sufficient detail but also to stay on for the fallout.

Critics of hyperlocal often cite the pothole paradox. It works like this – a pothole on your street is highly interesting to you, but one only a few streets away? Well, there’s nothing more tedious.

But we’ve always known that. Take another story from this month, the backbench rebellion that wasn’t over the already abolished 10p tax rate.

Not a promising premise for a news story, you might think, but big enough to feature prominently on the broadcast news bulletins.

Do you think the French media were all over it? Of course not. It was a local story – interesting to (some of) us this side of the Channel, no interest to anyone that side.

This is the pothole paradox played out on a national scale.

So all it is really saying is that a publisher who targets local but doesn’t understand his or her audience is doomed to fail.

Good advice but not earth-shatteringly new.

Next up: Hyperlocal can’t be trusted

Related:
You Just Can’t Trust It. In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 2
Hyperlocal, A Rather Different Kettle Of Cocoa
Hyperlocal: Five steps to kick-start the local news revolution
The Hyperlocal Paradox
Hyperlocal: So What’s Going On In Your Backyard?

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8 thoughts on “Hyperboring? In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 1”

  1. wonder if you are not falling into the trap of trying fit hyperlocal stuff to trad. top down, commercial news values of what is ‘interesting’, what is a ‘story’, what hyperlocal’s ‘role’ is etc

    when talking to people couched in old media i try to encourage inverting the perspective.

    hyperlocal content it is best looked at bottom up, generated not by an abstract, detached journalist but by people on the ground who it affects. seen from that angle the trad top down issues fall away – grass roots hyperlocal content is defined by its own creation.

    you only need to worry about the issues you raise if you are trying to create contrived hyperlocal content on a commercial basis. and we haven’t seen anyone get that to work yet.

  2. Will – I’m not convinced that hyperlocal content on a commercial basis needs to be contrived. I suspect you are right that no-one’s got it to work yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

    As an observer (not a practitioner) the potential for professional journalists to coexist with the people on the ground not only looks potentially very exciting but, also, workable.

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