I just read another news story that quotes a media company using the term “hyper-local”.
Can someone explain to me what the heck this term is supposed to mean? I’ve
looked far and wide over the Internet Googled for an explanation, and many of the “definitions” include words like “paradigm” that sound like they explain things but really don’t. In the end all I could find was that “hyper-local” meant “local news”. So why not just call it that? Why make up a new word for something that already exists and has been done for centuries?
Of course, the answer is it’s mostly marketingese, a way for newspaper companies to sound like they’re doing something new and exciting while they cut staff in their newsrooms.
Newspapers can no longer afford to each have their own foreign bureaus. So they concentrate their reporters locally, covering news that they can’t get from wire services. Maybe they’ll have one writer in the state/province or national capital, one on special assignment and one travelling with the local sports team. The rest comes from services like Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse who provide truckloads of content for a hefty annual fee.
(TV is even worse, with a handful of local and national reporters repackaging what was in the newspaper that morning. Most radio newsrooms, meanwhile, consist of a guy reading articles from the local newspaper on air — and maybe crediting the source)
So what’s new then, if reporters are already focused on local stories?
Well, there’s a trend toward “citizen journalism”, in which newspapers setup community websites and encourage its citizens to provide the site with free content. Then they can fire reporters who have the audacity to expect payment for their work.
From a business perspective, it sounds fantastic. It’s cheap, it’s new, and it’s local, so there’s less likely to be a lot of competition.
But from a journalistic perspective, it’s a nightmare: a race to the bottom to see how much news can be “crowdsourced” freely to the community. Investigative journalism, feature writing, fact-checking and objectivity thrown out the window in favour of political name-calling, thinly-veiled press releases and dozens of uninteresting opinions about the plot developments of prime-time TV shows.
Perhaps I’m being a bit too idealistic, but I’m not that worried. Most media companies don’t have the online expertise to understand how to make these websites work. They underestimate the amount of competition they’ll have for even the smallest markets, and they overestimate the quality of journalism that crowdsourcing can provide. They think they can replicate a for-profit version of Wikipedia (or, more accurately, Wikinews) without any incentives for contribution.
What I am worried about is how much further big media is going to sink in quality before real, quality competition from new media starts to emerge. My blog can’t compete with over a hundred experienced journalists at the local paper. But when the local paper is down to three interns and a web forum, that’s going to change.