This article present data from a new mapping of Norwegian online hyperlocals, defined as local online news sites that are indigenous to the web. From an understanding of local news markets as organised social fields with great barriers to entry, we discuss the hyperlocals’ locations and business models against the system of existing print-based local newspapers and analyse four cases of successful start-ups. We have identified 67 Norwegian hyperlocals. While most new start-ups tend to avoid direct competition with legacy print media, hyperlocals operate in all kinds of municipalities. While most of them follow a low-cost strategy based upon a large degree of “self-exploitation” by the editors, a total of 19 hyperlocals create sufficient income to run professional news operations. These operations are typically being started while legacy media has been going through economic crises. Even then, there are substantial barriers to market entry. Highly dedicated and earth-bound entrepreneurs seem to be a prerequisite for success.
Jaana Hujanen, Katja Lehtisaari, Carl-Gustav Lindén and Mikko Grönlund
In the Nordic countries, local and regional newspapers have functioned as keystone media. This article examines the emergence of hyperlocal initiatives as part of evolving local media ecosystems in Finland, analysing the extent and characteristics of hyperlocal media, and how they relate to wider changes in the Finnish media ecosystem. The data gathered on hyperlocal initiatives include a semi-structured survey by phone and online. The research conducted shows that the field is diverse. Rather than considering hyperlocal media in the context of typical publication forms, these newcomers can be best described according to a set of dimensions. Furthermore, the results indicate rather a strong desire to engage people in community building. The emergence of hyperlocal publications means adding a new layer to the Finnish media ecosystem. This development also provides the grounds for further study of the possible emergence of a new media era in Finland.
Local news media in Western countries are undergoing major changes, including cutbacks, centralisation and consolidation. In this study, Sweden has been scanned to map the presence of digital hyperlocal media and to investigate which online channels of communication they offer their readers, in order to determine their set-up for democratic functions. The results reveal that very few hyperlocals are positioned in rural areas; instead, the majority of them favour metropolitan or urban municipalities. The hyperlocal media presence on social networks is limited to a few platforms, and about half of the hyperlocals offer commentary fields on their news sites. As the democratic structure varies, coupled with the fact that hyperlocals favour high-density population municipalities where traditional media already exist, this study indicates that the democracy dialogue in the local public sphere may be at risk.
Probing the news gap that hyperlocal media are supposed to fill
Michael Karlsson and Erika Hellekant Rowe
Editorial offices are being shut down in small municipalities, raising the question of whether hyperlocal media can fill the gap left by legacy media. However, very little is known about the shape of this gap and thus to what extent it can be filled by hyperlocal media. To inform this line of research, this study asks: what happens to the news coverage of a municipality when there is no permanent presence of journalists? A quantitative content analysis (N = 606), measuring news topics, framing, style, original reporting and sourcing practices, was performed regarding the news coverage of 12 Swedish municipalities – six with editorial offices of a legacy media organisation and six without. The results indicate that municipalities receive less original coverage, community news receives less attention and institutional actors are quoted more often when there is no permanent presence of journalists. Implications for communities and hyperlocal media are discussed.
Legacy media and social media are intertwined in a complicated relationship in local media ecologies. The recent national Swedish SOM survey on media use shows that people use Facebook more than local newspapers (both paper and online) to stay up to date with local events. In contrast, though, users still regard legacy media like subscription newspapers and the regional public service as more important sources than social media. Local newspapers are experiencing a decline in their number of users, but new hyperlocals are showing more stable numbers. Nevertheless, newspapers produce most of the original news reporting, and the public service and hyperlocals have more complementary positions in local media ecologies. They are all meeting the audience in the expanding public sphere of Facebook.
Entrepreneurial processes and passions of online news start-ups
This article examines motivations, rewards and strategies in hyperlocal news entrepreneurship. The material is an interview study with eight entrepreneurs who independently own and manage hyperlocal news sites in Sweden. The conclusion is that the means of the hyperlocal entrepreneur both motivate and create an obstacle for growth. The findings of struggling business models, self-exploitation and civic motivations correspond with previous research in different countries, but alternative perspectives are suggested drawing from theories of entrepreneurial passion and processes. Civic motivations can be viewed as part of entrepreneurial passion, and the precarious nature as a low-risk effectuation process. The effectuator explores possible outcomes of given means and builds the business by controlling the affordable loss rather than calculating the possible return. Along with the obvious difficulty in finding a profitable business model when operating in a very small market, this implies a new perspective on failure and success in hyperlocal entrepreneurship, but also underlines that any measures of support for the sector need to be easily accessible for the individual entrepreneur.
The purpose of this article is to shed light on a new phenomenon in the media landscape, namely public organisations taking on the role of news producers. The analysis focuses on the digital news site VGRfokus, which is run by the Swedish county council Region Västra Götaland (VGR). The articulated goal of VGRfocus is to fill a perceived news gap in the county. Using previous literature on hyperlocal media as a lens for the analysis, we discuss how a regional news outlet produced by a public organisation can be characterised and understood. Based on our case study, we show that, while VGRfokus partly resembles other newcomers, it also has features that make it a very special news producer. This distinctiveness relates in particular to the fact that VGRfokus is part of a large, public organisation and holds ambitions to promote the work of the county council and represent its geographical area. This places issues concerning trustworthiness and credibility at the centre of the discussion and raises questions about democratic implications.
Hyperlocal media are increasingly prominent in local media ecologies. However, economic pressures are their biggest challenge and are therefore our main thematic. The study is based on empirical data from 35 hyperlocals in Sweden, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. We present a conceptual framework of viable, sustainable and resilient models and find that hyperlocals are diversifying their revenues. Drawing on business ecosystems as a theoretical approach, we find these hyperlocals are surviving by forging symbiotic relationships with media, businesses, advertisers and communities in their environment. With its focus on imbalanced and evolving relations, the approach offers a broad framework to explain how hyperlocal business models are developing through a dynamic system of proximal interdependencies. The results contribute to new knowledge by explaining the revenue diversification of hyperlocals in the digital ecosystemic space.