BBC seeks views of community news websites and bloggers

Controller of English Regions

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It’s no secret that news and how, when and where people consume it has dramatically changed. In the past decade alone the choice and type of outlets have proliferated, with traditional media owners no longer always the go to choice for audiences.

If, like me, you are in the business of local news, you will know that ‘hyperlocal’ websites and bloggers are in part changing the face of this sector. But what does hyperlocal actually mean? Well, it can be as local as your street – or - as your village, town, or city. 

The BBC is certainly not hyperlocal or anywhere near it, and we have no hyperlocal ambitions for our news services. Stories on our local BBC News websites are published on indexes that follow the Local Radio map – a map built around counties and conurbations.

So, as an example we have a radio station and online news index that serves Sheffield and South Yorkshire. It's an area with a proud heritage and a strong identity. Listen to Radio Sheffield and instantly the presenters tell you that you could be nowhere else in the country. But hyperlocal? Well this area includes Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and a host of smaller places.

Local newspapers serve all these towns and many others and they publish thousands more stories than the BBC every week. But in recent years joining the newspapers are this new type of local news publisher – often just one person – offering news and views about what’s happening where they live online.  

There are large hyperlocals that cover entire cities such as Birmingham Updates that has nearly 60,000 Twitter followers and 180,000 Facebook likes. Then there are those that cover a very small patch like bournvillevillage.com, also in Birmingham. Whilst others like parwich.org cover villages such as Parwich in the Peak District.

At the last audit, from 2014, there were 408 hyperlocal bloggers operating in the country, and the trend is definitely moving up. This year Talk about Local and the Carnegie Trust will publish an updated register of hyperlocal sites, and early indications show that this number will have gone up significantly.

In 2012 Ofcom said that community news websites are growing in popularity, with seven per cent of adults in the UK currently accessing them once a week or more, and 14 per cent at least monthly. You can bet that this will go up at the next count too.

Some of the most successful hyperlocal sites often combine web operations with free printed newspapers: Brixton BlogKentishtowner and Tyburn Mail all take this successful approach. But many are standalone sites and blogs.

Last year at the BBC we ran a conference called The Revival of Local Journalism.  Since that conference I have been chairing a Local Journalism Working Group, with representatives from many of the local news organisations, that has wrestled with how the BBC can best help and how the sector can develop a more unified voice. 

The next step in this journey is to look we can partner with the hyperlocal community. As Controller of BBC English Regions I am personally committed to supporting a healthy local news sector, with a plurality of media outlets that offer a diverse range of views.

So, we are working hard to ensure all voices from across the diverse landscape of local and regional media are included in our conversations about how we work best together to serve audiences.

The growth in numbers of community news providers - often the closest source of information to their audience - should be properly reflected in these conversations. I believe their role in connecting to local audiences is crucial to the BBC's understanding of the changing ways audiences consume and engage with news and information in their local area.

This is why I’m keen to work more closely with the hyperlocal sector, as well as continuing partnership working with local newspapers through improved links from the BBC News website to their strongest stories.

Today in Birmingham, where English Regions HQ is based, I will meet with a group of hyperlocal publishers to set out how the BBC is proposing to partner with this burgeoning area of citizen engagement.

The aim of these proposals is to strengthen links between the BBC, hyperlocals and other established forms of local media, as well as directing BBC audiences to the best stories online and ensuring the right credit is given to external news sources.

We’re also seeking views on our proposals from hyperlocal bloggers across the country. So if you are a hyperlocal publisher please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

David Holdsworth is Controller of BBC English Regions

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