Tag Archives: Hyperlocal

New Editor For Saddleworth News

Saddleworth News

Congratulations to Ruby Anstee, the new editor of Saddleworth News. This is the hyperlocal website for Saddleworth and the surrounding area I started almost eight years ago, and it’s great to see it still going strongly long after I stopped having any involvement with it.

Well done also to Stuart Littleford, who has done a great job with the website over many years. He’s made sure Saddleworth News is a lively, well-read source of local information, with great engagement on social media too (more than 9,000 Twitter followers and 7,500 Facebook likes is good going for an area with a population of about 20,000). It’s undoubtedly one of the longest-running and most successful hyperlocal websites around, and long may that continue!

Journalism Technologies: 22. Hyperlocal

Week 22 of Journalism Technologies brought me back to a subject I know a bit about, hyperlocal journalism. I was very closely involved in this area during my time setting up and running Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, and I’ve maintained an interest in it ever since.

It’s probably true to say that the hyperlocal sector has, in general, not lived up to some of the expectations which certain commentators ascribed to it back then. With some very honourable exceptions, it hasn’t really replaced some of the declining ‘district’ coverage offered by local newspapers. Experiments conducted by legacy media companies in this space, such as Guardian Local and Sky Tyne & Wear, have been scrapped despite some critical acclaim. Nor has there been much outside cash, whether through investment, grants or advertising, for UK hyperlocals, which has left our sector looking rather impoverished when compared with the US.

But on the other hand, I don’t think many of us involved in hyperlocals really believed the hype back then. Hyperlocals at their best, then and now, and whether on a WordPress site or a Facebook page, offer information which helps bind communities together, information that may not be readily available anywhere else. Sometimes this is journalism, and research by Andy Williams, Dave Harte and Jez Turner shows that council coverage is a key part of many hyperlocal sites, while at other times it’s probably not – that same research demonstrates the eternal popularity of posts about community events and local history. Hyperlocals may not be the flavour of the month these days, but they are a part of the media landscape and will certainly remain so.

In the workshops this week, I got students to find a hyperlocal from their hometowns and discuss their strengths and weaknesses, before searching for new ones to add to the Local Web List directory. This is the best online resource available to navigate the UK hyperlocal sector. There are more than 600 entries, and after a bit of work from my students this week, there’s a few more on there now.

IMPRESS, Regulation and Hyperlocal News

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Saddleworth News.

Should we be impressed by IMPRESS? Four years after the Leveson Report into press standards, a new regulator has finally won formal recognition by the independent body established to do the recognising. But there is some derision from Fleet Street for a body which is, after all, funded by sex scandal ex-motorsport boss Max Mosley.

Most newspapers and magazines around the UK have thrown in their lot with a different body, IPSO, while others including The Guardian and Financial Times continue with their own arrangements. Those publishers aren’t happy with running anything past a recognition panel, and would prefer their own forms of self-regulation.

In a past life I set up Saddleworth News, now at nearly seven years old one of the country’s best-established hyperlocal news sites. Even though I’ve long since moved away, I keep an interest in the site and the sector more generally. This is relevant because of the 50 or so publishers currently associated with IMPRESS (either being regulated by them, or having applied to be), most are hyperlocal.

The original idea was that being part of an approved regulator would offer publishers a carrot: quick and easy resolution of libel disputes, settled cheaply before anything got to court. Along with this, a stick: if you don’t join up, you’ll have to pay the costs, even if you win. This latter sanction is included in section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, but has yet to be invoked because of the lack of a formally validated regulator. Now IMPRESS has been recognised, the prospect of section 40 has risen back up the political agenda. Although a story in Tuesday’s Times hinted that the government may now back down.

So, confusion for a bit longer. But it’s hyperlocal publishers who have much to lose here. The News Media Association, which represents the newspaper and magazine industry, has claimed that the hyperlocals who have thrown in their lot with IMPRESS have done so unnecessarily, because they don’t meet the government’s own definition of ‘relevant publisher’ which includes a requirement of at least 10 members of staff. But those criteria also feature being subject to editorial control, publishing news content, engaging in commercial activity and having different authors – all of which apply to, say, Saddleworth News, the sort of organisation which could theoretically be wiped out by a vexatious litigant angry at coverage of a contentious local matter. Having the institutional support of an official regulator could offer welcome and much-needed back-up.

As the-then Culture Secretary Maria Miller put it in the Commons in 2013: “Those exempted by virtue of the fact that they are a micro-business can choose to gain the benefits of the costs clauses by joining the regulator, providing an incentive for them to join if they so wish and a choice to small organisations, perhaps before they grow in size and inevitably become a relevant publisher.” For all its faults, IMPRESS is probably even more appealing for a hyperlocal now than it was then.

There’s more on this from Matt Abbott over at C4CJ.

#TAL16: Talk About Local’s Latest Hyperlocal Unconference

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day's proceedings.

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day’s proceedings.

To Birmingham last Saturday for the latest in Talk About Local’s successful run of hyperlocal unconferences. In a past life I set up and ran one of the UK’s better known local independent sites, Saddleworth News, and even though I’ve long since passed the site on to a new editor, I’m still very interested in the sector.

The event was hosted in Birmingham City University and lecturer, hyperlocal blogger and researcher Dave Harte got us going, along with co-organiser Will Perrin of Talk About Local. Along with a handful of academics, journalism students and others, sites from across the UK were represented by their editors, ranging from the well-established such as On The Wight to newer entrants including Alt Blackpool.

The agenda.

The agenda.

I facilitated a small session on covering the local courts, which is the subject of my ongoing PhD research. It was a good opportunity to share a key test case from earlier in the year, when the High Court ruled that note-taking from the public gallery is permissable (full judgment here). Often, court staff, journalists and others have held to the traditional view that only reporters sitting at the press table may do so, but the Ewing case firmly established otherwise.

Other interesting sessions that I caught included Will demonstrating the Local News Engine, which has recently won funding under Google’s Digital News Initiative. Also, local MA student Sandro Sorrentino gave a great presentation on the nuts and bolts of getting hyperlocal sites onto Apple News, which given its higher profile in iOS10 is likely to become a bigger driver to traffic to news sites than has so far been the case.

Matt Abbott from Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism managed to get round a bit more than me, and has comprehensively written up the day on the C4CJ site.

What Next For Community Journalism? Cardiff Conference 2015

Cardiff.

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.

The BBC’s Hyperlocal Consultation

The BBC consultation.

The BBC consultation.

There’s lots of consulting going on this week. Two extremely interesting ones began yesterday, with the government asking for views not only on the future of the BBC, but also on plans to further reduce the number of court buildings across the country, with magistrates courts in Oldham and Halifax among those marked for closure.

But I’m going to save both of those for another day. Earlier this month, the BBC announced a consultation of its own, on how it could work more closely with hyperlocal publishers. You can read the proposals here. But to sum them up in a sentence, it’s better linking to hyperlocal sites, training for hyperlocal practitioners, having the sector represented on various working groups, making sure local BBC journalists know what hyperlocals are, and compiling an updated list of active hyperlocal sites.

All very sensible and achievable. In fact, many of these proposals have been kicking around in one form or another for some years. I’m not as on the inside of the hyperlocal world as I used to be when I ran Saddleworth News, so I’m not clear why issues such as more linking have never actually come to pass. But anyway, in my brief response to the consultation, I made a couple of extra suggestions.

One would be to appoint a named individual within the BBC responsible for driving forward this agenda (this being the BBC, it would have to be a ‘hyperlocal lead’). It seems to have been done informally in the past with the result that when an individual moves on or leaves, any momentum behind the partnerships is lost.

My other suggestion is to get hyperlocal practitioners involved in BBC local radio. Stations are always desperate for lively contributors, and if they can add a little journalism alongside local colour, so much the better. A regular slot with a modest tip fee of a fiver or a tenner would be mutually agreeable, I’d have thought.

The consultation ends on 30 September, with a summary due to be published in November.

First PhD Conference

The former Salford Town Hall and, until recently, Magistrates' Court. Now becoming flats.

The former Salford Town Hall and, until recently, Magistrates’ Court. Now becoming flats.

I was back in Cardiff last month for the first PhD conference of my time as a student at JOMEC. These are days on which PhD students present their work so far to colleagues and supervisors, and take questions about it. My presentation is here.

I’m already some way behind the students who were inducted along with me in October, because they’re working over three years full-time, while I’m aiming for five years working part-time. So in comparison to those well on with their literature reviews, I didn’t have that much to really say.

The whole project is still probably best summed up by the image I’ve used above, which I also included in the presentation, of the empty former Salford Town Hall and Magistrates’ Court. What impact is the closure of it and dozens like it having on local justice and democracy, and what can we do about it? I’m looking forward to getting on with answering those and other questions.

I’m going to do a bit of test research in the archives as part of my literature search, and I’m planning to visit the British Library’s northern outpost at Boston Spa next week to start that. So hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have something more substantial to update this blog with.

Saddleworth News Is Five

The first post on Saddleworth News, 16th February 2010.

The first post on Saddleworth News, 16th February 2010.

It’s happy birthday to Saddleworth News. Five years to the day after I hit publish on the first post, and more than three since I last had any day-to-day involvement with it, I’m pleased to say it’s still going strongly under editor Stuart Littleford.

I’ve always said I started the site for two reasons: one to keep me involved in journalism while I stayed at home looking after my baby daughter (who is now also five, and has a little sister), and the other to provide a news and information resource that would be useful to the community in an era of declining traditional local media.

The first part of it worked out better than I’d imagined, and the attention I got from Saddleworth News turned into freelance work at BBC Radio 5 live, guest talks at universities and colleges across the north, and now a full-time job as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield.

Much more importantly, Stuart and his regular readers, advertisers, contributors and commenters, have made sure the second part has been a much greater success than I could ever have imagined. Congratulations are due to everyone involved.

Hyperlocal isn’t the buzzword it was five years ago, but these sites have become an established part of the local media mix in the hundreds of places where they exist. The process of cutbacks and closures in the mainstream local media – which I wrote about in that first post five years ago – has continued in that time, and the sector as a whole still faces an uncertain future. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from five years of Saddleworth News, it’s that the public’s interest in local news remains strong.

Talking Hyperlocal At The University Of Salford

Oh ok, I suppose I can squeeze one more use out of this photo.

Oh ok, I suppose I can squeeze one more use out of this photo.

I was back at MediaCity on Thursday afternoon, to give a talk on hyperlocal to MA International Journalism students at the University of Salford. It was good to catch up with Kate “Manchizzle” Feld, who is a tutor there and invited me to come over from Huddersfield and speak. And it was also good to revisit a subject that I’ve still got a great interest in, even though it’s more than three years since I handed on Saddleworth News.

I told the students that although hyperlocal is no longer the fashionable media buzzword it was in, say, 2010, the sector is proving pretty resilient. Dave Harte’s latest snapshot of the UK scene shows more than 400 active websites, and that doesn’t take into account the many hyperlocal-style offerings available elsewhere, from social networks to old-style forums.

My expectation is that hyperlocal is here to stay for the same reasons it appeared in the first place. People are interested in very local news about their areas, the mainstream media is generally less able to provide that news, more information than ever about our communities is publicly available online, and it’s easy to set up a website of your own and get publishing some of it. It’s not the moneyspinning saviour of local journalism that some hoped it might be, but that always seemed more than a little optimistic.

The presentation I gave is here. Embarrassingly enough, I was wearing the same t-shirt I had on when the picture at the top of this post was taken. Given my eldest daughter is now five, it’s probably time to retire it. The picture that is, not the t-shirt. Plenty of wear in that yet.

I’ve Started My PhD

I'm a student again. So if you need 10% off in Topshop let me know.

I’m a student again. So if you need 10% off in Topshop let me know.

I was in Cardiff on Tuesday to formally start my PhD. I’ll be doing it part-time, while continuing to work full-time at the University of Huddersfield. I’ve got one research day a week to work on it, with a bit of extra time over the summer, and my target is to complete within five years.

I’m fortunate to have Huddersfield’s financial backing, so I’ve had quite a free hand with what to study. I’ve chosen something I’ve been interested in since my hyperlocal experiences with Saddleworth News, the coverage of courts and councils by local newspapers and other media. By focusing on some towns in the north of England, I aim to assess the current level of coverage, how that compares with the past and the extent to which it’s under pressure from cutbacks in the local press. I want to produce some practical recommendations which will hopefully help make sure proper coverage of local public affairs continues, even if certain newspapers are forced to print only weekly or not at all in future.

Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies is a natural home for my research, not least because it has a particular interest in community and hyperlocal media. Prof Stuart Allan will be my supervisor, with Prof Richard Sambrook as second supervisor. I’ll be updating this blog occasionally with bits and bobs from my studies as I go along.