When I left the world of TV news 9 years ago, regional broadcasting had already started its slow and drawn out decline.
I’d witnessed, first-hand, Granada closing its Albert Dock studios in Liverpool, Meridian axing its Newbury newsroom and decimating its Maidstone centre.
I’d also experienced (at ITN and Channel 5) the regional TV news cull having an effect on national output. With fewer local reporters to call on, national correspondents were bearing the brunt, having to cover a wider area under increasing pressure.
Redundancies, closures, cutbacks: not just a TV phenomenon – but a newspaper one too. And, the real victims were the communities these local news outlets were supposed to serve.
From a selfish perspective, I couldn’t help but think I’d got out at the right time.
But for viewers who were increasingly finding themselves forced to watch ‘local’ people and news far removed from where they lived – there was no escape. The damage was done. For them, local journalism was dead, along with the connection and sense of belonging that their old news service provided.
Fast forward a few years and, behold, there is a saviour in the midst. Hello hyper-local and a warm welcome to community journalism!
Online news sites, covering extremely small geographical areas are popping up faster than you can say “micro-blogging” – and they seem to be plugging the gaps.
Thanks to the digital/social media revolution, and cloud-based computing, it’s now ‘power to the people’. Individuals are creating their own bespoke offerings. They’re focusing on news that’s relevant to their real-life neighbours – areas the TV and newspaper groups long abandoned.
But can these micro news services really satisfy in the long term?
Can they truly compensate for the death of their professional forefathers?
And, can they provide a sustainable business model for start-ups and the self-employed – generating cash, as well as kudos?
Step forward Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and the legend that is Professor Richard Sambrook (former BBC Head of Global News). He and his team have set up the Centre for Community Journalism which is devoted to professionalising ‘hyperlocal’ – through research, training and enabling strong networks of community news hubs. The service looks excellent.
But what’s particularly impressive is that they are offering a FREE online course in community journalism for anyone who wants to sign up. Called a MOOC (aka Massive Open Online Course), it starts on Monday 14 April, runs for five weeks and requires around 4 hours of study time per week.
No doubt the key driver is to professionalise this new industry in the hope that it will become a sustainable one, rich in killer content with a genuinely newsworthy agenda to serve local communities across the UK.
I’m one of the many who has signed up to the course and I have high hopes.
I might not work in journalism anymore, but as a public sector PR manager, I am keen to keep up with the latest media developments, engage with hyperlocal news channels in my area and tap into their growing audiences – all of whom are public service users.
Can this course deliver?
Care to join me?