BBC Pop Up and CNN Digital: Local reporting vs reporting locally

Exploring the benefits and challenges of digital outlets' surfacing local stories to a global audience.


Every journalist of the future will be dependent on technology and social media to tell and share their stories, whether they like it or not.

Gone are the days when readers read the news by solely picking up a newspaper on the way to work. In fact, chances are that we get our news from push notifications and Snap stories that we receive before getting out of bed every morning.

Newsrooms like the New York Times and Independent are investing more — if not all — of their time and resources in expanding their digital and social-led storytelling capabilities, and rightly so. Such investments have brought about fascinating new changes into the way stories are told and shared. Through swipes and taps on their devices, readers in London or New York can easily get real-time information on what’s happening in places like Rio de Janeiro or Aleppo.

One theme at HacksHackers London’s (HHLdn) October meetup was how journalists can use technology to make local stories available to a global audience. Two presenters that stood out in particular were CNN’s digital team and BBC Pop Up, a self-defined “mobile bureau” that crowdsources and reports stories at a “hyper-local” level.

Both CNN and BBC Pop Up rely heavily on digital tools and social media to tell and share their stories. CNN, for example, used Facebook Live to report a rally on Hong Kong’s Establishment Day, Kik to take readers on a walking tour of Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics and a bot to ask readers what they consider to be the next US president’s biggest foreign policy obstacle. BBC Pop Up, primarily makes videos ranging in length from Vine loops to long-form documentaries for TV, and share them on social media and their live blog.

These outlets have devised incredibly innovative ways to use emerging technology and social media platforms to make underreported local reporting accessible to a global audience. In a time of  shrinking newsrooms and tightened budgets, having a team like BBC Pop Up — which consists of just a handful of people — that sources, reports, shoots, edits and social video stories— makes sense. (BBC Pop Up’s model, admittedly, does set a terrifyingly high bar for journalists who may interpret this portfolio of skills as a new job requirement for working in digital video.)

Local reporting gone global or global reporting done locally?

One challenge that CNN and BBC Pop Up may face in its work, however, is how to make what they call their “local reporting”, truly local.

The idea of globalising local journalism — and journalists’ calling themselves mobile local reporters, as BBC Pop Up does — is unique and incredibly ambitious. BBC Pop Up does a great job at crowdsourcing ideas from locals at town hall meetings and callouts on social media. Their website has received thousands of story suggestions since it was established in 2014, per editor Benjamin Zand.

What I found odd, however, was the fact that the pop up bureau spends just four to five weeks in a given area.

Four to five weeks seems barely enough time for an intern to understand the layout of a new office, let alone for a group of journalists to understand and find balanced stories in a new community. Given the fact that BBC Pop Up does much of its news-gathering, reporting and editing on the ground, how can its journalists get to know the lay of the land — literally and figuratively — when there is limited time?

Peter Yeung, an interactive journalist at the London Times and former Interhacktive, also alluded to this issue in his analysis of BBC Pop Up on Medium:

By its very nomadic nature, BBC Pop Up has little capacity for super-users or influencers, nor indeed for languages, cultures, rules and practices to emerge.

These news-gathering and reporting practices sound dangerously similar to those of parachute journalism, where reporters go to an area already with a general idea of what they want to cover and meet a limited pool of people (contacts of contacts, as opposed to literally everyone). BBC Pop Up, as mentioned above, calls itself a champion of “hyperlocal” journalism.

Whatever the benefits and challenges that face digital-first outlets like CNN and BBC Pop Up, it will be interesting to see how new digital tools and social media trends influence the way we report the news in the future, particularly with the advent of virtual reality and 360 video.

Outlets like CNN and BBC Pop Up are ahead of the curve in the way that they tell and share stories online, and I’m excited to see what comes next in their innovative and experimental news-gathering and storytelling strategies.

Technology and social media are not spelling the end of journalism — as many people have feared — but are marking a beginning of a new era of it.

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Alex is a multimedia journalist keen on honing her visual storytelling skills. Originally from Hong Kong, she has lived in the UK and the US, where she worked at The Huffington Post in New York. She is most interested in international migration, integration and human rights. She gets impatient when people Instagram her meal.

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