Hyperlocal news manifesto

Ned Berke, editor of the Sheepshead Bites site -- which provides comprehensive local news for the neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay -- has a great manifesto about the delights and rewards of making hyperlocal news.

I believe local journalism, local government and local economies are the linchpins of a vibrant, healthy nation. For decades, as conglomerates swallowed up independent news outlets across the nation (our own local paper, Bay News, is owned by News Corp. – the same company that owns Fox News and the New York Post, for example), local coverage was watered down because community reporting is expensive, and stockholders want dividends. And because corporations can view employees as easily replaceable cogs, one reporter who lives in the community and has covered it for decades is just as valuable as one straight out of journalism school three states over.

But community reporting requires more than cogs. It requires more than an academic familiarity of those it covers. What meaningful local reporting requires is a personal investment. If the reporter doesn’t stand to benefit from a healthy community, his coverage will serve to dramatize and exacerbate problems rather than solve them.

When Sheepshead Bites ventures to cover the community, we do it because we’re neighbors. Our writers live here. Our business is based here. And we endeavor to support and uplift our neighbors for all of our benefit.

Our reporting sees results. When we complain about garbage, it gets cleaned up. When we question politicians, they endeavor to meet our concerns. When we cry to the city that Sheepshead deserves more – well, we’re still waiting to see about that one. This alone makes the site a worthwhile exercise, because, to me, the significance of one’s aspirations is only measurable by how much it helps others. Not to get preachy, but a preacher’s quote is especially applicable here: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” (That’d be Martin Luther King, Jr., by the way.)

For more top-notch, independent hyper-local news see John McDaid's blog on Portsmouth, RI. It's clear that this sort of reporting makes a real, on the ground difference for the communities it serves.

Open Thread Mondays: A Manifesto For Hyperlocal (via Making Light)


  1. Bravo!  Great to see “Sheepshead Bites” get respect. I live in Brooklyn, and have enjoyed “Sheepshead Bites” for years.  Discovered it because it’s the only decent news source about the area of Brooklyn I grew up in; not Sheepshead Bay but nearby Brighton Beach. The coverage of the place is spot on.  A perfect use of modern technology for focusing on local issues without “Pennysaver” advertorial mentalities.

    But Sheepshead Bay is not a “town”, it’s a neighborhood.

    Another excellent blog that is friends with “Sheepshead Bites” is “GerritsenBeach.net” http://www.gerritsenbeach.net/. Gerritsen Beach is a very, very odd community in Brooklyn.  Oddly isolated, yet connected & the writers & editors there do a great job of covering local issues.  Including some horrific Halloween hazing incidents—ultra vandalism & violence—that few larger news sources would have covered in print.

    1. I think its acceptable to call Sheepshead Bay a town, at least for now. Like everything south of the tracks that run between Avenue H and Avenue I it’s not part of the mentality that defines what NYC is.

      It’s a pity that the crime called Greater New York happened, we’ve beem relatively left to shift for ourselves ever since with little interest in our existence from Manhattan and Brooklyn proper.

      But things are changing now. And Sheepshead Bites has played a role in the recognition by media that things happen here. Someday they will finally get it right and recognize what is really newsworthy and what is nonsense in neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach. But by that time blogs like Sheepshead Bites will have assumed a primary role in providing news and information to their communities.

      1. I agree, but the thing with NYC is that there are no clear borders.  Ever get into a debate about what streets are Brighton Beach versus Manhattan Beach? Corbin Place can be Manhattan Beach please.

  2. I’m not sure that I agree with the following portion of the manifesto:

    “If the reporter doesn’t stand to benefit from a healthy community, his coverage will serve to dramatize and exacerbate problems rather than solve them.”

    I think that as soon as reporters adopt an agenda, even one as altruistic as solving problems or creating a healthy community, objectivity is lost. Let me be clear that I think such an agenda is admirable, but that should not be the reporter’s raison d’être.

    A journalist’s prime motivation should be reporting objective facts — even if doing so creates problems, or challenges the health of a community.

    1. “So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here–not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”
      Hunter S Thompson

    2. A journalist’s prime motivation should be reporting objective facts

      That would leave newspapers with nothing to print but excerpts from math textbooks.

  3. I am totally happy for the bites, this is a very important subject. Just so you know we love the independent locals, this is one of the best ways to support local independent economies, by referring locals to the great local places around them. Congrats Sheeps Head Bites! 

  4. I’m unclear as to what size of community Mr Berke is talking about here. Is he talking about all communities under 5 million in population? Most small towns under 50,000 can’t really maintain decent local papers or even decent, updated websites. Small town papers I’ve seen within the last 10 years have usually been filled with AP/wire service human interest reports, local want ads and horoscopes. I live in a city of 400,000 people and our main newspaper is very unsatisfactory. The other 2-3 smaller newspapers are weak at best. If something big happens in town (a murder, lost child) it will be n the major local network outlet TV channel

  5. For a UK perspective of this subject, with an international flavour, readers may want to look at the UK landscape report  recently wrote for the UK innovation agency, NESTA. At 15,000 words, it is the first UK report of its kind. Hopefully it is a useful tool for anyone with an interest in this space.It is accompanied by 1m GPB ($1.6m) of funding for new ideas too, which is really exciting. Here’s a link to the press release: http://www.nesta.org.uk/news_and_features/news/assets/features/1million_boost_to_develop_uk_hyperlocal_media_sector And here’s a link to the report: http://www.nesta.org.uk/about_us/assets/features/here_and_now_uk_hyperlocal_media_today Many of the issues outlined above are covered in the report – these are issues and considerations relevant to people in this space the world over.




  6. Correction: McDaid covers PORTSMOUTH, Rhode Island! Would be nice if Boing Boing, praising hyperlocal news blogs, got the location right (which is kinda the point). And, full disclosure, yes… I grew up in Portsmouth… but it really makes a difference since Portsmouth and Providence are not the same at all.

  7. love this

    ‘Our reporting sees results. When we complain about garbage, it gets cleaned up. When we question politicians, they endeavor to meet our concerns. ‘

    I started a hyperlocal in the then challenging Kings Cross district of London six years ago to help me communicate and manage better the civic action my neighbours and I were engaged in to improve the neighbourhood. We’ve found that a resident-led media outlet has been an enormous help in getting our voice heard. See http://kingscrossenvironment.com/ We don’t pretend it is detached, aloof journalism, nor representative of everyone but it’s effective in the way Ned describes.
    A few years later I set up a company to help people who want to find a voice for their neighbourhood or community online – Talk About Local on Saturday brought together 80 or so hyperlocal publishers in the UK – find #TAL12 on twitter or see the collective memory post that will go up on our blog roughly here soon

  8. I run a UK based hyperlocal (www.connectcannock.co.uk).  It’s purely there because initially it seemed like fun, then our real, local paper disappeared – blaming social media for their downfall as they went.  

    Am I a ‘real’ journalist? No.  Does it get a bunch of people who normally wouldn’t care less about the way their community is run involved? Hell yes.   Which is why I carry on doing it, disregarding the fact that it’s a timesink that I don’t get paid for (that, and it’s still fun in it’s own, weird way).  

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