You Just Can’t Trust It. In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 2

Continuing the series looking at the arguments made against hyperlocal. This is where we’ve got to:

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

So let’s deal with:

2. It can’t be trusted
Lack of quality and lack of credibility are always accusations thrown at the “amateur”. But here’s the thing:

Hyperlocal is not news as we know it
Often those publishing and contributing to hyperlocal sites are not putting a story together in our conventional, media-land understanding of a story.

They are instead sharing information, gathering evidence, swapping experiences, pooling resources. Witness last weekend’s The Big Lunch as just one example. 

Will Perrin – the man behind and – comments elsewhere on this blog:

Hyperlocal content 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.

And yet, I think there is a role for the locally-based journalist and publisher to work hand-in-hand with the amateur, taking that raw material – and harnessing the energy and local expertise – and turning it into a water tight, double-sourced investigation.

Not only that, there is a role for the local paper to filter and curate.

We saw this on a global level in post-election Iran when the likes of the Guardian and CNN did a first class job sorting the important from the mundane across Twitter, YouTube and the blogs. Apply the same principle on an ultra local level.

The “amateur” is often underestimated
The arguments about the relative merits of Wikipedia and the Encylopedia Britannica are well rehearsed, namely:

  • Wikipedia is somewhat more trustworthy
  • Britannica is still the encyclopedia of record
  • There’s little to choose between the two

(*delete  according to taste, prejudice, experience)

No matter, I suspect most people’s experience of Wikipedia is, despite the odd error, a positive one.

The process of peer-review may be an unconventional one as applied on the web but it exists, nonetheless. Factchecking and editing hyperlocal content, where the expertise is defined by geography, can work in the same way. 

Readers apply different filters to different sources
Not all sources of information are treated with the same reverence as The Economist, the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post.

That doesn’t necessarily make them less valid, rather it requires the increasingly media-savvy reader to apply a filter.

Take an old media example: turn to the back pages of the red tops and read about the latest football transfers.

What helps you decide whether the story has merit or is just a speculative punt?

Answer, look for quotation marks. If there aren’t any, dismiss the story out of hand.

If there are some, read what’s in them and who they are atrributed to. This will help you decide whether it’s just an agent trying his luck in the hope of securing his client a better deal where he is, or whether the story really does have legs.

Apply similar filters to the local and you’ll soon know what you can trust and what you cannot.

Next up: Hyperlocal: it won’t make you any money

 – Hyperboring? In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 1
 – Hyperlocal, A Rather Different Kettle Of Cocoa
 – The Hyperlocal Paradox
 – Hyperlocal: So What’s Going On In Your Backyard?

3 thoughts on “You Just Can’t Trust It. In Defence Of Hyperlocal, Pt 2”

  1. WikiCity is a wiki-based hyperlocal site and we have found that (i.) stories often are told here that otherwise may never be told, and (ii.) when they are told, WikiCity’s wiki structure allows multiple authors to contribute their knowlege for more in-depth reporting and perspectives.

  2. Journalists are often very keen to rubbish amateur coverage on the grounds that it isn’t trustworthy, forgetting the fact that actually, outside journalism, a lot of people think journalists aren’t very trustworthy.

    It’s a turf thing, primarily. Journalists don’t want to be undercut by free amateur coverage. Well, understandably. But it’s a very elitist stance.

    I also wonder about the whole idea of the “water tight, double-sourced investigation”. This is a convention of print journalism rather than a law handed down from God. It may well have been a useful convention, but I suspect the changing shape of media may start to alter it. There’s an interesting piece here about how process journalism moves away from such print conventions and lets publication be part of the process of substantiation.

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