Entrepreneurial thinking and community involvement are crucial to sustaining a hyperlocal site, said Bart Brouwers, managing editor for hyperlocal online Dichtbij of Dutch Telegraaf Media Group.
He was speaking at the 6th WAN-IFRA Summer University in Paris, which focuses on local and hyperlocal content as strategies for newspapers to be successful in the new media world.
Dichtbij, which in English means "close to me", started in 2010 with 4 pilot sites aiming to be a "hyperlocal, hyperpersonal, hypersocial platform for every Dutch citizen". It has gone national over the past year, after having thought about a sustainable business model based upon the above mentioned pilot-learnings sites and passing from 10 to more than 100 staff.
Think niche, as hyperlocal journalism is a niche, get personal, work form where your audience is, be social and act social, publish real-time and be easy-to-use are some of the guidelines Brouwers pointed out from dichtbij's experience.
Traditional journalists' commitments - obligation to the truth, loyalty to the citizens, verification, independence - still stay relevant in the new media world but what's really shaping journalism's future in Brouwers' opinion is attitude. An attitude, he said, that reflects the needs and the opportunities of the community journalists are working with.
Brouwers emphasized integrating the community, as newspapers no longer "own" knowledge, but must combine their skills with the communities' tips and stories. Dichtbij is not afraid to reach out to the community and is open to connections and opportunities that emerge. Citizens can post stories about business experiences or events, and dichtbij responds. The site prioritizes openness over moderation, and even replies to posts criticizing the paper rather than removing them.
Brouwers stressed also the importance of not being afraid of making mistakes but to be ready to correct them as soon as one is discovered.
What journalists should really focus on, in Brouwers' opinion, both thinking and acting in a more entrepreneurial way. It's essential to come up with a business model before starting a hyperlocal project, he said.
Dichtbij's journalists have found innovative ways to monetize stories while maintaining their responsibility to the truth. Occasionally, advertisers, shop owners, or event sponsors are included in articles relevant to their businesses, as part of what Brouwers described as "integrated content." They pay for the exposure, but dichtbij is transparent with these interactions, linking to the businesses and not including stories on the site if they would not be reported otherwise. This "grey area between editorial and commercial" contributes 40% of dichtbij's revenue.
Beyond sponsorship, dichtbij emphasizes community management. Community managers deal with both marketers and journalists, focusing on niche reporting to appeal directly to readers and interest advertisers.
By thinking through its business model and committing to the community, dichtbij is generating money and attracting readers, proving that hyperlocal has both an audience and potential revenue streams.