HYPERLOCAL reporters who covered the Westminster terrorist attacks and the fire at Grenfell Tower, a young man who is teaching the world how to become community journalists in between being a correspondent in war zones, a young woman who started a small company analysing stats, which led to some of the biggest newspaper headlines of 2017. Add to that an opening by the Presiding Officer at the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones, workshops on business models, advertising, data and speakers from hyperlocals across the U.K. and you have the C4CJ’s biennial conference: Building the Future of Community Journalism.
The event, sponsored by Google News Labs, was held at the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC), Cardiff, on Thursday (Jan 11) The conference was followed by the launch of the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) at the Welsh Assembly building (Senedd).
The event was the essential ‘What you need to know’ about community journalism and hyperlocal publishing be it in paper or digital format.
The keynote speaker was Grant Feller, who this year wrote a stark portrait of local news in the era of Grenfell for the British Journalism Review. He was followed by James Hatts from London Se1 who was on the ground when terror attacks plagued London over the summer of 2017.
Keith Magnum from the Hackney Citizen is one of only four independent community news publishers to have been awarded a contract with the BBC’s Local Democracy Partnership scheme, and he discussed holding local power to account.
Fiona Davidson of the Ferret, shred her thoughts on improving opportunities for underrepresented groups in the media. Fiona has been working with the NUJ on a project to promote Stronger Voices in Scotland and shared her findings.
The highlight for Llanelli Online was the burst of energy, which leaped onto the stage like a young George Michael that was Mediashift’s Digital Media’s Top Innovators for 2018 Yusuf Omar who was joined by his wife Sumaiya Omar, a social media consultant. Together they have launched the social video platform Hashtag Our Stories as a way to empower disenfranchised communities to tell their own stories through mobile video.
Claire Wardle from First Draft News joined the conference via a video message and talked about Mis/disinformation and the value of hyperlocal news in building trust from the ground up.
Delegates also heard from and were able to question a panel on the future of print with editors from South Leeds Life, Caerphilly Observer, Waltham Forest Echo, and the Local Voice Network discussing how hyperlocals are bucking the trend.
Megan Lucero ramped up the energy levels again with a talk about the work of the Bureau Local.
There are a number of issues facing Hyperlocals at present. The main issue is of a sustainable business model and a level playing field with larger news outlets who appear to be getting away with picking low hanging fruit stories and not much else and being paid handsomely for it.
The Welsh Assembly Government have earmarked £200,000 for hyperlocals over two years but it remains to be seen what happens to that money. The BBC have heaped cash onto large news outlets for effectively free labour at a time when those organisations are making staff cuts and working and pay conditions are getting worse.
Many of the delegates would have taken heart from the support and information and the umbrella of Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism but those heading for the bus and train stations may well still feel aggrieved that the large pot of cash propping up the news outlets meant to be bringing us our news have all but left the smaller cities and towns and rarely poke their lenses into village life unless the Pope turns up on a unicycle.
Much work is still needed in helping to support hyperlocals and inevitably it boils down to an injection of cash or as we have seen with a number of recently established papers and digital versions, they will go to that data wall somewhere out there in a superhyperlocal warehouse full of abandoned websites, blogs, twitter feeds and well meaningly established newspapers.