Tag Archives: Hyperlocal

Talk About Local ’13

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.

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.

What I’m Reading: Connected: The Power Of Modern Community

Well worth £1.99.

Well worth £1.99.

I was very kindly sent a review copy of the new ebook from Guardian Shorts about online communities. Called Connected: The Power of Modern Community, it’s by the Guardian’s Hannah Waldram, Ed Walker of Trinity Mirror, and the Cardiff-based publisher and journalist Marc Thomas. And having read it over coffee in Huddersfield this lunchtime, here are some brief thoughts about it.

Cardiff’s a bit of a recurring theme here, because Hannah and Ed both worked there on Guardian Cardiff and Your Cardiff respectively. And the book kicks off with a great story from the city, about how a remarkable trove of old pictures was found and then shared both online and off, culminating in exhibitions and the tracing of the original photographer.

The blend of online and offline features throughout the book. In the conclusion, there’s a list of ten principles for managing an online community, the first of which is ‘get offline’. This excellent advice might seem counter-intuitive, but the rise of Meetup among other similar services has helped take a lot of the hassle out of organising real world events.

A group I’ve joined this year, the Manchester Whisky Club, which runs tastings in a Northern Quarter pub and in members’ homes using Twitter, is a classic example of how those tools and others including Blogger and Paypal can all be harnessed to create a lively community. Even though the main aim is to get drunk and talk about whisky, rather than do something worthy like save the local swimming baths.

The book also touches on Reddit, Mumsnet and some good examples of current hyperlocal news activity in London such as the Brixton Bugle and the evergreen london-se1.co.uk.

You can get the book here. It’s well worth £1.99 of your money.

What I’m Reading: Fire In The Night, Nieman’s Riptide, And More

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The Piper Alpha memorial in Aberdeen. (picture: Lizzie/Wikipedia)

If you grew up in Aberdeen you remember Piper Alpha. I was six at the time, in July 1988, and I vividly recall hearing the rescue helicopters flying directly over my house from the airport out to sea. They returned with just 61 survivors; 167 men were killed.

In the 25 years since, the tragedy has perhaps not been revisited by the media as often as others from that time, such as Hillsborough and Lockerbie. But there was an excellent documentary, Fire In the Night, shown on BBC2 earlier this year. And as a result I’ve read the source material for the film, a book by Scotsman journalist Stephen McGinty. It’s thorough but highly readable, with the descriptions of the chaos on board the platform as the fire took hold particularly devastating. Recommended.

Also recommended is Nieman Lab’s oral history of the impact of digital technologies on journalism, Riptide. It’s been criticised for being too simplistic and lacking a suitable variety of voices, but it’s still a useful guide to some of the key developments and experiments in the news business over the past three decades. And this video of a 1981 news report on an early digital experiment in San Francisco is ace.

Elsewhere, Damian Radcliffe published another useful assessment of the UK’s hyperlocal scene at the BBC College of Journalism, an abridged version of his chapter in the new edition of What Do We Mean By Local?. This guide from the BBC’s Marc Settle to using Apple’s new iOS7 is also worth a read.

A couple of sport-related articles which I’ve enjoyed lately: Andy Bull in the Guardian on cricketer Scott Boswell’s battle with the yips, and some interesting speculation from the New Yorker on whether playing American football might have contributed to Jack Kerouac’s early death.

The always-good This American Life radio show had another cracker earlier this month, too. Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame) tells the remarkable story of how Bosnian immigrant Emir Kamenica got into school and then college in the US. Listen to the whole thing: the podcast is here.

Leeds Lecture On Information, Digital Journalism And Hyperlocal

I’m teaching the first year Broadcast Journalists at the University of Leeds again this semester, and along with a series of practicals I gave them a lecture last week. It covered a few of the familiar themes I like to bang on about, including how journalists can make use of public documents, open data and FOI, the world of hyperlocal journalism, and some other trends in digital.

I also got a mention in for the new local TV stations due to launch later in the year, including Made In Leeds. Given the relatively low budgets the channels will have to play with, I imagine recent graduates like the ones I teach in Leeds and elsewhere may well make up the bulk of their staff.

Here’s the full presentation.

sex shop ucuz satan yer

sex shop ucuz satan yer

Talk About Local 12

The Pinwheel invites on the tear-off sheet disappeared quickly.

I was in Birmingham yesterday for Talk About Local 12, the fourth annual get-together of local publishers and other folks interested in hyperlocal in the UK.

As usual it was a great day with lots of interesting discussions, ranging from the ethical dilemmas of reporting local crime, to fundamental questions about the sustainability of hyperlocal sites.

On the point about sustainability, I was surprised and pleased to be given a prestigious TAL12 unaward for Best Handover, as Saddleworth News continues to flourish without me.

An old friend of mine, Kathryn Hamlett of BBC online, was there with her boss Robin Morley as part of a new effort by the corporation to forge closer links with hyperlocal sites. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the coming months, but including links to appropriate hyperlocals in the Related Stories sections of BBC articles, which they’ve promised to do, is a sensible first step.

Great sites from all over the UK and further afield were represented. But I’ll pick out a couple I hadn’t seen before. Both A Little Bit of Stone and Lightmoor Life were recognised in the unawards, and after a quick look at each of them it’s not difficult to see why.

I also took the opportunity to do a quick show-and-tell of Pinwheel, which I’ve been using a fair bit lately. The invites I had to dish out were quickly taken, so hopefully there should be some great new users on there soon. I’ve got some more though, so if you want an invite yourself then either tweet me your email address or put it in a comment below this post.

More Hyperlocal Thoughts For The BBC College Of Journalism

ImageThe second of my two articles for the BBC College of Journalism blog on my experiences with Saddleworth News is now online.

It’s largely about how I went about trying to sell ads to help fund it, and I offer some conclusions on what I think I learned about the financial viability of professional-standard hyperlocal sites.

You can read the piece on the BBC College blog by clicking here. There’s also an interesting discussion in the comments below.

The first article, published here last month, was all about the editorial challenges I encountered while running Saddleworth News (which I’m delighted to say is still going strong under new editor Stuart from Uppermill!).

Both pieces are taken from a chapter I’ve written from a new book, What Do We Mean By Local?, which has been edited by Neil Fowler, Ian Reeves and John Mair. It features a wide range of people from across the local and regional media having their tuppenceworth on various aspects of the state of our industry.

There’s more information and details of how to buy the book here.

Hyperlocal Thoughts For The BBC College Of Journalism

I’ve written a chapter about my experiences with Saddleworth News for a forthcoming book on local journalism, and you can get a preview of it today.

Part of it has been posted on the BBC College of Journalism site here.

A second piece will be posted in the next few days, focusing on my thoughts about the financial sustainability of hyperlocal journalism.

The book itself is called What Do We Mean By Local? and has been put together by Neil Fowler, Ian Reeves and John Mair. It features a wide range of contributions from across the industry, and comes out on 27 March.

You can read more about it in a Hold The Front Page article here. There’s also a preview of a chapter by Chris Oakley on Jon Slattery’s blog here.

Leeds MA International Journalism Course, Lecture 4

My latest lecture to my international MA students at the University of Leeds was about hyperlocal news. It’s something I know a good bit about, having set up and run Saddleworth News for a couple of years, so hopefully I was able to give them an interesting perspective on this area of the media.

I explained to them that, while I learned a lot from running Saddleworth News, I was unable to find an answer to the problem of how to make journalism, and in particular websites featuring local journalism, pay. But then if I’d found that secret, something tells me I don’t think I’d have been there today giving a lecture!

Here’s the presentation: http://prezi.com/ckqvhfsdym7y/ma-lecture-4-university-of-leeds/

I’ve got one more lecture to give after Easter, and I’ve been doing a series of eight practical sessions teaching them practical journalism skills too. I’ve also been doing more teaching with the first year Broadcast Journalism undergrads, and I’ve got them all to find a local site in their hometowns to discuss in seminars later in the week, so it’ll be interesting to get their views on the value or otherwise of hyperlocal.

Journalists And Selling Adverts

A local advert. Selling these is harder than it looks.

Modern journalists are expected to have a wide range of skills. There are old ones, like how to spot a story, conduct an interview and write an article. There are ones which other people used to do, like write headlines, take photos and record and edit audio and video. Then there all the new ones, ranging from blogging and linking to Tweeting, Storifying and handling spreadsheets full of data.

But, with news companies large and small grappling with the problem of making money, one skill which journalists seem reluctant to discuss is the one which has been helping to pay their wages up to now. Selling adverts.

The divide between journalists and ad sales folk at media companies can be deeply entrenched. I recall working at a radio station, in which most of the open-plan office was filled with desks of people who seemed to bash phones all day, while ever-increasing numbers appeared on a nearby whiteboard. Even though I sat just a few yards away, I had little idea of what they were doing, just as they didn’t offer an opinion as to what should be in my five o’clock bulletin.

Not that I was particularly bothered. After all, even an imaginary barrier between the commercial and editorial parts of a news company seems like good sense. At one time, the drive show was sponsored by the local police. Yet if I had to run a story which was critical of the police in some way, I didn’t feel any pressure from anyone to do things differently. Which is as it should be.

But when I came to the question of how I might fund the hyperlocal website I used to run, Saddleworth News, I realised that nobody was going to sell ads for me. So I had to have a go at it myself. I set up an account with Rick Waghorn’s Addiply for text ads, and started trying to sell display ads directly to local business people.

Adverts like this helped cover the costs of Saddleworth News, but not much else.

I ran into several problems. The major one was that I found myself to be not much good at selling things. It’s all very well to suggest that, because journalists are able to do a ‘death knock’ on a bereaved family, cold-calling businesses should be a doddle. Maybe for some people it is, but I found selling my site to a reluctant shop owner to be a lot tougher than getting information from a reluctant member of the public.

Specifically, I discovered it was hard to convince business owners to part with cash for an advert on a website, even one which had a relatively large audience like mine. The butcher, baker and pub landlord generally have little knowledge of advertising or media trends, and are usually happy to do what they’ve always done, and stick an old-fashioned ad in a paper or magazine every so often. We might know about how the paper’s circulation is a fraction of what it once was, but not everyone does.

The adverts I was able to sell were usually taken by people who used Saddleworth News as readers, and so understood the value of being on the site. Often the advertisers ran internet-based companies themselves, so they could easily see the number of clickthroughs they were getting from me, which helped encourage them to stay on.

The traditional separation between commercial and editorial inevitably got a bit blurred. If one of my advertisers came up in a local news story, I’d always mention the fact they were a supporter of the site. Indeed, I found my amateurish sales patter tended to work best on someone I’d just interviewed (“Thanks for sparing the time to chat, by the way, you can advertise on my site too you know, it’s got thousands of readers a month…”).

But even though at the site’s peak I usually had 12-15 advertisers at any one time, it was only enough to cover costs and keep me in a bit of petrol and beer money. Fine when I was only doing it for a couple of hours a day, but in order to bring in enough cash to make the site my full-time job, I would have been forced to spend most of my time selling ads rather than writing stories. Not an appealing prospect, and a key reason why I ended up handing the site over to students.

I’m sure that, over time, and especially as more local papers go weekly or close altogether, small businesses might see the value of spending a bit more of their advertising money with a quality hyperlocal site. I’m also sure that, with a bit of training, journalists like me could learn to sell ads adequately enough. But I’m even more sure that adding yet another difficult task to the skillset of the modern journalist wouldn’t go down well with anyone. Perhaps this is one skill too important to be left to amateurs.