Way above the Arctic Circle in an island community in Northern Norway, one of the hottest trends in journalism research is unfolding. They do not call it hyper local, and they do not try particularly hard to be trendy. But they might just be the ones who have understood the value and strength of the local community when making a sustainable business model for news.
The online only newspaper VOL.no covers the area of Vesterålen, a space inhabiting around 30 000 people. Every day 20 000 of them checks in on average five times at the website, giving the site a daily visitor rate of 100 000. Not bad for a community online paper. The whole revenue comes from local and regional advertisement. At a time when the mainstream media in Norway is laying people off on a regular basis, VOL.no is hiring.
Wait, But Why?
– People come to our website because they know we are good on event news, such as fires, car crashes and accidents. We have good strategies to get the articles out when events like that happen. If we are able to catch the reader with the first short update, they will come back to our page for more information later. Policemen off duty in the area come to out website to stay updated, says news editor Sanna Drogset Børstad.
The importance of the community is not to be missed, as it is the make or break for hyper local news. VOL.no has managed to become a vital part of people´s news habit in the area of Vesterålen, because the news site covers local peoples lives. The articles are on topics that people in the community care about and can relate to. These are the stories never covered by national newspapers based in the capital.
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Engaging in the News Making
When people care, they also engage:
– We have a big network in the community, and often it is the people that come to us with the stories. We even have people driving after the police cars to take pictures for us if they are out on the road when something happens, says Børstad.
However, she underlines that all the content goes through a journalist to be verified before ending up in the news section.
In addition to news, the website also offers a buy and sell page called the Jungle Telegraph and a culture calendar for the region. The online site has managed to make itself relevant to the community. It has become relevant by focusing on what the journalism research center Nieman Lab calls granular coverage. This coverage refers to all the bits and pieces about local people´s lives, which makes the local online paper so important to the community it serves
The Inherent Problem
The name hyper local itself also states its inherent limitation. This is local news; it does not cover national or international news. If the goal for a democratic society is to have a well-informed citizenry, then hyper local news cannot be the only answer to the future of journalism. What´s happening on the road and who wins the local election is not enough to stay on top of world events and the consequences of them. However, in combination with media covering the national and the international, hyper local can be a part of the solution.
So although the hyper local might be an answer for a part of the problem, there is still a need for the mainstream media to find its new sustainable model of making money in the digital age.
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