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Community journalism: launch your own local news service

Professor Richard Sambrook is lead educator on Cardiff University’s free online course, “Community Journalism: Digital and Social Media.” Here, he looks at some of the trends and ideas behind the course.

A community journalist interviews a local carpet shop owner


What’s your local newspaper like and how often do you read it? The “local rag,” as many of them are affectionately known, has a special place in the hearts of many communities – but there are fewer and fewer of them. Budget cuts, the economic downturn and the impact of the internet mean that local papers have been hollowed out with less news, fewer reporters and, in many cases, closure.

It’s a real problem, which is leaving many communities isolated and unconnected. It means that many local decisions and issues are undiscussed or under-reported.

The rise of community journalism

However, the internet, which has undermined many local news services, is also providing alternatives. Community news sites – or hyperlocal sites as they are sometimes called – are springing up across the UK and around the world.

The simple, and often free, technology now available means that anyone can launch and run their own community news service – and more and more people are choosing to do so. It often means that members of the community (rather than media organisations) choose how a place is reported and what is discussed, bringing it closer to home.

These new local services are a dynamic new sector in the media – democratic, open and responsive to the communities they serve.

Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism helps nurture and support these site, and study this new media phenomenon. We have helped to launch numerous sites, have supported others and have undertaken studies of what works, where the problems lie and what success looks like.

Launch your own local news service

In our course on FutureLearn, “Community Journalism: Digital and Social Media,” we will be sharing some of those conclusions – and offering guidance on how to set up your own hyperlocal news service at almost no cost.

The course will look at what’s happening in local media, what best practice is, and how to succeed in launching your own local news service (however you choose to define it).  We will be hearing from a number of hyperlocal sites and the people who run them, sometimes from their living rooms!

We will also be hearing from media professionals about the changes that are happening in the sector, and we will have some very practical and simple guidance on how to get started with the best chance of success.

Topics covered on the course include basic journalism skills, digital publishing, verification, media law and using social media for news gathering and promotion. We also examine sustainability and business models, including the rise of crowdfunding.

Get ready for the course

To start you thinking, here are a few of the questions we’ll consider on the course:

  • What kind of people live in your community and what are they interested in? We’ll show you how to use online research to find out.
  • How do you set up a website, and what are the legal and other issues you have to know about if you publish one? We’ll give you simple steps to find out.
  • What is success for a hyperlocal site? Revenue? Number of visitors? Impact in the community? We’ll give you some ways of thinking about it.

Above all, the course will connect you with a network of people all interested in helping communities to communicate.

Want to know more? Join “Community Journalism: Digital and Social Media” or follow the discussion using #FLcj.

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