Tag Archives: community

Information is free. Experience and context are money.

All in? I don't think so...

If you are reading this via RSS go to the real post to enjoy its full effect. There’s free beer.

This has been  in everyone’s mind: how to make journalism a profitable business? Ads, paywalls, premium and freemium contents, there have been many options, but none seems to be working. Murdoch builds walls while others [DDET tear them down.]

Recently Johnston Press decided to give up their paywall since the subscription numbers were appalling, in the single or low double digits.


The stakes are high, and yet everyone is showing how bad poker players they are, going all in when they don’t have to.

The biggest problem is that there aren’t many users willing to pay for information they know they can get for free someplace else or that is not important for them. I’m not, for sure. Besides, most of  the content news websites have to offer could be in print and my experience as a news consumer would be exactly the same, so why bother? So, how to keep those who want the free stuff, but how to profit from the content generated by journalists?

Imagine that you own a news content production company, and you have a team of talented people who can make good journalism, using [DDET different narratives;]
video, audio, charts, maps, or mixed interactive content, like audioslides, mashups, etc;

Exhibit A


Imagine you have those people willing to engage and participate with the community, not only to dig for stories or disseminate their work, but to enrich the community member’s experience with information about the process, or [DDET personal views on the matter;]


I think that transparency and time are two valuable items, and that time is the most valuable of them. Communities are part of the newsrooms’ life whether we like it or not, both in the construction and the distribution process. Journalists are the quarterback/midfielder (choose metaphor according to origin) of the news process, receiving the ball and creating options and deciding part of its course, although when it’s out of its hands/feet they should still be focused on the game but let the ball go. The rest of the team is community and the goal is to inform, and like in a real game there are less players than passive audience. I’m still working on this specific metaphor.

Still, people would be part of it, pitch their own stories, creating a crowdsourced model within a traditional news structure.


Imagine you have tools that allow you to add context or media or extra information like raw bulks of data and that your reporters know how to build an online article with all its basic features but also with extra content that enriches the knowledge and experience of the user, using your own archives, other people’s archives, other websites that you found relevant to the story, ongoing conversations on Twitter and Facebook, ;

Imagine that. And think how you can do all of those things, with the same time, trained to deliver the basic and the ultimate news content. And consider to make some of that ultimate content available for free, just like the basic takeaway content you have. And ask people to pay a fee for the rest, and allow them to embed videos, slideshows, audio in their own websites, and help them look cool in their community because you create cool content. You don’t need to charge much because you are building a brand. The light bulb was sold below production price in the beginning  because it was something everyone would use, and after a while, production costs lowered because there was a lot of demand, and then there was profit.

So this is how I perceive the future of the business will be, a mix between several models, that favors smaller endeavors than juggernauts, and based on quality and engagement, and new ways to create traditional content, in a contextualized way.

So, a rough example would be:

mock news picture

[DDET When,] tell if the situation is still ongoing and you can read more about it here (linked to related article) or it had a previous related event to which we will also link to or show the related media, or even better a timeline of the events [/DDET][DDET what happened,] specific details, more pictures, detailed info, background info [/DDET] where , who was involved, [DDET how yes free yourself! [/DDET]and a basic WHY (that could be expanded to whatever you’d like). If it looks short to you, well, most of the info people read out of articles is all in the first paragraphs, where the w’s and h are.

People would have to pay for the contextual information in the expandable items. This doesn’t mean the free content would be poor, but that the extended content would be really rich.

I confess this is inspired/stolen from Kevin Sablan’s post, and he says context is personal. I say it’s valuable, and providing an experience through information is profitable. It is technically possible and with better results than i presented,  and when you have algorithms gathering and producing readable information, it is wise to reconsider the whole news process, how information is collected, analyzed, produced and distributed, and do it in a way people can use it and be willing to pay for at the same time.

Did you clicked in all the links in this post? Why would you? And if you did, how different was your experience? Are you going back to click a few?  I know you will now.

So, what do you think?

Building a hyperlocal website: final thoughts

Keywords for hyperlocal

This is the final post about hyperlocal websites, that started with my own experience with HashBrum, as described in onetwo, three posts, and with the  special contribution of five sapient minds that work on hyperlocal endeavors. I learned a lot from my own efforts  – mine and the rest of the team’s – and also from  this reflection. It was interesting to analyze the list of characteristics presented by different people for hyperlocal websites and find common terms, common ideas, a common ground, even in the choice of words. Here’s what i learned, organized around a few main concepts. To understand them better, you should have read the previous posts of this series, but i think this will be quite clear and straight to the point.


Why are hyperlocal news websites important? Why do people feel inclined to “backyard news”? Precisely. Proximity is the keyword here, and it’s not only a geographical concept, it’s also about the relationships that a hyperlocal blogger/journalist must have with the community (s)he covers. You have to live there, be a part of it, like Will Perrin said. You’ll beat any other local newspaper because of your knowledge, you know the ground better than them, the real problems, because they are your problems too. And since you are there, you can get to the news faster, and stay on them for a longer period of time, without deadline constraints: you have availability. And will the local media send a reporter for every story you find interesting? Not really, no. Your broken streetlight is not an issue for the general audience, but it is for the people who live in that street: granularity, or , it’s the small stuff that counts.


Another good thing that hyperlocal websites are good at is by providing a better user experience. Innovation and experimentation in storytelling, using maps, multimedia, different ways to look at and navigate through the news. And without  the need for a huge investment, because most of the tools to create a website like this are free and open source, so only a small financial investment is required, the real expense here is time. But to be effective, the hyperlocal website’s technology must promote participation, allow people to offer their input, and  the users should be able to conform their experience through customization, getting the information they want, the way they want.


At the core of hyperlocal behavior is passion. It’s your reality, or at least a reality that is right outside your front door. The level of engagement and commitment hyperlocal news websites have are huge, compared to the average reporter, who is assigned for a story and educated to be detached. Hyperlocal reporters are involved in the story and they can afford to be critical and assertive close to the local authorities,  and use their work to improve their community’s living standards and environment. It’s what matters to a few, that becomes really important.

Another relevant characteristic is adaptability. A good hyperlocal website is aware of it’s shortcomings and is constantly looking for new ways to do their work, something quite impossible to do in the bigger, slower structures of traditional media, and their sluggish procedures and bureaucracies. They can be built and developed fast, and still bring added value.

A new market is open for these projects: since it’s about and for the local community, it is also an advertising opportunity for local businesses, who can’t afford ads in the pages of a newspaper. If instructed to develop interaction and user experience like the hyperlocal website should do, there is a lot to get out of this, for local businesses.

The bottom line is, your neighborhood news matter, whether it’s a poorly made manhole, or a broken streetlight, or crime. It’s these bits of information that become important when you are living – or wanting to live – in a neighborhood. And if there’s a way to connect us back to our neighbors, whom we usually don’t know, and  join efforts to improve our real, every day life experience, it was well worth it. And if you want to do it, there isn’t much stopping you. All you have  to do is to talk to people who live next to you, see what is already being discussed online, and build a space to host the information that matters. All it takes is time, and quick thinking.

When we first thought about HashBrum, we believed we could create a small network of street level information, and let the different communities take part in the process. In the end we leaned towards reporting specific issues neglected by the local media, who didn’t have room in their agendas or the resources to cover them, or do comprehensive follow ups on the developments. It’s the idea that a brief article in local media can be a huge story for a community/hyperlocal website. And do you know what?, sometimes they’re huge for other communities too, that have the same problems, and what seemed to be an isolated event might be a more general issue within society.

With the fragmentation brought by the internet, the rule is no longer defined by the majority. It”s the individual’s rules and needs that matter, and we can customize them in size, subject and location. With all this power, citizens can start improving the world, starting at their doorsteps. Or just have their garbage collected more often. If you have your own ideas on this, please, do share them in the comment box below. If you aren’t already starting to build your own hyperlocal news thing…

Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – part 3

This is the third part of a series about the development of Hashbrum, the hyperlocal news project that me and some of my colleagues at the MA Online Journalism worked on for the last few months. If you haven’t already, read Part 1 and Part 2.

The HashBrum Stories

We tried to find stories that mattered to Birmingham’s communities. We had two successful running feature stories, one about Birmingham’s swimming pools, and another project still developing about cycling in the city,  too many concert reviews, and a few one time stories using multimedia. Another interesting project was Marathon Guy, but it has been discontinued.

The most promising story for me in the beginning was the Swimming Pools investigation, conducted by Andrew Brightwell. The goal was to assess the state and conditions of the public pools of Birmingham, how they were fit to serve the local communities. It had a lot of multimedia and community potential: i thought about creating a map with Andrew with the location and history of each facility, create a space for the swimmers to have a say, and after the Moseley Road Baths tour, create a multimedia package. It didn’t happen, and it’s a shame the story got lost along the way.

Dan Davies has recently put a great effort in a investigation about the existing conditions for cyclists in Birmingham. If you know cyclists, you know they’re a good crowd to work a story with, and Dan has invested in a lot of video and map mashups, which he has been testing and developing, and that seem to be working quite well for the story.

The odd project, but one that took a lot of my time in production was Marathon Guy, a fun idea by Mikel Plana, that was a mix between a reality online show, a crowdsourced/crowdfunding enterprise, and a journalistic account about the communities of runners in the city. Unfortunately, Mikel is not taking the project further, but i think you can tell from the videos i had some fun with this project.

Other notable items in the HashBrum archive are Caroline Beavon’s liveblogging experiments, and a crowdsourced map, that she put together quite quickly.

And if in perspective it looks like a lot of work, i personally feel that we could have done much more, especially when it comes to interactive and multimedia narratives. Like i said before, HashBrum was supposed to be a canvas for total experimentation but  then we got a lot of pics and text. But the moments i like the best are the ones when we go beyond that, and present information in a more relevant and compelling way. The traditional formats are traditional because they work, but if can break the rules and do something different just for the heck of it, why shouldn’t we?

This is where small hyperlocal websites are taking the lead from traditional media:  they invest in new ways to tell the stories, in a cheap, fast way, without having to wait for slow IT departments to implement a damn widget on the front page, after having to wait for  budget clearance; they rely in the power of the community, that they consider as their peers; they value the stories that mainstream media doesn’t care about, and can’t care about, because of the relevance for their reader’s universe and lack of staff; and they don’t have any problems in confronting the established powers, because the community’s problem are their problems too.

Hyperlocal is here to stay, and if you doubt that, just take a look at the map of hyperlocal websites in the UK, and see what others are doing. There’s a lot to be learned from there. I know I learned a lot from ours.

Communities and News Companies | Comunidades e Empresas de Comunicação

One of the most discussed topics regarding news companies strategies is how to engage with communities. Communities are  today have always been the source and destination of news content, but only now they can  consistently interact with news websites or provide newsworthy content through their  own platforms. The question is how to turn that into news companies and audiences favour.

Kate Day, community editor at The Telegraph, paid us a visit to our Online Journalism class last week, and she explained to us what is her job all about and how it works for them (more videos). Incidentally, JD Lasica published his slideshows about how journalists can use social media to build community. They’re both worth having a a look.

Um dos assuntos mais discutidos na estratégia das empresas de comunicação é  sua relação com as comunidades. As comunidades são hoje foram sempre a fonte e o destino das notícias, mas só agora é que consgeguem interagir consistentemente com os sites informativos ou fornecer conteúdos noticiosos através das suas próprias plataformas. A questão é como virar isso a favor das empresas de comunicação e do público.

Kate Day, editora de comunidades do The Telegraph, fez-nos uma visita à nossa aula de Jornalismo Online a semana passada, e explicou-nos em que consiste o seu trabalho, e como funciona para eles (mais videos). Por acaso, JD Lasica publicou um slideshow sobre como os jornalistas podem usar os social media para construir uma comunidade. Vale a pena dar uma vista de olhos aos dois.