Tag Archives: Hyperlocal Voices

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 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.