12 May 2009

Northcliffe Set to Trial Hyperlocal Sites

Thirty new local Northcliffe sites combining citizen journalism, blogging and Facebook-style social networking will go live next month, according to an item posted to journalism.co.uk.

The initial six-month trial of hyperlocal websites will target towns with populations of 10,000 to 40,000 people that currently have no dedicated local newspaper or website, said Seamus McCauley, strategic analyst at Associated Northcliffe Digital.

"There is a real fear in the journalism industry about the future of local newsgathering. This at the moment is our hope for the answer," McCauley told an audience at City University. "In every town, there will already be a person who writes match reports for football games, businesses who like to talk about their work, churches who host events every week. We want to co-ordinate that activity."

He said the sites will be overseen by "community publishers", whose role will be to keep discussion live and active, oversee content, and provide fresh information. "To make this work, it's crucial to have people on the ground who can find, generate and curate the content," McCauley said.

The sites will be powered by social networking software and by Northcliffe's own news generation facilities. A central moderation team will monitor output across the network and advise the community publishers.

The 30 sites scheduled to launch in June will be concentrated in the southwest of England, from Gloucestershire to Cornwall, including 10 towns around Bristol.

McCauley said the new hyperlocal sites would not compete with its existing network of regional websites under the "thisis" brand. Northcliffe also publishes a series of postcode sites, automatically fed by content from a local title.

"In every town, sooner or later a big issue comes up, and local people will try and knock up a website very quickly. We want to set up these sites so that when an issue arises, they're already there," he said. "But they will also be a place to discuss minor issues and news. Newswires don't localise to that level, and there are no aggregators that provide anything sensible for smaller towns.

"The question is, can we get a certain proportion of a town's population onto each site? This launch will show us."

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