CN Group Will Share Ad Sales With Hyperlocal Contributors

So if the big UK regional newspaper publishers can’t monetise online local news — just ask Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press — what chance is there for smaller, family groups and amateur community bloggers? Carlisle News & Star publisher CN Group has a plan: the company is starting to pay its non-professional local, community correspondents 25 percent of ad revenue generated by its hyperlocal news sites. CN Group has 20 local sites — here’s one for the Maryport area — and is now trialling the revenue-sharing scheme for existing correspondents as well as advertising for writers in eight areas.

Unsurprisingly, we’re not talking about a lot of money: Nick Turner, CN Group’s head of digital development, told a Digital Editors’ Network meeting yesterday (via J.co.uk) that sites carrying at least five ads will pay about £80 a month. And he’s adamant it’s not a scheme to counteract cuts in the News & Star newsroom: “This is not a replacement of our local journalism… It’s to assist those journalists and act as a bridge between them and the community, and give them more resources on the ground.” It’s a little like the old-fashioned system of “parish pump” local stringers that metropolitan newspapers would pay for tip-offs, local gossip and greyhound racing results in decades gone by. CN also runs 60 training sessions CN a year for local would-be correspondents with 30 sessions reserved for more advanced writers at the University of Cumbria.

The green shoots of locally-sourced online journalism funded by local advertisers have been showing for some time, but they have yet to take hold in a meaningful way. Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) launched its hyperlocal project at the Teesside Gazette in 2007, which has expanded the GazetteLive site’s traffic and grown its list of contributors to include schoolchildren; Northcliffe Media has a similar local network in Nottingham as well as its own separate hyperlocal network of sites while Johnston Press has dipped its toe into hyperlocal waters with area-specific news sites attached to its big city portals, such as these in Leeds.

Meanwhile the outlook forgrassroots, DIY local journalism is mixed at best: for six months Linda Preston has been reporting on the goings-on of Darwen in Lancashire at Darwenreporter.com — and attracted advertising — but earlier this month announced the site’s closure. London has a healthy subculture of local blogs, including notably Kingscorssenvironment.com and Greenwich.co.uk which produces a spin-off magazine and attracts big name writers like the Evening Standard’s Andrew Gilligan. But what they all lack — so far at least — is sustainable business model that would go some way to replace the reporting lost to the collapse of local newspapers.