Hyperlocal news site takes alternative approach to providing news, says owner

In the second of a three-part series on hyperlocal journalism in Canada, Northumberlandview. ca is featured as a different approach to providing local news in Northumberland County, about one hour east of Toronto. Owner Chris Pelletier breaks from traditional journalism by republishing media releases from governments, institutions, agencies and local organizations. His effective use of social media and strong ties to the community make him stand out. Through hard work and promotion, he is close to becoming the first viable web-based news and information publication in Northumberland.

Hyperlocal news takes many forms. While some mirror a blog
format, others, like Northumberlandview.ca, use an aggregator format, drawing
information from many sources and redistributing it over the Internet via a
website and social media. Chris Pelletier, the journalist behind
Northumberlandview.ca, wanted to create a reliable source of raw information
for residents in Northumberland County, about one hour east of Toronto on Lake

He felt unmediated information distributed to the public from
governments, institutions, agencies and community organizations was the best
way to present news. So, instead of using a press release as a basis for a
story, he merely posts the document to his website. When a community group
wants to announce an event, he puts it up. Rather than writing opinion pieces
or editorials, he links to local bloggers, giving a tease on his website with a
link to the original blog. Some may say Pelletier is not practicing journalism with this format, but his success speaks volumes. And, there is no doubt what he is doing is impacting the future of journalism.

Chris PelletierWhile it took him several months to figure out the technical
and journalistic approach, Pelletier launched the site on Sept. 1, 2007. His
audience was small and few people followed him. However, with constant
marketing and developing new tools to support the main site, he sees his
audience growing with 350 unique visitors per day, almost 10,000 hits per day
and almost 4,800 page views per day.

“I knew it was impossible to compete with the mainstream
media in the community, so I set out to create a different site. I got the idea
from looking at independent media sites. What I wanted to do originally was
republish media releases. It would be local media without the spin,” he said.

By reproducing items as is, Pelletier believes he is
providing a crucial service within the overall mix of news and information in
the community.

“When a story is written (based on a press release), stuff
gets left out. When I worked at CHUC (a local radio station), there were always
time constraints and we did not always get to tell every story completely. We
were leaving out three-quarters of the information. Some of these releases had
a lot of info. So, I just post it and give the full information and I am not as
constrained on the web (for space),” he added.

As for balanced coverage, Pelletier said he is amazed how
often both sides seem to get covered. When VIA train engineers went on strike
briefly in July 2009, he received press releases from the company, as well as
the union. He will also seek out other relevant material or press releases from
organization websites or wire services or elsewhere when none are sent directly
to ensure fairness.

Pelletier is a graduate of Canadore College in North Bay,
where he completed one year of a broadcast journalism program. He did not
graduate, but went to work as a reporter at CHUC radio from 1995 to 2001 in
Cobourg, a town of 18,000 in Northumberland County. From there, he worked in a
number of public relations jobs.

The website is sustained by advertising, but not enough to
make it profitable, yet, he said. Pelletier holds a part-time job during the
day and works on his site at night. When he gets time off, he is out selling advertising
and raising the profile of the website in the community.

As the site develops, Pelletier wants to introduce more
original coverage and his own reporting. This past summer, Pelletier covered an
annual summer festival in Cobourg and he covered the federal Liberal nomination
for the riding.

The website uses the PostNuke content management system,
which allows a full range of multimedia to be posted directly to the site.
There is also a full compliment of social media used to enhance distribution,
including a channel on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. There are currently plans
underway to develop podcasts and a possibility of working with a group of youth
from the county to create video reports with students from local high schools
acting as citizen journalists.

Pelletier’s big advantage seems to be his ability to
leverage social media. His regular postings to Twitter, along with a steady
stream of updates to the website means he is moving information more quickly
than his competition.

He also provides unique services. For example, Pelletier
created a list of local Twitter users in Northumberland to help build a sense
of community. He also was an organizer of the first Northumberland Tweet-up, an
informal meeting of Northumberland County Twitter users at a local restaurant.

The community embraces Northumberlandview.ca in many ways,
he added. For some smaller organizations, Pelletier will help them craft
material for posting. Also, some groups, like the Shelter Valley Folk Festival,
Warkworth Maple Syrup event, Colborne Applefest and others depend on the site
because they lack sophisticated websites or savvy to promote across a wide
range of media and social media, use Northumberlandview.ca to enhance their
distribution. There are even groups that do not have anyone who can handle
media relations, so Pelletier helps them out by writing material and posting

While some hyperlocal news sites use a non-profit business
model and others struggle to find financial success, Pelletier believes he is
on the threshold of making it.

“I am very close to making money and devoting myself to this
full-time,” he said.

While the approach is not a traditional one, Pelletier is making
his mark on the community.  He is
very close to realizing his dream of becoming Northumberland County’s first
viable web-based news source, something the local mainstream media has not