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Can big media do Big Society? A critical case study of commercial, convergent hyperlocal news

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The UK Government is committed to helping ‘nurture a new generation of local media companies’. Changes to local media ownership rules allowing companies to follow their customers from platform to platform are supposed to assist in this by encouraging economies of scale. This article provides a timely case study examining a UK-based commercial local news network owned by Daily Mail & General Trust that leverages economies of scale: Northcliffe Media’s network of 154 Local People websites. The study evaluates the level of audience engagement with the Local People sites through a user survey, and by looking at the numbers of active users, their contributions and their connections with other users. Interviews with ten of the ‘community publishers’ who oversee each site on the ground were conducted, along with a content survey. Although the study reveals a demand for community content, particularly of a practical nature, the results question the extent to which this type of ‘big media’ local news website can succeed as a local social network, reinvigorate political engagement or encourage citizen reporting. The Government hopes that communities, especially rural ones, will increasingly use the Internet to access local news and information, thereby supporting new, profitable local media companies, who will nurture a sense of local identity and hold locally elected politicians to account. This case study highlights the difficulties inherent in achieving such outcomes, even using the Government’s preferred convergent, commercial model.

Keywords: Big Society; convergence; hyperlocal media; localization; regional media; user-generated content

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: City University London

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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