A conversation with journalists Henning Bulka and Sophie Casals about opportunities and challenges of hyperlocal journalism
Reporting from the doorstep of the journalist’s audience: for the past decade, hyperlocal journalism has repeatedly been declared the future of online news.
Today, despite manifold promising hyperlocal projects, the industry is still searching for sustainable business models. Further, hyperlocal journalism brings new challenges, for example the delicate balance act between trying to involve audiences in the reporting, while at the same time keeping journalistic distance and standards.
How can we overcome these challenges and pave the way for the future of community-minded journalism?
Collaboration and peer-to-peer exchange among media professionals is key to keep exploring new opportunities. With this in mind, our upcoming News Impact Summit in Cardiff will be a platform where journalists from across Europe will be able to connect, share and learn methods and tools to build meaningful relations with the audience and strengthen communities through their reporting.
Ahead of the event, we got the chance to talk with two experts about the challenges and opportunities of hyperlocal, community-driven journalism. They are Henning Bulka, Audience Engagement Editor at the Rheinische Post in Germany, and Sophie Casals, journalist at the hyperlocal French newspaper Nice-Matin.
The term hyperlocal journalism reminds of the well-known local journalism. Where do you see the difference between the concepts?
Henning: Local journalism has always been at the core of journalistic work, whether it’s covering a specific city or even a specific district. However, most newspapers or news outlets have to use certain filters of relevance when reporting on stories happening in a city. Is this really relevant to the whole city, or just to one neighbourhood, maybe even just a few people? For me, hyperlocal journalism dismisses those filters of relevance and accepts very small target audiences.
Does this new approach also bring new challenges?
Sophie: For a news organisation, hyperlocal journalism means: having enough staff to deal with news that will be of interest for a small number of readers. The question is: how can we make this profitable?
What can journalists do to come closer to the communities they are addressing?
Sophie: It’s not easy to involve a community. In Nice-Matin, we use our Facebook pages for this. Nevertheless, people might lack confidence to contribute, maybe because in a way they don’t feel they are entitled to be part of a journalistic work. We try to engage them through polls or quizzes. Asking for help is a great way too.
Henning: Journalists should probably do a little less writing and thinking, and a little more listening. Organise local events, invite readers to the newsroom. By doing that, you might develop whole new methods, formats, or products that are much more suitable for your audience.
What do we mean when we talk about “community engagement” in hyperlocal journalism and how can it work?
Sophie: Maybe we — the local or hyperlocal journalists — focus too much on whether the story we’re dealing with is local or hyperlocal. But being close to our readers does not only mean being close to their physical location, but also to their interests. We need to understand better what their needs concerning news are, other than just local proximity.
Henning: Journalists should always work in the name of their audience. Hyperlocal journalism should focus on that even harder, maybe ask for story assignments and discuss very openly about what they write and say.
However, this should not mean that readers can rule over those journalists. If you report on something you know is wrong, you shouldn’t let yourself be easily convinced that it’s right, even if the loudest shouters are your key audience. That might then be the real story.
In which direction will — or should — hyperlocal journalism steer towards in the next years?
Henning: Giving people a voice — if they need it, and finding sustainable business models.
Sophie: Like most journalistic practices, it will need to innovate and understand what our communities really want. And be able to respond to their needs.
Learn more about local journalism and community engagement and get inspired by the brightest minds in this field during our News Impact Summit in Cardiff on 15 October!
All News Impact Summits are free of charge and you can already register via https://newsimpact.io/registration/summit