Hyperlocal Voices: Paul Smith, HU17.net

http://humbernews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/hu17.pngThe latest in our Hyperlocal Voices series features the work of Paul Smith at HU17.net.

Over the past five years Paul has built an online presence which enjoys 140k visitors a month, as well as a weekly printing offering which has been running for some years.

This longevity, audience, and revenue steams means he has much to offer the hyperlocal community. Not that this is a term he likes:

I prefer to think of what I and others do are niche web sites, to me the term Hyperlocal devalues what I do. When people ask what I do I say I am a publisher, pretty much the same as a paper but on a smaller scale.

He also adds a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of venturing into this field telling Damian Radcliffe:

If anyone is thinking that doing this is easy money they need to think again, it takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice to get the job done but the non financial rewards make me feel very proud.

Read on for Paul’s insights on the evolution of HU17.net as well as some of his plans for the future.

1.  Who were the people behind the blog?

I currently manage the whole web site on my own though from time to time people will shoot content for me, I have one regular shooter Paul Linton who shoots sport with me at weekends. Scott McHugh a former sports editor with a regional paper has provided lots of support too, would have been nice to have been able to have him as part of the business.

2.  What made you decide to set up the blog?

My father passed away and I needed to fill my time, I had the domain, HU17.net – which is the towns postal code parked so thought I would make use of that. It gave me something to focus on and keep moving forward at time when all I wanted to do was give up.

3.  When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I have experience in coding and web sites, internet marketing so the basic skills were second nature. Creating content was the thing I had never done so I started by going for walks to fill time and took photos which I then started to upload to HU17. The first time I did this was some time ago.

From there I started to photograph anything I could. By chance the local cricket club were holding an event and I managed to gain access to cover it. While there I also photographed sport for the first time and quickly realised it was good way to get visitors to the site.

About two years in Scott McHugh suggested I make a sports magazine, so we did. At the time there was a developer, Barratts, who were building some flats, they sponsored the back page for £80pw for a long period of time which provided enough revenue to keep it going and attract other advertisers both on and offline.

Without them I do not think that the magazine would still be going, I do not even think they realise, what to them would be a small amount of money, has influenced and changed our community so much in a positive way.

4.  What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

No other sites have influenced me really.

I never started with a clear plan so did things off the cuff, over time HU17 has evolved and changed a lot to reflect what people are actually interested in. What I have done is listen to people and find out what they liked about the local press and why they liked it, sport, social life and family based activities. I created a list and from that list I picked out the ones I could do and do better and now focus on that.

People notice when the site gets ‘samey’ and events that are very similar are covered, this is because one job leads to another so if you cover a party for example you normally get asked to cover another the following week etc.

5.  How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

I do not think I am can compete with them on news and journalism, it is just not possible, I thought I could in the early days but they have trained journalists with years of experience. The companies in my region are Johnston Press and Norcliffe. Both of these are giants and have far greater resources and skills, how I compete is trying to publish first on things I know we are all covering and by moving into print ;)

However I do feel that HU17 is now firmly part of and recognised as being part of local media landscape. I tend to deliver things faster and in more user friendly way, as I do not have to answer to anyone I am able to change and adapt far quicker to things.

In the early days I had dreams of trying to work with a weekly paper and do a deal to provide them with content but that never happened, now I run a magazine I can do it all in house and how I want to do it.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

My site has gone backwards in terms of editorial, I have difficulties in reading and writing so words are often brief, and spelt wrong, but supported with lots of quality images.

7.  What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Each month HU17 reaches around 140K people.

It is still growing too, though there a some dips during quite times in the year which is the same across the internet as a whole. I get a lot of search traffic though do no SEO – I think the site should be number one in Google for Beverley, but they do not, so I park it and just focus on generating content. Also through social networks traffic comes to the site, but my preference is type in traffic. People search brand over product and HU17 is judging by the searches a recognised brand.

8.  What has been your biggest challenge to date?

My biggest challenge to date the launch of weekly glossy magazine, which is effectively the site transformed into print. It’s been going for 132 weeks now and has proved to be too popular with people to let it slip. It also acts as good marketing tool and revenue generator for the business.

In terms of revenue the hardest challenge that is ongoing is getting access to the national advertisers, Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and places like that really should be part of this project as they form part of people’s lives here in Beverley. It’s their loss ;)

9.  What story, feature or series are you most proud of?

Well it has to be the Olympic Torch coming through Beverley.  In the build up I could not see what all the fuss was about though on the morning it was coming to Beverley I watched the live feed on the internet. As it got closer slowly I became more and more excited which I think was the emotion many people felt on the day, when I saw it come through I felt quite proud that it had come to Beverley.

Also as it was so big I asked for help from the community and was able to set up shooters throughout the route and even on the media bus! This gave what I think was the best coverage of the event not just in Beverley but anywhere else in the UK! In a strange twist I met the chap who designed the torch and he took a photo of me holding it with my camera.

Another has to be the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations.

The goal of this was to cover everything that was happening and somehow I achieved it. It involved a lot of effort and a push bike, climbing and jumping over things to get to the locations in time to cover the events. How I got from the raft race to the Racecourse in time on a push bike I will never know. What I can say is that I thought I had joined the army as it was physically very gruelling. I remember arriving at the racecourse and a couple of people I know just handed me a cold drink, I slumped to the ground and necked it!

However the work paid off and the results show a great snap shot of lots of events, it also was the biggest selling edition of the magazine.

10.  What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I am working on expansion, rolling sites out in the towns for each of the towns in my region, ie putting the HU17 brand in front of people who may not live in Beverley but are still quite local. For example Bridlington, Hornsea, Hull etc

Also a key goal for the coming months is to tighten up on revenue streams and put a more robust system in place for billing and collecting of advertising revenue.

I wouldn’t rule out the introduction of a pay wall either.

I believe pay walls will become the norm for publishers and that users will pay to access content that is of interest to them, take Sky TV that is a perfect example. But for now I have a lot of users who would not have the ability to make a payment so blocking them from accessing content would not be a sensible move.

One thought on “Hyperlocal Voices: Paul Smith, HU17.net

  1. Pingback: Media, Community and the Creative Citizen

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