What Next For Community Journalism? Cardiff Conference 2015


Cardiff. It was a nice day.

I was at JOMEC in Cardiff yesterday for the What Next For Community Journalism? conference, being held as something of a warm up for the Future of Journalism event taking place there today and tomorrow. Although to describe it as a warm up is doing the conference a real disservice. It was packed with interesting speakers from the UK community media scene and further afield, and huge credit must go to the team at Cardiff’s Centre for Community Journalism for organising such a successful day.

The centrepiece of the occasion was the launch of the latest report on hyperlocal by Damian Radcliffe, called Where Are We Now? (yes, another question – there were more questions than answers at this conference but, as a veteran of quite a few of these things, it was ever thus). He noted that many of the issues facing the sector remain similar to those which have existed for some years, back to when I set up Saddleworth News in 2010 and even earlier – including money, sustainability, relationships with the BBC, newspaper publishers, Facebook and others, potential legal and regulatory threats and more. Damian called for more academic research in the area, building on that already done by Andy Williams, Dave Harte, Jerome Turner and others, and I’ll certainly be contributing to that as part of my PhD on local court reporting.

Will Perrin of Talk About Local picked up on one key theme touched on by many speakers, which is that Facebook isn’t what it used to be for hyperlocal publishers. I well remember it as something of a gusher of views to Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, which allowed the site’s audience to grow quite quickly. But algorithms can and do change, and these days organic reach from Facebook posts can be as low as 1-2% of your ‘likers’ on Facebook. So, for a hyperlocal with, say, a Facebook community of 2,000, each post may initially only be seen by as few as 20 of those.

Will and his colleague Mike Rawlins also revealed an updated version of the old Openly Local map of UK hyperlocal sites. They’re currently populating the Local Web List, and estimate the number of local sites offering civic information, news and other things, may actually be a lot higher than previously thought – perhaps in the 1,500 to 2,000 range. They need help finding all the sites, and more details are at the Local Web List site.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

The outsider’s view came from Dan Gillmor, over from Silicon Valley. He also discussed Facebook, describing it as the biggest competitor to independent local publishers. This part of his argument really came back to the idea that whenever someone else has a significant control over the way in which the audience sees your stuff, you’re putting yourself at some risk. The slightest tweak to a line of code in Menlo Park, even if it’s aimed at solving some entirely unrelated problem, can have a potentially disastrous impact on a hyperlocal.

Gillmor was sceptical about Google and Facebook but conceded he didn’t believe the current leadership of those companies was necessarily “evil”, although he did reserve some harsher words for Apple. After explaining he tries to avoid products from those companies as far as possible, he admitted he still uses Google Maps because there’s nothing else nearly as good. He closed by saying “I try to manage my hypocrisy”, which I thought was quite a nice way of putting it.

5 responses to “What Next For Community Journalism? Cardiff Conference 2015

  1. Pingback: My thoughts on #CJ15: What next for community journalism? | AndyDickinson.net

  2. Good to see you at the event, and look forward to hearing more about your research. Unfortunately I missed Dan Gillmor’s earlier talk although heard the end Q&A and would like to know more about his view on the role of the market in helping hyperlocal / community media grow in sustainable ways. For not-for-profit/non-commercial media to thrive (as much of this sector is) I think we need to re-adjust the way these issues are approached. Taking a non- (commercial) market oriented approach doesn’t have to mean direct state funding, but designing systems that allow new entrants that aren’t entirely reliant on consumer subscription or advertising revenue. It would be wonderful if the former could help sustain important public interest reporting such as court and council reporting but it isn’t an easy product to sell to individual readers/users.

  3. richardjonesjournalist

    @JTownend Yes, I think there’s a lot of mileage in something closer to community radio. One near me gets by on grants that it receives for training local people and one person working part-time selling ads to local businesses, with the rest just down to volunteers. I suppose radio stations are much more of an obvious team activity than doing, say, a website. And training someone to use a studio is tougher than training someone to sit in a council meeting and report fairly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the hyperlocal sector as a whole moves gradually towards this model as time goes on.

  4. Hi Richard, thanks for your write-up. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to chat on the day, but I will look forward to your PhD research. I’ve no doubt, as with your previous experience in this field, it will add a lot to our collective knowledge. Keep me posted with how things are going!

  5. richardjonesjournalist

    @Damian Yes, I’d be glad to. Good luck with your new role in the US. See you on the internet, of course!

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