This morning, the Online Journalism Blog ran an interviewwith the creators of a UK-based hyperlocal news site, South Norwich News. While the model of hyperlocal journalism is controversial (is it needed? is it sustainable?), creator Claire Wood is confident that hyperlocal content is a worthy companion to larger media outlets:
We're very much in the news business but on a very small scale. We wanted to get away from deadlines and pressures that cause papers and news bulletins to churn out the same press releases across the day.
Some big stories we can't avoid covering along with the local paper or radio station, but we always try to find a different angle. There's little point covering the same stories that people can find elsewhere.
As we become more established, it becomes easier to set our own agenda. We aim to delve a little deeper into stories which matter to people locally which other news outlets might not be able to do in such detail.
At the same time, Knight Foundation unveiled the winners of their 2011 Knight News Challenge. While many of the prize recipients focused on the solving some of the complications with online mass media, a few of them were geared more toward smaller, more local journalism projects. This one in particular caught our eye:
Project: OpenBlock Rural
Winner: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Project lead: Ryan Thornburg
Website: jomc.unc.eduTwitter: @rtburg
Rural news organizations often struggle to move into the digital age because they lack the staff to make public data digestible. OpenBlock Rural will work with local governments and community newspapers in North Carolina to collect, aggregate and publish government data, including crime and real estate reports, restaurant inspections and school ratings. In addition, the project aims to improve small local papers' technical expertise and provide a new way to generate revenue.
Small World News is especially interested in localized content, as one of the issues we've consistently grappled with throughout our many projects is getting content not only out of the country, but also to distribute content within the country itself. We're currently investing and exploring different options for offline digital distribution, such as bluetooth, USB drives, and CD/DVD's.
Alive in Libya has been quite successful at bringing the stories of Libyans to the outside world, especially Westerners, but it is still not reaching its full potential when it comes to providing news for citizens living in Libya.
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This morning I sat down with
, Alive in Libya's Bureau Chief in Benghazi, to find out what he had to say about getting local content to the locals themselves.
First of all, why is it that more Libyans aren't watching Alive in Libya right now?
We've been getting a lot of positive feedback from Libyans abroad as well as Libyans here who have managed to get online and watch some videos, or got their hands on our material one way or another. Mainly now most Libyans can't watch because of the lack of internet access.
What kind of news are Libyans most interested in? Local stories or news from outside Libya?
I think there's an audience for each. Libyans have been deprived of active local media for years, they don't know how to feel when they see a report on Alive in Libya that's discussing some issue they're personally dealing with. TV has always been a Gaddafi glorifying instrument, not a way to report about Libyans' day-to-day problems and issues.
Are there ways for the content to reach Libyans without internet access?
As for now we have printed 100 CDs [pre-loaded with Alive in Libya content] to distribute. The more efficient way to get our material to a Libyan audience is to get them on the new Libya TV channels that have been appearing on satellite. We're currently in the process of discussing this matter with a few of these channels.
Are there any issues with these new TV outlets? Are they adequately serving the needs of Libyans?
The channels are very pro-revolution obviously, which sometimes diminishes their value as a news source. I personally do not trust the news I hear on them, they're usually modified to be pro-revolution.
One of the things that the new Libyan channels are suffering from is a common problem among all Arab channels: they just love "analysts" - people who generally tell you how you should view something or how you should feel or react towards it. The people on the streets don't get enough air time. And if they do, the interviewer's questions are usually loaded and end up guiding the person towards a specific answer.
Given an unlimited budget, how would you shape Alive in Libya to better serve citizens inside Libya?
I would put Alive in Libya bureaus in all the major cities [There is only one bureau currently in Benghazi, with one planned in Misrata]. I'd start a TV channel where the time slots are divided among these offices. They'd broadcast what's happening in their region, and their time slot would rotate so no one office gets prime time all the time.
Would you do anything with mobile phones or the internet? Or just bypass those for now until Libya has more access to the internet?
Sadly, Libya is a bit behind when it comes to telecommunication. So if I had unlimited funding, for the time being, I'd focus more on TV.
Of course the bureaus around Libya would still be producing for the Alive in Libya website. And the way mobile phones are changing now, soon you won't have "internet & mobiles" you'll just have internet.
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I appreciate Seraj being able to take time away from his duties to speak with me. This is a conversation that I've had with folks at the Small World News headquarters many times before, and will continue to have into the future.
Figuring out how to make and adequately distribute content relevant to locals will continue to be one of the issues that concerns us, in Libya or any of the other host countries for Alive.In projects. Whether hyperlocal is an adequate model for this kind of journalism remains to be sorted out, but some solution must be devised in order to reach the local citizen themselves, beyond the foreign and western audience.
For more information on the Alive.In projects, visit Alive in Libya, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.