Tag Archives: Hyperlocal Voices

Hyperlocal Voices Revisited: Ray Duffill, Hedon Blog

Ray Duffill originally took part in our Hyperlocal Voices series in November 2010. Still going strong three years later, Damian Radcliffe took the opportunity to see what’s changed during that time in this particular patch of East Yorkshire. (Photo credit: Neil Holmes via Flickr)

1. What’s been the biggest change to the site in the last 3 years?

The Hedon Blog has had an annual facelift and theme change each year of its existence, but the last theme change concentrated on highlighting news content (with more photos and visual impact), rather than being just about listing links to useful information. Continue reading

Hyperlocal Voices: David Williams, MyTown Media

The latest in our series of Hyperlocal Voices sees Damian Radcliffe talk to David Williams, co-founder of MyTown Media Ltd, which runs four hyperlocal websites in Wales.

welshpool

  1. When were the sites launched?

After about six months of fact finding and market research, the first site – MyWelshpool – was launched on Friday 13th, August 2010. Luckily it has been far from a horror story since!

MyNewtown followed in December that year and then MyBrecon and MyRadnor joined the portfolio in 2012.

  1. What made you decide to set up the sites?

I had moved back to the UK after many years in the Middle East and it didn’t take long to realise that the impact of the traditional local media was diminishing, not just in Mid Wales but across the UK.

Newspaper sales were dropping as readers turned to the internet for their news and information. Continue reading

Hyperlocal Voices Revisited: Ross Hawkes, Lichfield Live

Magnificent Logo

If a week is a long time in politics, then three years is a very long time in hyperlocal. With that in mind we thought it would be interesting to revisit sites we covered when this feature first started in 2010. (Don’t worry, we will continue to feature interviews with new and upcoming hyperlocal publishers too.)

First out of the blocks is Ross Hawkes from Lichfield Live. Damian Radcliffe asked him what had changed since his colleague Philip John spoke to us back in September 2010?

1. What’s been the biggest change to the site in the last 3 years?

We’ve not consciously changed too much. There have been some changes to the design of the site just to give us a bit more flexibility in what we do. I suppose the biggest change has been in terms of trying to get more voices on LichfieldLive. We’re seeing a far greater level of contributions than we’ve ever had before and it really adds to the depth of the site – and makes my life easier because I’m not having to go out and source every last word! There has also been work carried out by Philip John (the other half of the LichfieldLive double act) in developing a What’s On calendar filled by user submissions.

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

I’m told the traffic has had a spike lately, but that’s probably to do with the fact we’ve had some good stories drop for us. Part of this is because we’ve gone back to what we used to do in terms of the sort of stories we are digging out. In terms of audience though, I actually couldn’t give you figures because I don’t really bother with them too much.

In the earlier days of the site I used to be really impacted by the audience numbers but part of me has mellowed out now and part of me has realised that the numbers game wasn’t the reason I got into this. I place far more value on the amount of people who are submitting content or joining the discussion in the comments section of the site – it shows that they are buying into this in the same way I am.

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

It’s peaks and troughs really – and depends a lot on where we are focusing our energy at any one time. We’ve tried to put effort into getting comments and discussion up on the site and have achieved that well.

Our next step is going to be upping the engage through the social media channels and examining new ways for people to access our content.

One of the simplest, yet most effective, changes we’ve made to improve interaction and engagement has been the addition of a Submit Your News button.

It’s so simple and basic, but has really given people an obvious route into the site. They no longer have to dig out an email address or worry it won’t get answered. This way they know they are being able to get their content into our site easily – and the big button keeps reminding them! It’s clearly working though as we’re getting far more submissions than ever before.

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

We don’t really have one. We’re part of the Birmingham Mail Your Communities project, but we’re not their heartland so it’s not really a massive part of what we do.

In terms of the really local media we don’t have as close a relationship (or a relationship at all!) as you would think might be healthy. After all, we don’t run this as a business so we’re quite open to ideas, suggestions or partnerships, or even ways of improving the overall media landscape of the city.

But the fact that we’ve had the local weekly newspaper launch two websites in the last year-or-so (one of them designed to look and feel like a hyperlocal) probably tells you that they don’t intend to play nicely anytime soon, but I won’t lose any sleep over it as we’re not in this to be a rival or anything like that.

We do this because we enjoy it and people seem to like what we’re doing.

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

I don’t really like to cast too much judgement on others because we’re all trying to muddle our way through the great unknown and find a way for this to work for us. It would also mean I’m assessing their success or otherwise against our own metrics of success. I’m a great believer that projects should have their own identity and traditional sustainability doesn’t always have to be what we judge them on.

But in terms of sites I quite like on a personal level, then my former ‘day-job’ colleague Pete Leydon has to get a mention for his NantwichNews site. He’ll be the first to tell you how much I’ve been pestering him to change his design, but in terms of content and community engagement he sets the bar really high.

Similary, the guys at Wrexham.com are also developing a good set-up, while Jamie Summerfield‘s A Little Bit of Stone is another site that gets itself at the heart of the community.

I’m also intrigued by some of the hyperlocal print projects that are beginning to develop.

Hyperlocal is an awful term that means very little and too often is seen just as a digital offering, yet a return to true, successful community-based media could come in many shapes, sizes and platforms so we have to ensure we’re open and not taking a blinkered view.

6. What story, feature or series are you most proud of over the past couple of years?

It’s hard to choose really because some stories probably don’t get the traction or discussion that others do, but to those who are involved they are massively important and that’s a huge part of what we try to do.

I suppose one of our most recent stories about £1.7million worth of cuts being introduced at Lichfield District Council was a strong one for us.

It showed that people trusted us because we were approached off-the-record by council workers who face the prospect of losing their jobs to take up the story and get it out there. It says a lot when people feel that a hyperlocal project can be given such a sensitive issue and be allowed to work with it. I think the local authority also appreciated the way we handled it.

Part of the pleasure of producing that article (and the series which will follow it) was not only the joy of bagging a big local exclusive, but also seeing the amount of discussion it has generated on social media and in the comments section below the story.

Council cuts will have a huge impact on our area and a number of people from different walks of life are now engaging with the issue – something which can only be a good thing for Lichfield District.

On a wider scale I also hope the coverage of this story helps to dismiss the myth that is often peddled that hyperlocal media can’t do ‘hard’ news well.

Yes, we don’t always have the time in our current guise to tackle stories with huge amounts of depth but when we do, we feel we do as good a job on it as anyone in the local area.

7. What is currently your biggest challenge?

Like so many hyperlocals, it really does boil down to having the time to do all the great things we want to do. It’s really rewarding to give local events, organisations etc the depth of coverage that their work deserves, but it can often be a restriction because of the voluntary nature of what we do.

As the lives are evolving for Phil and myself – we’ve both got kids now – so the way we balance and juggle our commitment to the site is having to evolve too.

There’s certainly no suggestion of saying ‘we don’t have time for this anymore’ but it’s about being smart about what we do and introducing some of the intiatives we have to improve access to content and submissions from others.

8. What are your plans for the future?

We’re just going to carry on muddling our way through this ever-changing media landscape. There’s no grand plan and there never has been to be quite honest.

Part of the fun of LichfieldLive has been the organic nature of its evolution. I don’t know what the future holds and I’m fortunate not to be in a position with LichfieldLive where I don’t have to take a punt on predicting it. It’s nice to have that flexibility to take us wherever the wind may blow.

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

It would be lovely to have even more people engaged with the site and taking on some of the content bits and pieces and to perhaps investigate getting our content out in different ways and on different platforms.

Similarly, it would be nice for someone with a commercial background to take things on from that side of things.

We don’t want to stockpile cash and retire to the Bahamas by commercialising what we do, but we’d love to be able to pump revenue back into projects in the community and offer increased opportunities to community members and young journalists to be able to engage with our area.

10. This is in fact a trick question, as there is no Question 10, but please add any further questions or comments for Ross below.

Hyperlocal Voices: Geoff Bowen, Sheffield Forum

Sheffield Forum

For the latest in our Hyperlocal Voices series, Damian Radcliffe talks to Geoff Bowen the Founder of the Sheffield Forum. Now one of the UK’s largest forums, the site launched just over 10 years ago.

During that time it has attracted considerable amounts of traffic and a huge archive of community discussions. With over 150,000 registered users and up to 500,000 unique visitors every month, there are now more than 6.4m posts on SheffieldForum.co.uk, and this is increasing at a rate of around 2,000 per day.

In a social media age, what Geoff’s experience shows is that forums continue to offer a highly relevant means for local communities to come together and communicate.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Hyperlocal Voices: Simon Pipe, St Helena Online

After a short summer break, our Hyperlocal Voices series returns.  In this issue we visit the tiny island South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. Perhaps best known for being the home of an exiled Napoleon, it is frequently described as one of the world’s most isolated islands. At just 10 x 5 miles, and with a population of 4,255 people, Simon Pipe’s St Helena Online, offered Damian Radcliffe an insight into a very different type of hyperlocal 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

Hyperlocal Voices: Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson, Blog Preston

For the third in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head North to the city of Preston in Lancashire, UK. Damian Radcliffe spoke to Blog Preston‘s Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson about some of the lessons they have learned over the last three and a half years.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Ed: There’s me, Ed, who used to live in Preston but now lives in London – studied and lived in Preston for five years. Plus Ryan Owen Gibson who is Preston born and bred, he’s co-editor. James Duffell a local web developer and designer is the technical brains behind the site. We’ve recently said goodbye to co-editor Joseph Stashko who was studying at the University of Central Lancashire but will be departing Preston soon after joining Blog Preston in April 2010. We also had co-editor Andy Halls on board from April 2010 to May 2011 before he joined The Sun. We also have some excellent guest contributors including Holly Sutton, Paul Swarbrick, Lisa McManus Paul Melling and many others!

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

It was a cold January afternoon in 2009, the Preston Citizen (weekly free newspaper for the city) had recently shut down and there was a chance to create something new.

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

Ed: Sunday 11th January 2009, started out as a wordpress.com blog to test the water and after a couple of months I recruited the help of James Duffell and he made an ace site and helped me move it to a proper domain. Just started posting local news and events, and build it up from there – lots of Freedom of Information requests, local photos, events coverage and nostalgia.

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

Ed: I saw the St Albans Blog, and thought, hey, this could happen here.

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

Ryan: I don’t think Blog Preston can compete with a traditional news operation, and I don’t think we would want to. What makes a hyperlocal blog such as ours so great is that we have the freedom, both editorially and strategically, to change our course very quickly. This means we that can adapt to our readership much faster than a traditional news operation can. I also like to think we listen to our readers more, and we try to engage with them through social media channels and on the blog itself.

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

Ed: May 2010 – we covered the general election and we’ll touch on why that was so important. July 2009 was a big moment, we moved to a hosted solution with a proper domain and really started to accelerate the amount of content going on the site. 2011 was big as we teamed up with NESTA to train community reporters and we recruited a lot of guest contributors, plus Ryan came onboard and has really excelled at live event coverage.

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

Ed: We now average around 10,000 unique visitors a month, with 24,000 page impressions. In October 2010 the site was averaging 10,000 page impressions a month and 4,000 unique visitors.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Ed: Just keeping the momentum going, it’s easy to set a site up but when you move away from an area it’s a tough decision, do you shut the site or down to try to keep it going? Fortuntely there’s a great team of people who have stuck their hand up and got involved, and well, we’re still producing great community news for Preston.

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

Ryan: Blog Preston has been lucky enough to break a number of stories that weren’t being picked up by the mainstream media at the time, such as an announcement that the BBC would be coming to Preston to film a series of short dramas, dubbed the Preston Passion, as part of its Easter output.

…I think the live coverage of the May 2010 electionsreally defines what we are about. The mechanics of that series was very simple – it was just a team of guys with a laptop and a mobile phone each, but the level of coverage they managed to achieve went above and beyond what any of the other news operations were doing at the time.

We were the first to interview Preston MP Mark Hendrick after his re-election.

Perhaps this was the moment that people began to take us seriously.

10. What are your plans for the future?

Ryan: 2012 is very important for Preston due to its unique significance as a Guild year, which is only celebrated once every twenty years. So editorially, we are being kept busy covering local events and breaking new stories.

We are also working closely with a number of organisations to collaborate and increase our readership through joint ventures. We are in talks with lots of important people, which is exciting. Our main aim going forward is to grow the editorial team, to put us in a position where we can call on some of the best local writers and reporters to deliver the best content for Blog Preston readers.

Hyperlocal Voices: Rachel Howells, Port Talbot MagNet

The second in a new series of Hyperlocal Voices looks at the Port Talbot MagNet, a not-for-profit community co-operative which has been set up to provide a local news and information service to the people and communities of Port Talbot.

Board Member Rachel Howells took time out to reflect on developments since their launch in 2010 and to tell Damian Radcliffe about some plans for the future.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Port Talbot Magnet was started in 2010 by seven professional journalists from South Wales who had all been casualties of redundancy or cuts in freelance budgets in established magazines and newspapers. First and foremost, we are a workers’ co-operative, but we are also a social enterprise and so we are keen to ensure we a force for good in the community. Two and half years on, we still have seven directors, as well as around 20 co-op members and lots of volunteers.

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

As NUJ members, we found ourselves sitting in so many meetings talking about cuts and closures and it felt sometimes like the local media industry was falling down around our ears. When redundancy hit most of our local Union branch committee we decided that we would do something proactive about the situation to try to ensure good quality journalism was still a viable, sustainable career.

As we were setting up the co-operative, we heard that the weekly newspaper in the town of Port Talbot was closing and it seemed an obvious gap for us to try to fill – here was a town of 35,000 people without a dedicated newspaper and here were seven out-of-work journalists who could supply news. Making the one pay for the other was, and in many ways still is, the problem.

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

The blog came along much later. Our first ambition was to go into print and we spent about a year applying for funding and trying to get the project off the ground in some way. The funding applications weren’t successful unfortunately, and we had a crisis meeting where we decided to change tack and concentrate on what we did best – journalism. This turned out to be a good move, because we could show what we were capable of; people suddenly understood what we were trying to achieve.

In a more practical sense, we had no capital apart from donations from the directors and so we set up a WordPress blog, paying a modest amount for a theme, and we got in touch with local companies and the council and asked them to put us on their mailing lists for press releases. Then we spent lots of time learning the patch and making contacts. Facebook has been a particularly good way to reach the online community in Port Talbot (not many are using Twitter yet), and drives about half our website traffic.

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

We set up our own crowdfunding model called Pitch-in! which was hugely influenced by Spot.Us, although we changed the idea a bit to suit a more hyperlocal audience. I love what Spot.Us has done to empower freelance journalists and as this was at the heart of our enterprise we have been really keen to offer this as a service to our members.

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

We would like to be more like one, I think, but we don’t have the resources at the moment. As we are so reliant on volunteers we don’t have the consistency that a traditional newsroom can offer – for example we can’t always cover local council meetings because our volunteers have other commitments as well. But I think we all believe in the principles behind traditional newsrooms and the power they have to be a force for good in the community as a watchdog or a voice.

For right or wrong, journalists can ask the questions that perhaps get ignored when members of the public ask them, and even with our limitations we are able to perform this aspect of newsroom journalism.

In future we hope we will become more sustainable so we can pay journalists and operate a more professional service, but this will always be in co- operation with the local community. We always have a day every week where people can call in to the office and speak to us, which is what all local newsrooms used to do.

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

Aside from launching the website in the first place, a successful system has been our ‘editor of the week’ rota, which has seen a team of five journalists taking it in turns to supervise the website, commission volunteers and respond to emails. This has meant there’s always been a clear point of contact every week and that things don’t get missed. Another big milestone has also been paying journalists for their skills, which we have started to do in the last few months. So far we’ve only been able to pay for court reports but we plan to do more of this as finances allow.

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

We get a consistent 3,500 unique visitors every month now, which has more than trebled in a year. We have seen some great peaks around some of our coverage, too – notably stories about The Passion, a landscape theatre production which took place in Port Talbot in 2011 and starred locally-raised Hollywood star Michael Sheen. We have also had great responses to our coverage of protests and campaigns, crime and local elections.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

The lack of funding and the lack of resources. Three of our seven directors have full time jobs, one has failing health and the other three have freelance or other commitments, and so progress can sometimes be frustratingly slow as we try to recruit or train volunteers and manage the website, finances and keep our contacts live. But we are still here, and the project continues to chalk up successes.

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

I think our coverage of The Passion was pretty impressive.

We had twelve volunteers covering the three days of live theatre and we produced a hugely comprehensive mix of written reporting, photography, video and audio – some of which we still haven’t had time to edit and upload to the website more than a year on.

It was a unique production that took place all over the town in both scheduled and unscheduled performances, and therefore a unique challenge to cover it all. I think our archive shows how daunting a task it was and how well we worked as a team to do it. I don’t think any other media outlet managed the comprehensive coverage we produced. I look back at it now and wonder how on earth we managed it.

10. What are your plans for the future?

There was an anniversary exhibition over Easter which commemorated The Passion and, in partnership with National Theatre Wales, we produced the official souvenir programme for it. This was our first foray into print, and we made a modest profit from advertising. It showed us that going into print would be an obvious move in the future, and so now we are developing ways we could make the website work alongside a printed news-sheet.

More generally, we would like to keep growing, pay journalists and establish a sustainable model that could benefit other communities who are facing similar ‘news black holes’ following the death of a local newspaper.

And we’d really like to persuade the local council to let us film their council meetings…