I’ve spent the day at the very excellent news:rewired conference organised by the good folks at journalism.co.uk. Lot’s of interesting people and discussions. But I found one thing very frustrating. (actually I found it infuriating and apparently went a shade of purple not often seen)
It seems that some of the breakout sessions descended in to ‘arguments’ generated around an issue which can be best summed up as the “but they are not journalists” argument. The afternoon session on hyperlocal I sat in on certainly fell victem.
We had the whole gamut of arguments including a number of the old favourites, my personal fave was “someone holding a camera is not a photographer”. Erm…yes they are but…I found it frustrating because I thought we had moved on from this. By the time we got to the ‘close the BBC and local newspapers will thrive’ stage I lost my patience and my contribution reflects that. But I realise that was naive and a little unfair.
Given the painful restructuring in the industry at the moment it’s perfectly understandable that people will be looking at where the pinch is. Adam Tinworth made a good point to me that in terms of the stages of loss at least they had moved on to anger from denial. But I realised that it’s not really fair of me to dismiss that out of hand. I should have sat on my hands.
What did become clear to me is a growing divergence in the way hyperlocal and community are being defined and applied. Let me expand.
For me hyperlocal is now best defined by outfits like the Lichfield blog, represented at the session by Philip John. It’s content built on social capital. People are involved because it means something to them other than just a job or brand. Money is second to social status or altruistic motivation.
In contrast we could say that (in the context of the future of journalism) community is a strategy employed by media organisations and the journalists within them to engage with audience. Money is a defining commodity here in terms of starting it and sustaining it. Whether it’s to use that community to newsgather/crowdsource or to bolster the brand.
Both have economies of scale.
A hyperlocal site can only be so big. It will eventually get to a point where it demands more time and resources than volunteers can sustain. The economics of altruism only stretch so far. They can be be satisfied with ‘big enough’ or look at alternatives. Communities can, perversely, be too big to manage for large organisations, they cost too much for little return. In the context of profit and investment the economics don’t work
Both are different.
This inherent difference of motivation and a definition of the economic (investment and return) is becoming increasingly clear (and more so in the debate today) and in that a truth is evident. Hyperlocal websites are not a solution for media organisations who are struggling. You can not fill the gap that hyperlocal sites are starting to fill. A good community strategy may work but your core motivations make it different.
But just as hyperlocal is not the solution it’s also not the cause of the problems.
The truth is that the shift is creating a lot of friction (it’s perhaps bad taste to refer to shifting tectonic plates) and I think thats what created a lot of the ‘grief’ in the sessions.
There was a lot of criticism of hyperlocal as undermining/stealing/destroying journalism; you know the arguments. Likewise the crowd sourcing session seemed to descend in to sa similar semantic debate. As Adam reports:
There’s an undercurrent of hostility to the very idea of calling these contributors to crowd-sourced journalism “journalists” in any way – and that it’s under-mining credibility. In answer, people are suggestion that people can become journalists for single events – one time they happen to be at the right place at the right time.
But growing difference between parish pump websites and the local media, between community and audience, suggests that even discussing hyperlocal and community together is, perhaps, a mistake at a journalism conference.
The motivations, models and practice, it seems from the tone of the debate, are just too different.