From The Rapidian staff
Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site. Click here for past editorials.
Other articles by the same author
Other articles by this author
Dictionary.com has no definition for the word “hyperlocal.” Microsoft Word consistently provides a red underline alert, unapologetically pointing out that I have either mistyped, or that I’m just making stuff up.
Over two years ago, when we were first envisioning The Rapidian and seeking initial grant funding, we used the term hyperlocal to describe a proposed identity. Countless times I was asked “What is hyperlocal?” Despite its lack of universal recognition as a real word, it seemed to fit. We sought to be about this place Grand Rapids; and about the people who live, work and play here. The interest was in small stories about the details of being a community. In other words, stories about us and by us, that were not adequately covered by traditional media outlets.
As The Rapidian approaches its one-year anniversary as an active hyperlocal news site, I can’t help but feel a little amused. Apparently, we were forging ahead on an experimental path that is now becoming a very busy highway. Hyperlocal, as it turns out, has become more than niche industry jargon. It's today's favored business model for mainstream news outlets.
A year ago MSNBC bought the self-described “hyperlocal news aggregation platform” EveryBlock, while AOL paid $7 million to acquire Patch, another “local” portal (though managed and run by corporate headquarters in New York City). Locally, WZZM-13 recently added a “My Town” section to their website. Residents are invited to apply to be news bloggers from any of 20 local neighborhoods. And just yesterday I received an e-mail announcing that the GR Press is seeking a new “hyperlocal editor” for “hyperlocal news.” Last month a Time Magazine article headline read “Are Hyperlocal News Sites Replacing Newspapers?” This is becoming one busy street.
I really believe that early successes of experimental models like The Rapidian have proven that people do want to get involved as local news providers, and not just consumers. And we’ve shown it can be done.
Do I feel a bit smug? OK, maybe just a little. After all, each of the corporate models of hyperlocal relies on one major component: the participation of local people and citizen reporters. For The Rapidian, citizen reporters are the very heart and soul of our project.
Mostly, I feel cautiously encouraged. More local content is better. Multiple distribution outlets will likely increase residents’ connection to information. Increased attention to citizen journalism may lead to more potential funding options for community-led efforts like the Rapidian. But I also intend to watch carefully as traditional media launch their non-traditional, hyperlocal experiements. I am certainly not ready to initiate a wholesale handover of hyperlocal reporting to corporate, regional or national entities. To be effective and meaningful, serving hyperlocal information needs requires more than hanging out a virtual shingle and calling for citizen participation. As we have discovered on our journey so far, it takes tools and training, identifying and providing reporter support needs, and actively seeking out and encouraging unrepresented voices. It takes trust in your community to report their news and a willingness to resist urges to control everything. It will be interesting to see how our peers in traditional media handle these critical details.
In the meantime we are happy to continue forging new paths and dicovering new opportunties for service and citizen engagement. “Hyperlocal” may have become the buzzword du jour in the journalism arena but to us at The Rapidian, it will remain our compass and our goal. And I quietly hope that any day now “hyperlocal” it will become a real word, complete with an official definition that honors the value of place. And just maybe, my desktop applications will finally acknowledge that I’m not simply making this stuff up.
Disclosure: Laurie Cirivello is the publisher of The Rapidian.
Publisher of The Rapidian and Executive Director of Community Media Center (parent organization of The Rapidian). Over 20 years in noncommercial media and technology. Proud wife, mom, part time artist, and general busybody. Loves local history, travel, flea markets and all things "foodie".
Reports on: General Rapidian news, op-eds, social media & communications strategy, community development, arts