Hyperlocal news: a definition

Image courtesy of PFSK.com.

Image by Minh Uong/The New York Times.

Hyperlocal news is as much as a buzz phrase for those in news media today as anything else — yes, even social media.

But as these things happen, no real definition seems to hit at what we’re talking about, and I was surprised to not be able to easily find someone who tried to give one.

So, expecting some comments to show where I missed one or simply critiquing my own, I humbly submit one, if only for my own understanding.

  • hyperlocal news (n): information gathering about a geographically-specific community that is part or was once part of a broader coverage area or focus.

So here’s what I mean by that. The hyperlocal movement is encapsulating some pretty broad, disparate agendas, from (1) citizen journalists covering their neighborhoods or towns of just a few thousand people or even fewer through to (2) media entrepreneurs who are trying to create news-gathering organizations covering as many as a few hundred thousand people in a specific geographic place — or, you know, data assembled by a computer.

What I think they have in common is the fracturing from or refocusing of an existing coverage area. Maybe a newspaper is struggling to report on a portion of its long-held coverage area with a smaller staff or one has entirely given up a now too-large readership base as too few of them are paying for that news.

Some Examples to help make my definition more clear:

NOT HYPERLOCAL

  • A news site that covers the entire city of Pittsburgh
  • A blog recreating a local newspaper’s coverage of a cluster of towns in Arkansas

YES HYPERLOCAL

  • A citizen journalism project reporting on the east side of Detroit
  • A newspaper beat writer creating a portal for the portion of the county he covers

In each case, someone is seeing a need for more news and finding value in making in narrower. Whether that blog or news site is covering a part of a city that isn’t getting the same coverage from the big daily newspaper or a small town that doesn’t get much attention from a regional news source, it doesn’t really matter, what is meaningful to me is that someone narrowed a coverage area to create a new product with a more specified audience.

While there’s value in thinking of this coverage as being simply that which is narrow in focus to be very often uninteresting for anyone unaffiliated to the specific community, it doesn’t differentiate enough from small town newspapers. That’s local news. Hyperlocal is the further fracture of even local news.

I’ll add that I believe hyperlocal is exclusively the domain of geography. While a site covering knitters in Philadelphia certainly fractures it audience, it doesn’t fracture it by geography. Now, a blog handling community events following knitters in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia would, in my opinion, count, if only because of the neighborhood divide and not the knitting.

I don’t think profit or motivation much matters just yet at this stage of the form’s development. The citizen journalist blogging about his neighborhood to the professional media entrepreneur who is building a business around an underserved rural county can be working in the hyperlocal field by my sight.

Now, the argument can be made that anything is fracturing broader coverage. Domestic news is more focused than international news. Citywide news is smaller than the national wire. It simply becomes a question of intentions. If it’s a Web product that is recreating a printed or other news source, then I don’t think it’s really at its heart hyperlocal.

If you’re narrowing the focus to improve upon other coverage, then hyperlocal we have.

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So  — in fewer words, I hope — what is your definition of hyperlocal news? Where are some other good definitions

Image courtesy of N.Y Times

a geographically-specific community
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  • http://www.attentionmax.com Max Kalehoff

    Your definition of hyperlocal news makes sense — for news. The “hyper” part still throws me off thought. It’s excessive language when you can simply say local, or location-based. However, so much of local-oriented services is about more than just news gathering or media. There’s a huge tie-in to information and commerce commerce as well.

  • http://talkaboutlocal.org william perrin

    interesting – not jsut narrowing though – also deepening. trad news media has always served artificial news geographies defined by commerce or cable/electromagnetic transmission geography. easy to use web tools allow peoepl to find human or social news geographies that suit them, rather than some distant corporate types.
    in London UK my kingscross site http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com has produced almost 800 articles since 2006 on an area one mile long by half a mile wide. in that time the trad media would have produced maybe 20.

  • http://www.myreporter.com Vaughn Hagerty

    Max makes a good point, especially in terms of information. I like to think of it like this: Traditional news is like the naked eye. Hyperlocal is a microscope. What’s interesting about the subject you’re looking at — a butterfly, for example — is completely different depending on which one you use.

    For hyperlocal, I like to use the pothole example. A pothole in front of your house is of zero interest to me. When it’s in my neighborhood, that pothole becomes, well, fascinating, possibly even more fascinating than the news story or blog or tweet that you’ve geotagged as belonging to my neighborhood.

    I think the mistake that most people are making with hyperlocal sites is that they’re putting way too much focus on “news” stories/blogs/tweets and way too little on these sorts of “cellular” aspects that become visible — and interesting — when you apply the microscope of hyperlocal.

  • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

    @Max I definitely think there is a difference between hyperlocal and just local, despite the buzzy trend of the word’s use, and that’s fracturing an existing local coverage.

    @William makes a good point that that fracturing, though, should, yes, also involve a deepening, which is possible because the reporter/editor should know that hyperlocal coverage area even better.

    @Vaughn I agree that a real value of hyperlocal news can involve actionable movement, as in focusing on that pothole just might actually see it fixed, while broader media often gets swallowed up in bigger issues. Still, I think always a part of hyperlocal should be a complete coverage of an area, but that should be every resource, from the news to the actionable.

    Thanks everyone for reading and weighing in!

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  • http://www.hyperlocalnews.fr HyperLocalNews.fr

    Hi from south of France :) Quite good definition, yes. But more than a buzz word, hyperlocal journalism approach will make sense if journos use the right tools, with the right point of view that the audience cant’t find in the local papers. http://fr.flavors.me/dimino