Hyperlocal news outlets failing to maintain focus on communities they cover, research shows
This is a sneak peek at research to be presented June 3-4, 2017 at “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future,” a conference hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Click here to learn more and register.
By SPENCER TURCOTTE
Hyperlocal news publications are turning out to be “not all that local,” says a researcher who looks at the geography of news at the community level.
Carrie Buchanan, a journalism professor at John Carroll University, says that she expected hyperlocal news publications, which often focus on a small suburb or neighbourhood in a larger city, to be better than their metropolitan media counterparts at helping foster identity in local communities.
But since they often do not, as she has found, it can mean real consequences for civic engagement.
“A sense of place is crucial to me,” said Buchanan of the feeling of identifying with a place through residing there.
“If people don’t feel connected to the place where they live and they don’t have a sense of that place being distinct from others, they won’t care about it and they won’t be involved.”
Buchanan began her research project “Sense of place in three hyperlocal publications” in 2013 to see how hyperlocal outlets construct this type of identification compared to major metropolitan newspapers. She set out to analyze the content produced by competing hyperlocal news sites based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. As she’ll explain at the June conference Is no local new bad news? Local journalism and its future, naming more nonlocal places than local ones may be damaging to a community.
Buchanan, working with a coder, tracked the names of places mentioned in publications’ stories, mapping which locations were and were not from the community.
She said that she was shocked to discover that among the three publications, only one of them named more local places than nonlocal ones.
The outlet she credits as being truly hyperlocal is the Heights Observer, a publication run by citizen journalists. According to Buchanan, it was doing better than its competitors – Patch.com and the Sun Press – at “maintain[ing] the local” despite the “intrusions” of nonlocal stories throughout hyperlocal news at the time of the study.
There needs to be a sense of urgency, said Buchanan, when it comes to sustaining news at the hyperlocal level.
She said she learned many students she taught last fall did not know who was running for office locally because almost all news coverage involved the United States presidential race.
Accordingly, Buchanan also says she is concerned that without hyperlocal news, people would be deprived of their connection to the community.
“The United States are losing their local news the same way Canadians are, but they don’t really know it yet,” said Buchanan.
“I’m trying to convince Americans that this matters.”