"Hyperlocal" has been an industry buzzword for at least the past five or six years … even though there's not complete agreement on what the word even means. We just know it has something to do with "citizen journalism," another buzzword with its genesis at about the same time.
I would assert that The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have been hyperlocal for years — since their beginning, in fact — mostly because of their scale. And in addition to focusing our staff reporting on a relatively small geographic area, we've long carved out all sorts of room for reader- or source-submitted news — Your Photos, Your Life, community calendars and school news and menus are among the examples — so you could say we've been on the "citizen journalism" bandwagon for a while, too.
But there's no doubt the terms take on new meaning in an online age, particularly one coming to be marked by ability to both produce and consume news from smartphones and other mobile devices. This creates the possibility of unfiltered publications from the field, though most traditional-media outlets have not gone that far. We still submit to the model for in-print publication, where space is limited, one thing is published to the exclusion of something else, and thus choices are made about what goes in and what doesn't. Even the most gently edited submissions at the Packet and Gazette are reworked or reformatted so that it is distilled to its essence.
Website operations, on the other hand, largely remove the space constraint (though there is still much utility in winnowing away extraneous verbiage and information.) It also greatly reduces the turn-around time for publication. In fact, if we were so inclined, we could publish a a photo of little Jimmy's 11th birthday party as quickly as it takes little Jimmy's mommy to hit send on her smartphone's touch screen.
Of course, at this point we don't actually publish reader-submitted information instantaneously, either, and for good reason — newsworthiness and veracity are the coins of our realm. Allowing anyone to slap anything they want on our site with no approval — let alone verification — presents potential problems. After all, it takes little imagination to think of what could go wrong if a frat boy with an iPhone can immediately post a photo from impromptu wet T-shirt contest that erupted at the kegger. We want more community news, but we also want to remain a publication suitable for family reading.
Nonetheless, we doubtlessly will creep closer toward faster turnaround and yet more opportunities for folks like you to send in news of your everyday lives. Technology will go a long way toward helping the end user parse the streams of information we provide, so that they're not inundated with news from geographic areas they're not interested in or events they won't find interesting (sorry, little Jimmy.)
The Poynter Institute website recently published an interesting article about CNN's iReport operation, which a CNN spokesperson called “the most developed and active citizen-journalism platform of any news organization worldwide.” It claims 1,002,428 registered contributors and 2.4 million unique users each month and has had content submitted from every country on earth, according to the article. Some iReporters are freelance journalists or aspiring journalists, but most are unconnected to the press. All are unpaid. The article describes the vetting process CNN uses before running submitted material in whole or in part.
I think more news operations will adopt these features, particularly once they've worked through and minimized the potential for their abuse. In fact, the Packet and Gazette are thinking very much along those lines, but we could use some help deciding where we should start. If you've got a few minutes and the inclination, I'd appreciate it if you took the short survey below. It could help us answer some of our questions. (My apologies if the embed is a little wonky. If you have trouble viewing it below, you can go here to take the survey instead.)