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InYourArea, Reach’s online hyperlocal news aggregator, is out to prove its utility to the UK audiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The platform, founded in 2017, is collating trusted news sources (mostly Reach's) and building useful data widgets. Its mission is to inform local communities, almost contrastingly, at scale. InYourArea editor-in-chief Ed Walker believes that it does this better than other news providers or social networks.

He describes the platform as something between a local Facebook group, a Next-Door community and a personalised news hub. In exchange for a postcode, it feeds users the latest news, traffic and travel updates, homes for sale, nearby restaurants, events, and the weather. But it is no longer business as usual.

Off the back of editorial insights, a product team of around 23 is creating widgets and products to better inform readers during the pandemic. These can be hosted on Reach titles or on its own platforms.

The products include a coronavirus tracker that outlines national and local cases, a node directing users to donate to their local foodbanks, and a reminder that they can get Reach newspapers delivered to their homes in lieu of newsstands. These prompts are all targeted based on that postcode input. 

How it works

Once the reader's location is discerned, they then subscribe to local areas they are interested in around their home and workplace. After this 30-second process, audiences gain access to a newsfeed populated with Reach's regional and local titles as well as its rivals where appropriate.

Further down the funnel, users can sign up to an email for regular updates or download the app which has joined the top five UK news apps on iOS and Android respectively. Emails and mobile data generate richer insights about the UK's news reading audience. 

The product's been building up slowly since its launch in 2017 and has now breached three million users across all platforms. During the pandemic, its tools are really taking off.

Walker explained how 'curation' works at InYourArea; aping what a local paper once did for a community but in the digital space. 

Where rival curators and social networks have come under fire for censorship, a lack of moderation or skewed editorial leanings, InYourArea is hoping to offer a credible alternative. 

Using data

For now, human editors are charged with creating content focuses, but there's a goal to automate as much data entry as possible. 

"We get data from a range of different sources, news from our and others’ publications, council websites, the Food Standard agency hygiene ratings, government sites."

Right now a lot of these data sets are taking on a new lease of life. A partnership with The List in Glasgow and Edinburgh is telling readers "what events are on – or more accurately off.” There are also regular updates on local businesses, offers, deals, who is open and closed and who is delivering at home.

Meanwhile, a collaboration with charity Give Food is directing foodbank donations at a time when there’s a supply shortage – the widget’s been seen more than three-quarters of a million times. Glasgow Live, for example, would host the Glasgow widget on relevant stories and drive traffic and awareness of the curation tool. That site in turn will also be populating the app for Glasgow users. 

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Another widget is the coronavirus plugin that outlines how many confirmed cases are in each region and nationally.

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This was seen 16.3m times in the nine days leading up to Thursday 26 March and all-in, more than 2.25 million people have put that postcode in.

“That’s brought in a lot of people who've never used it before,” Walker admitted.

On where it sits in the reach family, Walker sees it as “becoming a really solid foundation underneath Reach’s regional titles".

He added: "We operate two different publishing models. Reach has grown a digital audience of scale very rapidly across the regional and Live sites. We’re operate opposite to that. We're not focused on how well each individual piece of content does. It's more about building a diversity across lots of geographic areas. A school fete in a corner of Glasgow is as important as a two and a half thousand-word investigative journalism piece in Manchester.”

For the challenges that the pandemic offers, storms Dennis and Ellen proved a good taster of developing editorial and the digital infrastructure for it, with agility. Flights and flights and travel were disrupted. Floods were common across the country. Outdoor events were rained off. The weather widgets were altered accordingly to provide more information, these updates resulted in large traffic spikes too.

But readers can also be polled, across the nation 13,000 had their say on whether the government should shut workplaces and schools. This offered a solid sample at a time when the government was still backpedaling its initial strategy.

On the point of this whole exercise, building a service that extols the best parts of Facebook, but with tried and trusted data, is about taking its local coverage deeper and making it more useful. In many respect. “It allows us to deepen the relationship with readers in exchange for a postcode.”

Reach's director of group insight has been study what makes a community on social media with an eye to rebuilding in a news environment post-comment boards. To him, the mix and muddle of people and content on social media results in a "context collapse" - an opportunity that products like InYourArea is looking to malady.

Future growth

Beyond its utility to readers, the product has a benefit for Reach. It is helping the group better understand where its audiences are – in a way newspapers used to when they were a primary means of news consumption.  With the closure of newsstands across the country, the service is also pushing for readers to embrace home deliveries of titles like The Daily Mirror – an additional benefit from the service.

Walker said: “We send our audience a rapidly growing audience back to our regional titles. The more people using in your area will see more people coming to our titles. It's allowing people to discover stories near them. Even a visitor to the homepage of the Manchester Evening News might miss a local story because it is buried. We’re a new way to discover these stories.”

And finally, the site is offering advertising discounts to small businesses that have had to alter their tactics due to the virus. The ad product is tailored for the types of companies that once dominated the classifieds of print titles. Plumbers looking for a tight catchment area, retailers with only a certain amount of pull.

With a newly-trained telesales team waiting for deployment post-pandemic, the group looks to ramp up commercial income from SMEs. Income will likely take a hit in the short term, meanwhile, Walker’s team will be as focused on building loyalty with an audience needing steered through this crisis. It's a time of trust-building for newsmedia. Editor's like Walker will be hoping these newly-formed relationships last. 

After years of publishers complaining about the lack of income they take from the social media giants, many in the industry will be watching to see whether there are any legs in building a Facebook competitor.