Hyperlocal News Reporting: What Is It, How Does it Work?

By Caroline Jumpertz

Caroline Jumpertz, Neighborhood Life & Features Editor for DNAinfo.com, a hyperlocal news website in New York City, talks about what hyperlocal means, why hyperlocal reporting is working in a city of nine million people, and how it could work in Australia, too.

Hyperlocal news is more than a buzzword — it’s a genuine attempt to ground reporting in the neighbourhoods where people live their lives.

Whether it’s at DNAinfo.com New York, where I work, or Nearsay, or one of the many other online start-ups attempting their own version of the hyperlocal model, it’s a trend that has emerged gradually and taken root very quickly in this city of nine million people.

In the week that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post became public knowledge, it’s worth reflecting on the meeting of new and old media — and hyperlocal online news is very much at this intersection.

When it’s done well, hyperlocal news has the old-school chops of ‘shoe-leather’ newspaper reporting, combined with the nimble speed of online publishing.

When a major news event occurs, such as Superstorm Sandy in New York City in October of 2012, hyperlocal reporters across the boroughs covered the story online from Staten Island to Far Rockaway, managing regular updates, while traditional print publications struggled just to get a paper out.

It’s not rocket science to realise that people want to know what is going on in their neighbourhood. The trick to it is working out how to deliver it to them — which, to me, means covering the neighbourhoods to the most exhaustive degree possible, with a lean and tailored approach.

Often it’s simply a matter of walking the streets and spotting a trend, a quirky sign, talking to a shopkeeper, and finding a story that way. Our best stories grow from the ground up.

It is a balancing act, as anyone who has worked at a community newspaper would attest, to allow many voices in the story without giving too much oxygen to NIMBYs, or any other vested interests. It’s a matter of digging up all sides of the issue and reporting it out.

When hyperlocal stories work and get traction, it’s usually through straight, factual, multi-source stories that speak to people about their neighbourhood and the community with which they identify themselves.

People catch the subway, but they also drive and they use the city’s new bike shares — there are always new ideas or developments to directly affect their day to day lives in a meaningful way.

In a time of punditry and opinion, people have many options if they want to find slanted writing. There are aggregators and agenda-driven bloggers all over the internet. In the US specifically, but not solely, the service of providing news without an agenda attached is a strong platform for hyperlocals.

It is a model that could be applied anywhere — particularly places where people have a strong sense of neighbourhood, suburb or community.

Do Melbourne’s locals from St. Kilda think they are different to South Yarra folks? Do people from the leafy northern Sydney suburb of Mosman have different obsessions to those from the inner-west? Are there stories that will affect everyone, across the city, but in different ways? If you think the answer is yes to any of these questions, then chances are, the hyperlocal news model can work in Australia.

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