Tag Archives: hyperlocal

Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – Part 1

Birmingham's experimental hyperlocal news website

One of the major efforts i developed in the last three months of 2009 was the construction and development of Hashbrum, a group project created by me some of my colleagues of the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I have meant to discuss here the different aspects of planning and developing a hyperlocal news website, not only adressing the technical issues, but also conceptual matters. We never stayed on the same ground for too long, and we weren’t 100% focused on the project, and this was one of the main reasons we didn’t take the extra step to make HashBrum a more cohesive and truly original. Besides, the main purpose was to build a platform for experimentation for our own works for the MA. But it all went as follows.

What is HashBrum?

HashBrum[i] is a hyperlocal news experimental project, that covers the main Birmingham area. The team was composed by part of the students enrolled in the MA Online Journalism of Birmingham City University. When we started discussing the project, there were many ideas about how to present the news, but the main goal was to create as much interactive and multimedia content as possible.

We were inspired by hyperlocal projects like EveryBlock [ii], Patch.com[iii] or VillageSoup[iv], that used maps as main interfaces, and/or covered specific geographic areas and small communities, on a neighborhood level.

When considering how the layout of the website should lead the users into that type of content, we too thought about using a map that would take most of the immediately visible space. The stories would be embedded in the map, and the users could navigate from story to story using the placemarks.

The agenda would be based in long feature, investigative reporting, using different types of media to create truly multimedia stories. There is audio available of our first three meetings as a team[v], where we discuss a embrionary version of HashBrum and its basic principles and goals, in which we debate some of the ideas I presented before. We wanted to reach out to the community even before we had something to show, and carry that spirit into the content creation phase. Or that was my perspective on what the project was meant to be.

The importance of being Hyperlocal – concepts and business model

What is going on with this hyperlocal thing? We keep hearing about this over and over, like if it was the Great Online Hope. It is in some ways. It is based in a long-tailed, low resourced, small-scale, community based, social networked, geotagged, backyard stories-type of approach.  This means more valuable information for specific groups of people, that connect more closely to it. This is also an upgraded echo of the work developed by the lone bloggers that typed away the problems that affect them and their neighbors. Some of that upgrade was provoked by some bloggers themselves, that found a market an audience at their doorstep (or backyard, whatever you prefer).

Reading the (magnificent) lecture by Alan Rusbridge, we come across the case of Will Perrin – who seems to have taken a personal interest in Hashbrum – author and owner of a hyperlocal news website (though he doesn’t call it journalism) covering the King’s Cross area in London, we understand another important factor regarding hyperlocal projects: engagement. Most hyperlocal websites are truly concerned about the quality of life on the places they cover, and are willing to expose, question and fight whoever and whatever stands in the way of that quality of life. It’s journalism not for the common good, beyond that, for the LOCAL good, if you get my drift.

This opens a whole new advertising market. If you check the VillageSoup model, you see that they have room for personalized daily adverts, for a low price, but from dozens of advertisers. Their profit margin is safer and more steady than if they relied solely in two or three big advertisers. Besides, there’s the direct contact, the element of trust, and an organic relationship, established with the  local businesses and costumers, the real people, and not a faceless brand. And this is all what being hyperlocal encompasses.

Now, the concept still has somewhat of rogue, and independent, since these projects work better, or at least are more honest, when they come from the users to the media, and not from the media to the users. Even though there are experiments promoted  by large media groups in the hyperlocal business, what separates these projects are three specific characteristics:

-proximity to a real, live, community;

-concern for that community;

-a specific agenda adressing the habits, problems and issues of the community;

And this last point is of huge importance: no longer the stories of the community are forgotten, or swept under the rug by the limited space and resources of general news outlets. So when in the description of the website it was written Hashbrum was all about the neglected stories of Birmingham, it felt like we struck gold.

But we needed a place to tell those stories. How it was done stays for the second post of this series.


[i] http://hashbrum.co.uk/

[ii] http://www.everyblock.com/

[iii] http://patch.com

[iv] http://villagesoup.com

[v] Audio from the meetings

1st Meeting – http://tinyurl.com/yd9doq8

2nd Meeting – http://tinyurl.com/ydbx5wx

3rd meeting – http://tinyurl.com/yczmvhp

news:rewired – how to make money

James Fryer, from SoGlos.com
This is  post number four on the news:rewired conference. You can read the posts one, two and three too.

The final session of news:rewired was dedicated to the ugly side of the future of journalism: how to make money, why journalists are not making money, law and copyright, audiences and advertising. This was stuff journos never had to think about, but that they should consider in their everyday practice, so they can make it financially sustainable. But the trick to be successful is the same as before: be one of the best.

The first speaker of the panel was James Fryer, one of the founding editors of SoGlos.com, the hyperlocal online magazine for Gloucestershire. I had already met James and his associate Michelle Byrne when they sat next to me during the morning sessions, and we got to talk about we should be networking more during the breaks. They we’re really nice, and as someone who developed an experimental hyperlocal website, i was interested in what they had to say.

Fryer gave us the top do’s and don’ts for a hyperlocal venture, and i’d like to highlight a few of his ideas.  He was one of the people who pointed out the obvious characteristic for any successful endeavor: be great. Without being great you’ll never stand out, and gain trust and respect from your audience and your advertisers. Besides that basic principle, you must know where you stand commercially, what is your market and it’s needs, and who could be your allies. But don’t forget to remain true to your starting idea, keep your editorial integrity. I’d like to see some of the major news outlets following some of these principles…

SoGlos was victim of some plagiarism, and the next speaker talked about just that. Caroline Kean is a lawyer, and she adressed some of the problems that affect online journalism, like copyright and privacy. She debunked the myth that if it’s on the web it’s free, and that companies should be careful about the misuse of costumers data. These are relevant questions that would suffice to organize a conference on it’s own. She was followed by Ben Heald,  “CEO of Sift Media, a leading business-to-business publisher specialising in online, interactive professional communities.” What i got from Heald’s speech was that pay walls will fail, and that money will come from niche communities that will pay for specific contents. I remember i liked his presentation, but i don’t have many notes about it. Probably it’s because he was stating something that was obvious for me, but that still hasn’t reached some minds.

Maybe me forgetting about Ben Heald’s presentation was Greg Hadfield‘s fault. The man has an incredible life story, and recent events in his professional course still put him in the game changers group. He delivered this simple yet powerful idea: journalists must act as entrepreneurs. This involves passion and vision, and one activity can’t be separated from the other. He said that when he was a journalist he never thought about advertising, it was “the stuff that made your article shorter”. Now it’s time to be entrepreneurial, since the face of the industry has changed forever. Adam Tinworth sums up some of Hadfield’s ideas here.

I must confess i was awfully tired by then, and a bit frustrated because i was looking around and recognizing some people from my twitter timeline and hadn’t networked with them live. Besides, wifi didn’t work for me and i had to sit offline the whole day, which put me in a state of deprivation close to a certified addict. But after this we had the End of Conference Drinks! More about that in the next post.

#Brum – First Meeting | Primeira Reunião

Temporary Working logo | Logotipo temporário

[audio:http://dandavies23.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/hashbrummeetoneeq.mp3] [Play] [Play] listen to the meeting | ouçam a reunião

One of the things we have to do at the MA is to create a news project. Some of us got together and we’re trying to develop a hyperlocal news website. We’re still at the very beginning so we are open to ideas. I’m not sure if this will be my main project but i can tell you i’m pretty excited about it.

This (somewhat complicated) meeting was held yesterday, in a sunny but cold afternoon outside Baker Building at BCU City North Campus, and the participants were Ioana Epure, Dan Davies, Mikel Plana, Caroline Beavon, Andrew Brightwell, Ruihua Yao, and i’m the dissonant voice in the back.

We discussed our objectives, structure, target audience, coverage areas, and goals to achieve by next week. Since we are keen to keep this a transparent process, we’ll post more info soon about how it’s going.

By the way, that’s a temporary logo that i did.

Uma das coisas que temos que fazer no mestrado é um projecto. Alguns de nós juntaram-se e estamos a tentar desenvolver um site informativo hiperlocal. Ainda estamos no princípio, por isso estamos abertos a sugestões. Não sei se será o meu projecto principal mas estou entusiasmado.

Esta reunião (assim para o complicada) foi realizada ontem, numa tarde de sol mas fria,  numa esplanada ao lado do Baker Building na Universidade de Birmingham, com a participação de Ioana Epure, Dan Davies, Mikel Plana, Caroline Beavon, Andrew Brightwell, Ruihua Yao, eu sou a voz dissonante em fundo.

Falámos de objectivos, estrutura, público alvo, áreas a cobrir, e metas para a próxima semana. Como estamos interessados em ser transparentes neste processo, publicaremos mais informações em breve sobre como está a correr.

Já agora, fiz esse logotipo, mas é temporário.