Before the Easter break, my attention in the Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield turned back to one of my favourite topics, hyperlocal media. In a past life I set up and ran Saddleworth News, which well over eight years later continues as one of the UK’s leading examples of independent local media (I can’t claim any credit for most of that!). The sector is still as interesting to me now as it was then, even if it has far less of the ‘flavour of the month’ feeling in media circles than it did in 2010.
It has attracted academic interest over the years, not least from Andy Williams of Cardiff University and Dave Harte of Birmingham City who, along with Rachel Howells, former editor of a hyperlocal in Port Talbot who completed a PhD on the subject, have written a book about it which is due out in the summer. It should be great.
Looking at the sector today, and encouraging students to find sites local to their hometowns in the seminars, it was fascinating to see just how much it continues to thrive. On websites, blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, covering villages, suburbs, towns and more, some updated daily, others rarely, some defunct, others thriving, the world of hyperlocal has perhaps proved more resilient than some of us feared, especially when it became harder for smaller publishers to get any play at all in Facebook newsfeeds.
The forebears of hyperlocal websites are probably the alternative papers and fanzines which flourished during the latter part of the last century. The slow death and eventual collapse of the alternative printed press from the late 70s through the 1980s is apparently not really being repeated with hyperlocal, though. This is no doubt because of lower costs and barriers to entry, and perhaps too because sites today are less keen to focus on politics and antagonism down at the town hall, than providing timely information about events of an ultra-local interest. I’m looking forward to still reading hyperlocals in decades to come.