Tag Archives: Talk About Local

#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.

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.

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.