Hyperlocal Voices Revisited: Tim Dickens, Brixton Blog and Brixton Bugle

 

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In our Hyperlocal Voices series we speak to hyperlocal publishers about their journey as they seek to build a successful hyperlocal offer. From time to time we also check in again on some of the more established players to see what’s changed and how their operation is evolving.

One such example is Brixton Blog in South West London.

Originally established by Zoe Jewell in 2010, the site has evolved considerably since, launching the Brixton Bugle newspaper in July 2012 (10,000 copies of which are distributed each month) and working with The Carnegie UK Trust as part of their Neighbourhood News initiative by providing structured work placements for local trainees.

In 2013 The Brixton Blog and Bugle were shortlisted in the ‘Innovation of the Year’ category at the British Journalism Awards, alongside Sun Plus, Guardian Witness and Independent Voices in Danger projects. The team are currently in the middle of a crowdfunder campaign designed to raise money for a part-time news editor.

Co-founder Tim Dickens tells Damian Radcliffe what’s changed at Brixton Blog since we first spoke to them in June 2012; alongside some of their plans for the future.

1. What’s been the biggest change to the site in the last 30 months?

We’ve appointed more editors, who each work on different sections independently on a voluntary basis. These include: Features, Sport, News, Food & Drink, Arts, Music and Listings. The editors commission and write their own content and upload straight to the site, as well as being responsible for their own sections in our monthly print newspaper, the Brixton Bugle.
We also have a couple of (very part-time) team members who are paid for their time, plus an ad sales person.  The physical website hasn’t changed at all.

2. What sort of traffic do you now get and how has that changed?

In the past few months we’ve averaged about 90,000 page views per month, from 65,000 unique visitors. If anything this has dropped from earlier days. Unsurprisingly, traffic is directly linked to volume on content. Sadly, the amount and quality of content going up on the site has varied depending on our time and resources. Our Twitter audience has grown to over 20,000 on our @BrixtonBlog handle – and this helps to build traffic. Our weekly mail-out list continues to grow steadily.

3. Have you seen any changes in the way that audiences interact with you?

We still get the most traffic from social media. Facebook is highest for referrals followed swiftly by Twitter.
We have tried to structure our articles to prompt debate, and as such we have seen an increase in discussion about the issues we cover. This is less and less on Brixtonblog.com, but increasingly takes place on Facebook.
We also have a lot of offline interaction from people who have read the Brixton Bugle who may not be online – we get a lot of phone calls to the office and letters by post.

4. How would you describe your relationship with the traditional media in the area?

We don’t have a relationship with the traditional local media. Because we have a print newspaper we compete with them for print advertising and licensing notices. Our local newspaper, the South London Press, doesn’t have much of an online presence so we don’t compete online. Our biggest competition in terms of traffic comes from other blogs and websites, like Brixton Buzz.

5. What new blogs, bloggers or websites have you seen which you think are doing this stuff well?

We have an enormous respect for SE1.com. They are not new – and the fact they have been doing this for so long is testament to how good it is. I think hyperlocal publications can learn a lot from them.

 

Our neighbours, the Herne Hill Forum, provide a very useful service to residents in terms of a directory and discussion forum which has spilled on to do a lot of offline civic good, like setting up the Herne Hill farmers market and attracting funding for street improvements etc.

 

I’ve always had a huge respect for Simon and Sally at onthewight.com too.

6. What are you most proud of over the past couple of years?

We ran a beautiful series of features called Faces of Cressingham Gardens, it was a print-first portrait of a series of amazing people who live on an estate which is threatened with demolition by Lambeth Council.To add value to the news coverage we gave to the residents’ campaign, our features editor and a photographer teamed up to give a picture of six very different residents who’d lived there for a long time.
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Photo: Shaun, from Brixton Blog’s The Faces of Cressingham series

It was a moving piece that went beyond the headlines and added real colour and a human element to the news stories.Keith Lewis (the writer) left the politics out of his articles and really succeeded in capturing an essence of his subjects. The first woman he interviewed sadly passed a few weeks later, and we received a really touching letter from her family saying thank you for the article. People still tell me how much they enjoyed reading it.

7. What is currently your biggest challenge?

Creating a financially sustainable platform to do what we do and pay some contributors and editors for their time. Also, funding a central management role to keep it all together. At the same time – and all linked in – we struggle to cover all the relevant news and information in the area, including attending council and other community meetings.

8. What are your plans for the future?

We really want to increase our coverage of local news – including council meetings and community events – which we don’t have the resources to do at the moment.
In the long term, we’d love to see a weekly or fortnightly edition of the Brixton Bugle newspaper, although that is a long way off. We’d like to expand the opportunities that we can offer local young people by way of training in the media industry and journalism too.
We’ve launched a crowdfunder to help pay a new news editor, part-time, to get on top of all the news stories and content that we often miss.

9. What one thing would most help you to move successfully to the next phase of the site’s development?

An angel investor, or grant funding, to give us 6 months to really build a sustainable platform to provide what we do.

Is This The Beginning Of The End For The UK Headline?

Until recently a journalism trainer in the UK could safely berate a trainee for Writing Headlines Where Every Word Began With A Capital.

It is a style of headline writing common in US publications, but non-existent in the UK, where newspapers have traditionally fit into one of two camps: the SHOUTY SHOUTY REDTOPS and the broadsheets who Only make the first letter uppercase unless there’s a proper noun.

(The mid-markets, as might be expected, took the best of both worlds, reserving shouting for the front pages and lower case for the inside pages).

So a journalism trainee who Wrote Like This had likely never paid much attention to newspapers, or only when they appeared in Hollywood films.

Or perhaps they just read Guido Fawkes, who, for whatever reason appears to have followed the Hollywood style of headline writing:

Guido Fawkes headlines

Guido Fawkes’s headlines adhere to the US style

 

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Why I have a problem with Google’s crowdfunding tool Contributor – a tweet story

HOW TO: Find out the ages of people using Excel

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This post is taken from the ebook Finding Stories With Spreadsheets

“How do I calculate an age in Excel?” Marion Urban, a French journalist and student on the MA in Online Journalism in Birmingham, was preparing data for the forthcoming UK General Election.

In order to do this Marion had downloaded details on the candidates who had stood successfully in the previous election.

“It was a very young intake. But it wasn’t easy to calculate their ages.”

Indeed. You would think that calculating ages in Excel would be easy. But there is no off-the-shelf function to help you do so. Or at least, no easy-to-find function.

Instead there are a range of different approaches: some of them particularly, and unnecessarily complicated.

In this extract from Finding Stories in Spreadsheets I will outline one approach to calculating ages, which also illustrates a useful technique in using spreadsheets in stories: the ability to break down a problem into different parts. Continue reading

“Pinboard is down!”: 3 ways to make sure your bookmarks are still accessible when the site isn’t

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On Saturday the social bookmarking service Pinboard experienced some lengthy downtime.

For those who rely on the service – like me – as professional archive, this was a problem. But it was a good example of why archives should always be backed up.

Here, then, are 3 ways you can – and probably should – back up your bookmark archives, whether you’re using Pinboard or another service. Continue reading

Birmingham Mail uses social media ‘Thunderclap’ to mark pub bombing anniversary campaign

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The Birmingham Mail is to invite its readers and followers to sign up today to a week-long experiment with the ‘crowdspeaking’ platform Thunderclap.

Thunderclap, launched in 2012, allows users to sign up to send coordinated social media messages around a particular issue or campaign.

Staff at the paper have already started ‘seeding’ the campaign by emailing their own networks. An email from publishing director Marc Reeves explains:

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“If we don’t move with it then the low-brow side wins”: obstacles to gamification part 2: perceptions, standards and time

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Click on the player above to listen to full audio of Alex’s interview

In the second of two guest posts for OJB (read the first part here), Alex Iacovangelo interviews Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus (full audio above) on the reasons why gamification has not been more widely used in journalism.

What is a game? Why audiences like games, and editors don’t

The word ‘game’ attracts new types of audiences, especially when so many are gamers, but within the news business it can have the opposite effect internally, especially when pitching.

“It was the word ‘game’ that put people off,” says Juliana.

“I’ve tried explaining what gamification is as a process and once you actually break down the mechanics people really get it, but it is the word – because games aren’t seen as serious.

“People raise their eyebrows and I was very careful when I pitched it.”

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