Hyperlocal media are characterised by their narrow focus on small geographic regions, and citizen or community participation in the news-production process. However, very little work has focused on the dynamics of community development in relation to these websites – including the role of participation. Based on a case study of award-winning New Jersey-based hyperlocal news website Baristanet, this article draws on an online survey of readers about how and why they participate on the website. The analysis finds low levels of active contributions in the form of comments following news stories and evidence of a limited representative community on the website. Specifically, analysis of the survey responses suggests that contested user notions of an ‘imagined community’ (Anderson, 1991) have significant impacts on participatory behaviour. The article argues that a virtual community, based on an offline geographic region, can face particular barriers when it comes to fostering website participation, which may suggest a reinterpretation of Anderson’s imagined community in the age of participatory journalism.
Journal of Alternative and Community Media / Vol. 1, pp.84-96