Associated Northcliffe Digital has begun a pilot scheme into ultra-local online media with the launch of 23 community websites in the south-west of England.
The digital division of the Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns regional newspaper giant Northcliffe, officially unveiled its ‘Local People’ network today.
The first phase of the project sees the launch of 23 sites covering areas with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 that typically do not have a dedicated local online service.
The sites are designed to encourage the local community to interact with each other and report on their neighbourhood.
A further 20-plus sites are due to launch in the region throughout the summer.
The “hyperlocal” sites will allow people from local communities to write and publish their own stories and content relating to local issues and news.
Each site will have a community publisher, whose role is to oversee what is published and contribute some content, but their primary role is to encourage other local people to get involved, write articles and upload content.
Northcliffe Media digital director Mike Rowley said extensive market research had been conducted to determine how the sites could serve users.
“People said they did not want to use Facebook for this type of thing,” he told Press Gazette.
“They did not want to moan on Facebook about how their bins had not been taken away for two weeks but wanted to talk about where they were going out at the weekend and to see what their friends were doing.”
He added: “We want to appeal to a large demographic, including those who are perhaps not comfortable using other websites.”
He said the move towards local online media would not mean the death of the newspaper – and Northcliffe’s printed titles still had a role to play alongside the new networks.
“There will still be a place for proper newsgathering journalists and the sites can complement each other rather than being in competition as they are performing different roles,” he said.
Rowley added that the scheme could be extended to other parts of the country in the future.
“Where excited, helpful people have already created sites for the local community we may be willing to form an association with them to better serve the users in our community,” he said.
“But it is too early in the project to say whether this plan will eventually become national.
“We will see how it gets on in the areas we have influence in already first.”
Associated Northcliffe Digital strategy director Roland Bryan said: “Our Local People Network has been developed to allow people who are living or working in local communities to interact with each other.
“The sites will complement the existing network of local and regional media and for the first time will create a genuinely user generated approach to local content, giving local people an online forum to discuss and debate relevant issues with other locals, and shape opinion in their community.
He told Press Gazette: “The sites are something different for users that other publishers cannot provide – the chance for local people to get together and debate stories which could be news or event driven.”
“This strategy also gives us the opportunity to build relationships and targeted advertising products for the local market that is often poorly served by online media today.”