Folk Labs have been working with Herne Hill’s Neighbourhood Forum since 2013 to relaunch their old site. In March we relaunched a new Drupal-based system for them which we call “OpenLocal”.

We use hyperlocal news as bait to attract local audiences but then we go beyond news to also offer Events, Forums etc. Community Groups, local services and small businesses can host their own online presence there too.

We think of OpenLocal as the town hall, town square, community centre, school gate, cafe and doorstep combined. We are now redeveloping it for other Community Groups elsewhere.

We’ve learned a lot about the hyperlocal space and, because this conference is titled What next for community journalism, we want to share where we think Community Journalism might go next.

Three ideas to enhance community journalism

  • Write solutions-focused journalism
  • Expose tools to enable digital deliberation
  • Give the community access to its own data

 

1. Write solutions-focused journalism

We were recently at a Positive News event where several speakers described how journalism can often leave readers feeling powerless to effect change. Many news stories (hyperlocal included) document the problems or issues but don’t then lead on to facilitate a search for solutions.

Solutions are seen as the preserve of local political institutions. But often some of the liveliest debate and innovation can happen in the comments.

Hyperlocal Journalism could lead the way in creating solutions-focused journalism, provide research & insight into where readers might turn to help solve local problems.

What might journalism become if we started to see comments as a special sort of journalistic data? If we blurred the boundary between where journalism ends and commentary begins?

Might Hyperlocal journalism become as much to do with skilful curation, facilitation, moderation and community management as much as writing and editing?

Positive News suggested framing articles as a question: How can we make this better? Or suggesting further reading or organisations who are working on an issue. But what about encouraging the “best solutions” suggested by the community in the comments to percolate to the top on the article itself?

Which leads on to our next idea…

2. Develop new online/offline tools to enable new forms of deliberation

This idea arose from conversations we heard at Talk About Local earlier this year about managing comments on news articles. One complaint was that sometimes the most productive and interesting comments get lost amongst the less helpful comments.

Someone suggested using ranking and voting on “solutions” similar to the way sites like Stack Overflow work to help keep the best comments more prominent and bubble to the top.

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If we think of a discussion thread as a public meeting which happens in cyberspace then does that change the status of comment threads?

And that idea of empowering communities to begin to see productive discussions leads us to our final idea…

3. Give the community access to its own data

There’s a wealth of rich data on Hyperlocal Community sites including things like:

  • What is getting attention locally? What’s trending?
  • Which local areas are in need of investment?
  • Monitoring and tracking success and impact – What worked? What didn’t work?
  • Clicktivism, voting and online deliberation as mentioned earlier
  • What were the critical turning points in local history? Oral histories and local history
  • Emotional responses and sentiment on important issues in comment threads
  • Who’s doing what? Which community groups are active and how can they be contacted?

We think we could do a better job of unlocking the value in that data and re-presenting it to the communities who created it.

We’ve already built a prototype which synchronised the contact details of community groups on the Herne Hill site with a contact list accessible by the council.

The prototype uses open data standards.

Local communities become the authoritative source of information about their own groups and organisations.

Lambeth have put that project on hold until they restructure their technology strategy.

But we think there’s an opportunity here for hyperlocals if councils begin to see them as a source of reliable data which has value to their work.

And, for journalists, this offers a new opportunity. Communities will need help to understand their data so helpful analysis, visualisation and meaningful context could become something that hyperlocal journalists do.

And from this morning it’s becoming clear that we’re starting to see hyperlocal journalists become Data Journalists.

So these are our three ideas:

  • Write solutions-focused journalism
  • Expose tools to enable digital deliberation
  • Give the community access to its own data

We are looking at how we might build these but we are here today to hear your thoughts and feedback.

If you don’t feel like saying anything now then please use the online tools currently available to us and comment on this post.