Where lies the value in locality?

Last spring Demos Helsinki worked on a report concerning locality and local value. Our approach was to map out the theory and examples of the relationships between locality and the local media, and by organising a workshop in Tampere. A group of influential regional actors from businesses, municipalities, universities and organisations were invited to brainstorm on the following questions:

  1.   how does local value manifest itself and how is it refined?
  2.   what is the relationship between different actors (businesses, congregations, organisations) and locality?
  3.   what is the role of the media in the creation of value?

The term locality is usually used to talk about the level of activity on which individuals live their everyday life. Locality may mean whatever town, city, district or neighbourhood that is in some way meaningful as a framework for the particular type of action. Locality may refer to an administrational unit or a particular sphere of economic activity. Often the word is also used to describe identity, or the perception that the surrounding local community forms a unit distinct from other units.

Locality thus refers to an imaginary community, a wordless agreement to be in the same boat with other locals. Local media have a central role in the creation of this shared local knowledge. They mediate and interpret the important global news for locality and bring local phenomena to the limelight, in this way influencing consumer behaviour for example.

The internet and the constantly developing mobile technology have, for their part, shaped the experience of locality. The production, sharing and consumption of knowledge online allows for a break from the physical context of locality, like a neighbourhood or a district. Also contact with friends and family, consumption of culture or working may happen online. On the other hand, as summarised by one workshop participant, “we all live and act locally – you can’t integrate immigrants on the state level, for example.” From the point of view of a life lived locally it is important to care for the quality of living, the green areas, services, and transportation solutions. Appealing and healthy surroundings has a critical role in the creation of the valuable community feeling. The local media may have a role in the development of different kinds of meeting points, and thus in the promotion of discourse related to regional issues.

The traditional print media have for the past years wrestled with pressures to change. The flexibility of the internet as a medium for information where it is also possible to produce information on any self-selected topic, has proved more appealing than the one-way information sharing of traditional media. “Communality is always voluntary,” said another workshop participant. Whether to consume or to not consume the local information that media produce is, ultimately, a personal choice.

The transformations of locality and media are linked in an important way. The fragmentation of local community by its habits and consumption behaviour and the divergence and individualisation of the production of information do not signify the end for media and locality. On the contrary: these trends form the conditions for a new local operational environment and media space to be born. The web also offers the means to celebrate and build locality and new local media.

According to the report Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities by the British Mediatrust local media may have a great role to play in promoting democracy. The report states that when local media fare well, people perceive that they are being listened, that they have the power to influence questions concerning their surroundings, and that the region in question fares well. To this end, the authenticity of local media is a key factor. Positive impact is realised only if local reporting is done using the existing resources and factors of the community. Instead, the ‘fake local’, or the efforts of big media houses to infiltrate localities to report local issues did not produce the same results.

Media continue to play a big part in the wellbeing and future of the local economy. By writing about local small companies and local innovations, the press can accelerate the undertakings of local actors and create regional growth. One way to understand this is to see local media as a type of platform that brings people together, facilitating communal activity. Alongside producing local knowledge, this means gathering, moderating and refining knowledge.

As the circumstances of media face considerable changes, the most acute task is to find the means for media to make profit out of their important local services. In our report on the matter we evaluate the different means to build sustainable business by strengthening the perception of value of locality.

Katariina Mäkelä

The author was an intern at Demos Helsinki in late 2013 and early 2014.