Tag Archives: business models

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 London SE1. 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.

Hyperlocal Voices: Jamie Summerfield, A Little Bit of Stone

It’s been a little while since we had a new entry in our Hyperlocal Voices series (where we interview hyperlocal practitioners about their experiences). To kick off our efforts for 2014, Damian Radcliffe touches base with Jamie Summerfield, to talk about A Little Bit of Stone, a community news website for Stone in Staffordshire.

Who were the people behind the blog?

I set up A Little Bit of Stone in August 2010 and was joined a month later by Jon Cook.

We quickly set up a partnership, me doing editorial and Jon looking after web and technical matters. Continue reading

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London – the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site. Continue reading

Hyperlocal Voices: Richard Gurner, Caerphilly Observer

For the fourth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head back to Wales. Launched by Richard Gurner in July 2009, the Caerphilly Observer acts as a local news and information website for Caerphilly County Borough.

The site is one of a small, but growing, number of financially viable hyperlocal websites. Richard, who remains the Editor of the site, told Damian Radcliffe a little bit about his journey over the last three years. Continue reading

Review: Funding Journalism in the Digital Age

For the past few weeks I’ve been casually enjoying Funding Journalism in the Digital Age, a book that surveys the business models underpinning the industry – and those that are being explored for its future. And it’s rather good.

The book has four broad parts: the initial 3 chapters provide the current context: a history of news publishing as a business; and an overview of current business models and commercial tactics, from paywalls and hyperlocal projects to SEO and dayparting.

The bulk of the book then looks in detail at particular types of business models: micropayments and microfunding; sponsorship and philanthropy; family ownership and trusts; niche content; e-paper, and e-commerce.

Alongside this, a number of chapters look at organisational innovation, from pro-am collaboration to institutional partnerships. And finally, two key chapters look at the principles of microeconomic concepts for the industry, and the importance of innovation.

Rather than sit back and paint a neutral picture of things, the book states quite firmly why now is not the time to stick with old models (the economics of both publishing and advertising have changed), while also not pretending to know the answer to the industry’s problems.

Instead, over the course of the book, readers get a good overview of how media organisations are attempting to adapt to the new environment, as well as a sample of the different models being experimented with by innovative startups – the successes, failures, but mostly the wait-and-sees. The result is a valuable insight into the increasingly varied nature of the industry side of ‘the industry’.

The chapters are littered with examples from both mainstream and lesser-known publishing projects, and it’s refreshingly global in its perspective: the usual US and UK stories are complemented with online and print examples from France, Singapore, Norway, Australia and elsewhere. Sadly, like most journalism textbooks, magazines and, to a lesser extent, broadcast, are a little neglected.

Although this is an entry-level book the subject is broad enough – and the industry itself so varied – for most people to find something new here.

For students, this is a book to join the list of must-reads. Too few books address the current commercial realities that students face upon entering the media. It would be nice to see some more.

Print's advertising problem – tying one hand behind its back

Last week Karl Schneider, Reed Business Information’s Editorial Director, spent an hour chatting with students in my Online Journalism class. Most of it is available on video here, but of particular interest to me was a point Karl made about how Reed separated its online advertising into a separate company very early on, and are now reaping the benefits (embedded above).

“Because we had print businesses to protect we spent at least as much time worrying about not doing something on the web that would undercut the money coming in in print as worrying about ‘How do we make this new stuff grow’ … One of the big revenue streams for us was recruitment ads … So when we started to do online jobs one of the big challenges was ‘How can we do this without damaging all of the money tied up in print?’ And very quickly we realised that if we worry about that, we’re going to be rubbish at online job ads, because we’re always going to be operating with one hand tied behind our backs. And we’ll be competing against pure-play onlines who won’t have that worry.

“So what we ended up doing was setting up our online jobs advertising operation as a separate business and allowed it to compete head-to-head with our print business, and it caused all sorts of internal arguments – but it was absolutely the right thing to do because we’re making more money now out of online jobs than we ever did from print jobs. Less per job – there’s a lot more job ads – but it took separating it off [as a separate business] to do it.”

I’ve written about this problem before. Although on paper there are economies to be made by combining print and web ad sales, that’s not a strategy for future growth.

Instead, it appears to result in a prolonged addiction to the dying cash cow of print ads (and, anecdotally, a frustrating experience for advertisers wishing to move money from print to online). Judging by the recent research into magazine ad sales (PDF) in the US (image below), the magazine industry may need to listen to Karl’s experiences.

87% of ad staff work across both print and web

Image taken from CJR research into magazine websites (link above). 'To' should say 'Two'