The CBC Hamilton news service is a first for the public broadcaster: A stand-alone website with no radio station and no television outlet. Arik Ligeti reports on why CBC decided to try this now, and looks at what it will add to the local media market, which has already seen at least one online-only outlet fold.
The CBC is pouring resources into its hyperlocal news experiment, assigning more journalists to the digital-only Hamilton newsroom than to its radio newsroom in Thunder Bay.
The Hamilton news service is a first for the public broadcaster: A stand-alone website with no radio station and no television outlet. If it works, there are plans to replicate the Hamilton model in other parts of Canada.
The Hamilton site includes two more CBC firsts: an attempt to capture local online advertising dollars and the use of responsive design technology, which automatically adapts websites for viewing on a computer, cell phone or tablet device.
CBC has hired five journalists for the Hamilton site, including former Hamilton Spectator managing editor Roger Gillespie, who will serve as executive producer. By comparison, CBC Radio in Thunder Bay employs four journalists.
The Hamilton reporters will produce multimedia content for the website. Stories with regional or national interest will also play on other CBC platforms.
Hamilton has been on the CBC’s radar for a while, but with no available FM radio frequencies, they were stuck. Then on Feb. 1 2011, the CBC unveiled a five-year plan, which, among other things, promised to expand service in underserved markets.
“Hamilton is a big city and CBC is not there in a local way — that’s the impetus,” said CBC News’ general manager and editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire. “When we look at the country in a holistic way we realize there are some places we need to be more present where historically we haven’t been.”
Hamilton city councillor Brian McHattie, who’s been pushing for a CBC presence since 2004, said the digital service is “great addition” to the monopolized media market. The Hamilton Spectator, CHCH and CHML dominate the newspaper, television and radio markets, respectively. He thinks the CBC’s decision to use Hamilton as the testing ground for future digital-only ventures is exciting.
The Hamilton website will also place an emphasis on aggregation — a first for the CBC. She didn’t reveal all the details, but McGuire said part of the plan includes live-traffic feeds, event listings, and working with prominent and respected Hamilton bloggers.
Hamilton’s healthy online community makes it important for the local news media to curate and aggregate those voices. If CBC Hamilton can serve as a hub for citizens to access those external sources, they will build brand loyalty, said Karen Unland, a media consultant and journalism instructor at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alta.
But it won’t be easy. The internet-only model means the CBC will be competing to build an audience in a busy online world. One recent attempt to do just that failed. OpenFile closed its Hamilton operation in November.
“People keep asking me, ‘Well is it because nobody wanted an alternative news source?’ No, I don’t think that’s it at all,” said former OpenFile Hamilton city editor Sheryl Nadler. “I think that there’s definitely room in Hamilton for other sources of news. But it’s not going to be a cake walk I don’t think.”
Arik Ligeti is a third-year journalism student at Carleton University and the co-founder of CanCulture, an online arts and culture magazine. When not busy with school or the website, Arik enjoys attending journalism events, and scouring through his growing list of RSS feeds, which includes Poynter, Nieman Lab and, of course, J-Source. Simply put, he’s obsessed with news about the news.