ON THE MEDIA: “Maybe we  —  the local or hyperlocal journalists  —  focus too much on whether the story we’re dealing with is local or hyperlocal”

May 10, 2018

By Shan Wang, May 7, 2018, for NiemanLab

Journalism as an institution has a trust problem. Hyperlocal news organizations seem well-positioned to address problem areas: The coverage is centered around what’s relevant to a clearly defined, narrower community.

As part of the European Journalism Center’s work setting up News Impact Academies — promising hands-on trainings and networking for European newsrooms — EJC chatted with Henning Bulka, audience engagement editor for the German regional daily Rheinische Post and Sophie Casals, a reporter at Nice-Matin, a French regional daily. Some of the things they said should resonate with everyone in journalism looking to improve their relationships with the communities they cover.

“Journalists should probably do a little less writing and thinking, and a little more listening,” Bulka said. “Organize local events, invite readers to the newsroom. By doing that, you might develop whole new methods, formats, or products that are much more suitable for your audience.”

How does a local news outlet encourage more hesitant members of the community to participate in the journalism process?

“It’s not easy to involve a community. In Nice-Matin, we use our Facebook pages for this. Nevertheless, people might lack confidence to contribute, maybe because in a way they don’t feel they are entitled to be part of a journalistic work,” Casals said. “We try to engage them through polls or quizzes. Asking for help is a great way too.”

“Journalists should always work in the name of their audience,” Bulka added. “Hyperlocal journalism should focus on that even harder, maybe ask for story assignments and discuss very openly about what they write and say.”

Think not just about local relevance in terms of geographical parameters, but in terms of the specific concerns local readers want addressed.

“Maybe we  —  the local or hyperlocal journalists  —  focus too much on whether the story we’re dealing with is local or hyperlocal,” Casals said. “But being close to our readers does not only mean being close to their physical location, but also to their interests. We need to understand better what their needs concerning news are, other than just local proximity.”

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