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Public Broadcasters Venture into Online Hyperlocal News: A Case Study of. International Symposium on Online Journalism Austin, Texas - April 1, 2011 Mark Berkey-Gerard Assistant Professor, Rowan University [email protected] Abstract.

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Public broadcasters venture into online hyperlocal news a case study of
Public Broadcasters Venture into Online Hyperlocal News: A Case Study of

International Symposium on Online Journalism

Austin, Texas - April 1, 2011

Mark Berkey-Gerard

Assistant Professor, Rowan University

[email protected]


In November 2010, WHYY Inc., a PBS and NPR member station serving the Greater Philadelphia area, launched It provides regional news and information in Eastern PA, Southern NJ and DE. NewsWorks also features a "hyperlocal newsgathering” effort in Northwest Philadelphia.

It is a pilot program of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, designed to test "the possibilities of online hyperlocal journalism, driven by public media values and skills."

Research questions
Research questions

R1: Why the public media organization (historically TV and radio) chose to embark on online hyperlocal project?

R2: How does the public media organization define hyperlocal journalism?

R3: How does the public media organization practice hyperlocal newsgathering?


Intrinsic, qualitative case study of WHYY

Conducted over a 12-month period (8 months prior to launch, 4 months after)

Project documents

Observations of strategy sessions, community meetings, newsroom, trainings.

In-depth interviews with WHYY staff members

Uggh hyperlocal
“Uggh. Hyperlocal.”

Hyperlocal is a problematic term

WHYY staff ambivalent about term, preferred “local” or “community.”

Researcher used hyperlocal to stay consistent with the original language and intent of the CPB grant and pilot project.

Philly news landscape
Philly News Landscape

Fourth largest media market in U.S.

Newspaper turmoil: Inquirer and Daily News acquired and sold off (2006), local ownership, bankruptcy (2010),, most prominent online news publication

“Vibrant media landscape... with niche reporting sites, legacy newspapers and an active community of creative technologists,” but also diminished local public affairs reporting. (J-Lab Report 2010)

Whyy inc

Started in mid-1950s

Dual license public broadcaster: TV (Channel 12) and radio (90.9 FM)

$27 million budget, 160 staff

Produces nationally syndicated programs, "Fresh Air with Terry Gross"

Limited web presence: primarily program schedule and archives

Origins of newsworks
Origins of NewsWorks

Grew out of turmoil of newspaper industry

Philanthropic foundations involved

Several versions from 2006 to 2010

Scaled down version: $300K CPB startup grant for $1.2 million operation

Part of larger effort to digitize member stations

Compete with and Journal Register

R1 why hyperlocal
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

"Experiment" in the context of four challenges:

1. Legacy to Multiplatform

2. Revenue and Membership

3. Stronger News Brand

4. Media Training and Education

R1 why hyperlocal1
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

1. Legacy to Multiplatform

WHYY identity, culture, and practice

“Until the advent of NewsWorks, online was frankly the stepchild of broadcast. There was recognition that you needed to be online, but there was no big investment in it."

R1 why hyperlocal2
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

2. Revenue and Membership

  • Decline in government funding

  • Radio membership up; TV down

  • Philanthropic investment

  • Online underwriting untapped

R1 why hyperlocal3
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

3. Stronger News Brand

“For many, WHYY is not a news organization. It’s where they see Sesame Street or arts programming. And on 90.9 FM, it’s NPR. For our purpose, NPR is the more significant set of letters than WHYY. Part of our message is that we are taking everything you love about NPR to the web for a local news venture."

R1 why hyperlocal4
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

3. Stronger News Brand

Distinct brand, logo, and messaging

R1 why hyperlocal5
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

4. Media Training and Education

Dorrance H. Hamilton

Public Media Commons,

$12 million education

Center opened

May 2010.

R1 why hyperlocal6
R1: Why Hyperlocal?

4. Media Training and Education

“…better future for

a public media

organization than simply

being a PBS and

NPR member station."

R2 define hyperlocal
R2: Define Hyperlocal?

Philly is a city of neighborhoods

8 zip codes in Northwest Philadelphia

190,000 residents in 15 distinct neighborhoods

Largely residential, diverse racially/economically

Strong civic and religious life

R2 define hyperlocal1
R2: Define Hyperlocal?

  • Added value for base of support

    Zip 19118 - $120K avg annual gross income

    (Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy)

    2. Outreach to target demographic

    30’s, educated, professional, civic-minded

    (Manayunk and East Falls)

    3. Public service

    Zip 19138 - $28K avg annual gross income

    (Germantown and West Oak Lane)

R3 practice hyperlocal
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

News content:

  • crime

  • real estate

  • schools

  • religious and civic events

  • zoning and development

  • open space and recreation

  • local history

    …in context of larger city issues.

R3 practice hyperlocal1
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

News content created by:

1. WHYY staff

2. content partnerships

3. paid freelancers and community contributors

4. user-generated

R3 practice hyperlocal2
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

1. WHYY Staff

Three community editors

  • mix of reporting, editing, and outreach

  • goal of 50/50 time in community/office

    Additional reporters and producers

  • local angles in arts, health, science, govt. beats

R3 practice hyperlocal3
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

2. Content Partnerships

18 content partners

  • online news orgs (Notebook, PlanPhilly)

  • tech companies (Azavea mapping)

  • Daily News blogs(City Howl, It's Our Money)

  • weekly newspapers

  • universities (Temple, U of Arts, LaSalle)

  • civic organizations

R3 practice hyperlocal4
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

2. Content Partnerships

"There is no way we are going to generate enough content by ourselves to sustain this kind of web play. So we have no choice but to partner. Partnerships are both a good idea, and clearly something that foundations are looking for.

Partnership is a buzzword, but they are hard to achieve."

R3 practice hyperlocal5
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

3. Paid Freelancers and Community Contributors

Assigned to cover local meetings, events, and essays

Pay ranges from $10 for news brief to $300 for multimedia story

Maintain quality and participation

R3 practice hyperlocal6
R3: Practice Hyperlocal?

4. User Generated Content

Numerous ways to participate:

-news tips



-discussion areas


Driven by incentive system, “Ben Bucks”


NewsWorks project impact on WHYY:

  • Web platform equal to TV and radio

  • New underwriting potential

  • Local reporting as a higher priority

  • Expanded newsroom staff

  • Outlet for media training facility


NewsWorks project impact on WHYY:

  • Added value for dedicated audience

  • Outreach to target demographic

  • Public service to an underserved area

  • Partnerships

  • Engaging local community

Future of
Future of

Redesign of website

Mobile applications

Seeking foundation funding

Membership model work on Web?

Future of1
Future of

"The key is... what kind of online experience creates a sense of ownership and community in a younger demographic that leads them to give money in the same way that older people give to public broadcasting?"

Future of2
Future of

"Who would be so stupid to think they were sure this was going to work? I think there is a pretty strong argument to be made for public media being a place – if it is going to succeed anywhere – it would be here. It is full of journalists working at a discount because they believe in the mission. Hyperlocal requires people to 'do windows,' to do things out of a sense of service."