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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

Changes 3: New column | Mudanças 3: Coluna nova

Logótipo Rascunho

And in the latest instalment for changes around here, i’d like to announce that yesterday i started my column dedicated to new media at Rascunho.IOL.pt. I am honored for the invitation they made and hope to provide a few interesting insights about the Media Revolution.

The title for this weekly reflection is “Media DJ”, and the English version will be available in my (new) blog, becoming somehow an extension of my work.

Below is the first text for Media DJ.

E no mais recente capítulo dedicado a mudanças por aqui, gostaria de anunciar que ontem iniciei a minha coluna/caderno sobre novos media no Rascunho.IOL.pt. Estou honrado pelo convite que me fizeram e espero dar algumas visões pessoais interessantes sobre a Revolução dos Media.

O título para esta reflexão semanal é “Media DJ”, e a versão em inglês estará sempre disponível no meu (novo) blog, sendo uma extensão do meu trabalho.

Leiam o primeiro texto, no Rascunho.


Imagine a stage, and you’re sitting in the audience. From up there, one or several characters proclaim the news of the day, the events they chose as the most important. They do it at a certain time, in a ritualized fashion and within a specific duration.They ignore your reactions, and aren’t quite interested in you but in how many of you are watching them. This was the paradigm for the relationship between audience and media. Then came the Internet and everything changed.

Today, the stage and the audience share the same space, there are several voices for many subjects, each one with its own perspective and different origins; information flows within that space between all the elements, from media to users, to other users, to other media. The keywords for this new model are sharing, dialogue, mobility/ubiquity and real time. Contents are made of layers, a new contribution or production is built over the previous one. And everyone can participate: with text, photos, video.

The information industry and journalism are going through the biggest revolution they’ve ever  gone through. The content creation and dissemination tools evolved rapidly, and more important, they are availabe to anyone. The audience became an active element in the creation and disseminaton of information. In a matter of years we went from static versions of newspapers to multimedia rich content, real time information provided by users in social networks and on Twitter, anywhere, to everywhere, which deviated the media from the center of the news paradigm, forcing them to reconsider how to interact with their users, how to work information on the web, publish it, renew it, in a profound change of processes and views. And also how to make that profitable.

The name of this column is Media DJ, because all these changes influenced journalist’s work, demanding new skills. DJ has a double meaning, being the first, the one who, from other people’s music, mixes, remixes, aligns and generates a new dynamic, turning the whole bigger than the sum of its parts; and it also works for Digital Journalism/Journalist. Information DJs do exactly the same as music DJs, they pick up the pieces and generate a a new set, but with a totally different responsibility: they contribute to the creation of a collective conscience, and a well informed society will make better choices. In the end, nothing changed in the fundamental role of journalism, just the way you do it.

Every week i hope to bring a part of that (r)evolution, that is unfolding faster than reality can keep up. You just have to follow the music.

Below is the first text for Media DJ.

Changes 2: Welcome | Mudanças 2: Bem vindos

Welcome to my new blog. This is the continuation of the work i did at The Lake, but under a self hosted, personal branded website. There is still a lot to be done, but we’ll get there soon. Meanwhile, all the new posts will be published simultaneously at The Lake and here for the next few weeks, for a smooth transition.

I decided not to import the old posts from the old blog, but they will all still be there.The reasons  for this change can be found here.

Below are the feeds available to follow this blog. Thanks for visiting and be back soon.

Bem vindos ao meu novo blog. Esta é a continuação do trabalho que fiz n’O Lago, mas num site com alojamento e marca própria. Ainda há muito por fazer, mas chegaremos lá em breve. Entretanto, todos os novos posts serão publicados simultaneamente n’O Lago e aqui durante as próximas semanas, para uma transição suave.

Decidi não importar os posts antigos do blog, mas irão todos manter-se por lá. As razões para esta mudança podem ser lidas aqui.

Abaixo ficam os feeds disponíveis para seguir este blog.Obrigado pela visita e voltem sempre.

NEW LINK | NOVO LINK – http://blog.alexgamela.com

Get the new feeds | Aqui estão os novos feeds

Subscrevam por Email | Subscribe by Email

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