Community Journalism Conference 2013

On the 16 January the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies hosted the Community Journalism Conference to openly discuss how to ena

This is written from my, quite naive, perspective on hyperlocal news but I thought it would be a good idea to note down the thoughts that sprouted from the Community Journalism Conference in relation to Little j.

Jan Schaffer started the conference off with a perspective on hyperlocal news from America. Jan listed lots of successful hyperlocal news projects in the US and also mentioned many other specialist websites (e.g. University websites) that now also dabble in hyperlocal news. All of these smaller and smaller sites are now forming an eco-system of their own which often forms the basis for larger news stories. 

Jan spoke about how the New York Times has recently shut down its environmental desk, and instead of viewing this as a negative it could be an area which could be taken up by hyperlocal news teams. This got me thinking about specialist groups in Port Talbot (and further afield) who have great motivation about their topic and could be a ripe source of information that could be submitted through Little j. On my next visit to Port Talbot I intend to discuss this with the team at the PT Magnet.

Next up was Damian Radcliffe, ex-Ofcom and now Internet and Society Manager at ictQATAR, who talked through the idea of Facebook First. His view was that hyperlocal news should aim to be where the audiences naturally come together and so Facebook is a very important platform to consider. I do agree that Facebook is currently high but I worry that this could be a reletively short-term trend. Imagine saying five years ago that hyperlocal news should be on MySpace and you'll see what I mean. I prefer the idea that data (which in basic terms is what Little j will be collecting after all) is platform agnostic—it exists in its raw form and can be ‘squirted’ out to fit any platform or format. This is easier said than done, but my feeling at the moment is to try and create Little j so that the stories, or parts of the story, are stored in the platform in a way that's easy for hyperlocal publishers to take and place anywhere. How automated this is, I don't know. A little app called Summly is a nice example of how people actually read news.

Screen shots of Summly app for iPhone

Summly takes a full story and translates it into a 300 word synopsis, a longer 600 word detail and also the full story. When using the app you can easily scan all the stories quickly on the 300 word level, dip in momentarily if it stimulates further interest, and then dive into the full story should you want to. Whilst this app scrapes news from other sources (and I know people have ethical issues around this) I like the idea of delivery news in different ways to suit different needs. Little j is not going to scrape or steal news, its mission is to motivate people to create it!

Damian also made the point that one of the biggest problems facing hyperlocal news teams is ‘discoverability’. We have always talked about this in our project team. How will the communities around Port Talbot hear about Little j and be motivated to actually give it a go? No answers yet, but it's something we seriously need to consider. Damian made quite a point about getting the attention on the project is more important that getting a business model to start with—afterall, if nobody is using the platform then nobody will want to fund it further.

Glyn Mottershed and Sarah Hartley then showed some examples of hyperlocal news stories from around the UK. One was the story of a caravan that was openly being used to sell drugs (a crackavan) which the local community got together to do something about; and the second was a story where youths were using a local park to race stolen scooters when the local police were on football game duty. It struck me that both these were very negative stories that were so extreme that it motivated the local community to do something about it. However, what about smaller stories and positive stories? Would people be motivated enough to get involved with something less impactful? If not, then we could end up with a very skewed view of an area and the negativity surrounding it. I think news does have this bias towards negativity anyway (and we're not setting out to solve something that big) but we want to build structures into the platform that encourages people to bring positive stories too.

Finally, the workshops on the law and hyperlocal news brought up two issues: (1) Collecting facts together from different sources could end up with the problem of jigsaw journalism; (2) If Little j is a platform for collecting hyperlocal news but not publishing it, does it have any legal responsibility how the elements it collects is published?

This is really a post of questions rather than answers but going along to the conference definitely helped me understand issues around hyperlocal news in more detail. The team at JOMEC will now help me understand more and try and get answers for some of the questions raised.