The idea of providing news on a hyperlocal level has attracted much attention over the past year as news outlets look at how to tackle the ubiquity of free online news and try to find something that they can offer that is unique. In parts of the US, hyperlocal outfits are now plentiful, both start-ups and those run by traditional news organisations. In Europe, growth has been slower, but notable projects include Futuroom/Nase adresa in the Czech Republic (disclosure: WEF has been involved in the project as a consultant) and moves by various UK publishers to expand their offerings on a very local level.
And now it appears that the Netherlands is to see an attempt to integrate hyperlocal news more deeply into the news landscape. Bart Brouwers, former editor-in-chief of Dutch tabloid Sp!ts, recently made the decision to move away from print journalism after 25 years and start an online-only network of hyperlocal news outlets. The Editors Weblog spoke to Brouwers to find out more about his plans.
Brouwers himself made the decision to move into the hyperlocal field, and was prepared to do this alone, but his employer Telegraaf Media Groep decided to take on the project and appointed Brouwers to the newly-created position of managing editor of a digital network of hyperlocal news and information platforms. He hopes that his network can spread throughout the Netherlands.
Hyperlocal news is the future, believes Brouwers, because despite newspapers' problems with subscribers and advertisers, there is still a huge public need for information and people have a desire to inform others and thinks that "could be done in the best way on a very local level." It is on this level that people both need specific information, and have information that they can share with others in the community.
The idea for the network would be that it would ideally incorporate existing local bloggers and user interactivity would play a major role. One of the principles which Brouwers is working under is that an article is not finished when a journalist presses the publish button; rather, the process is just starting. "Every journalist must be aware that there will always be more knowledge out there than he could have found on his own, it's just a matter of finding the right people." So Brouwers wants to create some kind of system whereby people add to what has been provided by the journalists. The network is as yet unnamed, but Brouwers hopes to incorporate this idea of "not finished yet" into its name.
Brouwers feels that a hyperlocal network has the potential to make money from highly targeted advertising. Paid content is a possibility, but it would not be the basis of the network's revenue stream: "maybe 90% of what we are doing will be free." With regards to advertising, Brouwers thinks that there is potential for more innovative and profitable methods. "I do believe in intelligent ways of mixing advertising with journalistic content," he said, "as long as you are able to stay independent and be clear to your audience what is paid for." He referred to the way that True/Slant incorporates advertising: the ads are written in a blog style and provide more information than a banner or pop-up ad could, but they are clearly distinguished from other content (see here for an example.)
The type of advertising platform and audience that Brouwers hopes to offer could particularly appeal to local and regional governments, he said. "For them it's very worthwhile to get a very targeted audience for everything that they want to inform their citizens with."
The Telegraaf Media Groep has the advantage of already having a significant presence in the news landscape of the Netherlands, and Brouwers hopes that his new network can collaborate with Telegraaf's more traditional properties. He realises, however, that his platform is going to be very different, and also that the Telegraaf newspapers will be careful about how much of their content they give away.
As yet, many details of Brouwers' project need to be finalised and it is impossible to predict whether or not he will be successful. His idea has similarities to the redefined news eco-system proposed by Jeff Jarvis, where citizen journalists would be seen as important collaborators in the process of news distribution. These ideas make financial sense in the way that they plan to make use of information willingly provided for nothing by members of the public. And taking note of the fact that no one journalist knows as much as the community about what is going on seems wise. A fool-proof business model is yet to be found for hyperlocal news, but if such experimentation proves successful, it might well have an important role to play in the future of news.