In one of our recent blogs we looked at hyperlocal news producers – the citizen journalists who document and publish local news on websites, blogs and forums. With the closure of 242 newspapers in the UK from 2007 to 2011 and 46 newspaper closures in the last couple of years, their coverage has become essential for plugging the gaps in an ever-fragmenting local news sector.
In 2012, the Press Gazette published a 'Mind the News Gap' info-graphic that identified areas in the UK where the closure of regional newspapers meant they were no longer covered by professional journalists. This created an opportunity for citizen journalists’ content to surface as a legitimate source of news, inspiring the birth of hyperlocal news sites.
One such site is Port Talbot Magnet. The not-for-profit community news website was set up in 2010 following the closure of the Port Talbot Guardian by Trinity Mirror in 2009. The South Wales town was mapped by the Press Gazette as one of the areas in the UK suffering a significant gap in news coverage. And with the area’s 50,000-strong population and thriving community life, there was still a need among local consumers for quality news content.
The site is run by a group of professional journalists who volunteer a few hours a week to write and publish news stories. They also offer volunteering opportunities for local residents to develop writing and photography skills.
At first glance, Port Talbot Magnet makes a strong impression. The site’s design and structure create an engaging user experience much like that of any local newspaper website. Its two navigation bars show the breadth of content available, featuring news, sport, campaigns and events. And drop-down menus show the depth of coverage with news features on politics, education, health and environment.
Content is detailed, factual and valuable. News stories cover a range of topics from newsworthy events to issues of local interest. The site also publishes feature-style pieces – like “16 summer activities to try with the kids in Port Talbot,” – and so offers varied content for a spectrum of readers. There’s also an events calendar and advertising space that give local businesses, education bodies and community groups a crucial platform to showcase themselves to a targeted audience.
The only downside is the intermittent gaps in content. While some new stories were posted as we were writing this blog, other content featured on the homepage dates back to last year. A reminder that this is a site that relies on the voluntary efforts of busy professionals, yes. But a disadvantage for local consumers nonetheless. Added to this, is the fact the site isn’t mobile friendly – something that’s essential for good user experience in the tablet-tapping, thumb-scrolling society we’ve become.
Though content could be more regular and smart-phone savvy, Port Talbot Magnet is set up to be a successful place for local people to find the news that is important to them. And their combined Facebook and Twitter audience of more than 3000 suggest plenty already have.
So, what does this mean? The decline in local newspapers has provoked the gloomy impression that local journalism is dying. But Port Talbot Magnet proves otherwise. The site shows that the need for local news coverage is as alive as ever. How we consume that news coverage may be different – as paper and ink become replaced with online platforms – but the need for locally produced content is still one that must be met.
Bundle supports local news producers like that of Port Talbot Magnet by bringing their coverage to local news readers, uniting people with the news that matters to them.