With it being the start of teaching, it’s taken me more than week to get around to blogging about this year’s Talk About Local get-together, which I went to in Middlesbrough at the end of last month.
This annual unconference for people interested in independent local media publishing and related issues has been running since 2009, and I’ve been at all but the first one. This year the event was notably smaller than 2012’s large one in Birmingham (probably a function of that city’s particularly developed hyperlocal sector), but the sessions were arguably more useful for having fewer people in them.
TAL’s Sarah Hartley has gathered together a list of other blogposts already written about the event here, so I’ll just add a couple of my own impressions.
It’s clear to me ‘hyperlocal’ is no longer the buzzword it was in, say, 2009, when I first had the idea to set up my own site in Saddleworth. This, and the fact the event was held in the relatively unusual location of Middlesbrough, probably accounted for the relative lack of presence from mainstream media companies at the event. Ed Walker of Trinity Mirror (and Blog Preston) was there, but nobody from TM’s local Middlesbrough Gazette turned up, despite having apparently been invited individually by TAL.
The view of Middlesbrough from the balcony of MIMA, where the event took place.
Perhaps some of the lessons of hyperlocal community reporting, as partly outlined in the book Ed recently co-authored, have now been absorbed by traditional media companies and therefore they’re no longer as interested in the sector. Whatever the reason, the mutual distrust between hyperlocal practitioners and newspaper executives, so much a feature of past events like this, was pleasingly almost absent this time.
Instead, the sessions I took part in were rather less about news, and much more about publishing other forms of community information. I was particularly taken with On The Wight’s oral history project, Voices, another string to the remarkable bow that Simon and Sally Perry have built up over the past eight years.
And perhaps it’s just because I’ve gone from mainstream journalist to hyperlocal journalist to academic, but I spotted that the university sector was notably well represented, not least because the Creative Citizens research project helped fund the day.
After the initial rush of interest in hyperlocal media, it seems the sector is now more reflective. But all the activity around the country, now being more thoroughly researched and analysed than ever before, demonstrates it’s not been a passing fad.