In the last year or so there have been a number of new blog / news sites developing which provide commentary for a geographically identified area, covering politics but also giving a more rounded view of life in the area.
The site which has drawn my attention recently is The Lichfield Blog, which I mention on the Wardman Wire or on Twitter (follow me to keep up to date) from time to time. There are examples of sites with a similar ethos established for some time, including some personal blogs, and I’d mention Londonist and Dave Hill’s Clapton Pond Blog (Hackney), but also sites such as Created in Birmingham (Birmingham Arts, mainly) and Curley’s Corner Shop (South Tyneside).
Some areas have a range of local blogs. The tiny Isle of Thanet, for example, has Bignews Margate, Thanet Life and Thanet Online, in addition to the more idiosyncratic Thanet Coast Life, Eastcliff Richard and even Naked in Thanet. It’s worth noting that – once again – this set of blogs are all edited by men.
And if you think that Thanet is small to have all those local blogs, try the Plight of Pleasley Hill, an ultra-local blog specifically created to foster community in an area of 3 or 4 streets in the Nottinghamshire village of Pleasley Hill, near Mansfield. I did a podcast interview with Mark Jones, who has triggered the project, for the Politalks podcast. One interesting point is how the creation of a website has helped “institutionalise” a small group internally, but also how it can help externally in the process of persuading large bureaucracies (e.g., the local council) to engage with the group.
Some of those sites have political stances, and some don’t. The common factor is that they provide coverage of local life and grounded politics, and don’t pay unnecessary attention to the Westminster Punch and Judy show.
Occasionally “ultra-local” has been used to refer to areas the size of a London Borough, or a provincial city. I’d suggest that we need to think in *much* smaller areas. I wonder if the one-horse-town newspaper of settlers’ America, but written by local people for themselves, is where we are going to end up, and then with sites covering larger communities, areas and specialist themes which are able to draw an audience.
I’d suggest that there is also a new opportunity opening up for these independent commentary and reporting sites due to a pair of current trends:
The drive by national media sites to find new ways of persuading their readers to pay for parts of their web content – pay-walls, charges for special services and anything else they can dream up. As the editor of an independent “politics and life” commentary site with a number of excellent contributors, I can’t wait for the age of “Pay 4 Polly” to arrive.
The continuing liquidation of our local newspapers and regional media.
Locally focused blogs with a more rounded coverage may provide an answer to consistent criticisms made of “the political blogosphere”:
Political bloggers only do partisan politics (which is wrong, but it can sometimes look as if it is true).
There is too much coverage of the Westminster Village (which is right, but someone has to do it, and it is the place where many decisions are made).
I think group blogs with varied teams of contributors may be best placed to provide a decent level of coverage and draw a good readership, while competing effectively with other media outlets. That is a trend we have seen in the political blog niche over several years – the sites which have established themselves and maintain a position as key sites have developed progressively larger teams of editors, and provided a wider range of commentary and services.
A team of contributors allows a site to benefit from the presence of real enthusiasts in each area of reporting, from the minutiae of the Council Meetings to Arts Events at the local galleries.
I’m developing a list of sites aiming to rounded provide coverage of a defined local area, town, or community. If you run a good one, or know of one, please could you drop me a line via the Contact Form on the Wardman Wire. Alternatively, use the form below:
(Note: if you want to know more about local news blogs in general rather than what I think can be done with them, the go-to place is Talk About Local.)
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I’m having a conversation with wikio.co.uk about the possibility of a category for “local blogs” (or an equivalent name), aimed at blogs which primarily identify themselves by their area, region or community.
My thought here is to give locally orientated blogs a better profile than to be spread out across many other non-quite-appropriate categories.
Wikio are interested, but it would be good to hear any comments from people running such sites.
What do you think? It would need a number of blogs to say “yes we’d like to do that”.
Yes, we’d like to do that!
Enough? Seriously though, with more and more newspapers hitting the dust (we’ve recently lost The Lichfield Post) more and more people will be going online to find news about their area so Wikio will be providing a very good service to those folks.
On a side note I’m happy to see us (The Lichfield Blog) dominating a Wikio search for Lichfield :o)
You’ve hit the nail on the head on the nature of most local blogs – they’re very rarely merely a hub of locally relevant information, but a much more insightful perspective on local life that often help to organise and galvanise a community behind a common cause such tackling problems such as anti-social behaviour, creating solutions and holding those in authority locally accountable.
As the Talk About Local project gets off the ground we’re really looking forward to seeing more hyperlocal sites that give grounded coverage of locally relevant news, history and politics – empowering communities by giving them a voice that is hard to ignore. As you say, this is often best done through a team, which gives the site more capacity and variety of voice.
We’ll be sharing this practice and providing materials far beyond the set-up stage, so supporting site managers and their teams when they find themselves using their blogs to talk about and tackle issues. Hopefully a lot more sites that engage people and encourages them to participate in politics that directly affects them will emerge.
Coming from a political as well as a “media” viewpoint, I’m keen to avoid “anti-politics” turning into “indifferent to politics” on local sites.
Rather than rejecting a narrow ideas of politics, we should be embracing a broader one, so that everything to do with common life becomes part of the political process even if we don’t call it that.
For me that’s an agenda linked to the need to devolve and decentralise, which I covered here:
or as a series with other authors available as a PDF booklet here:
Click to access 20081018-online-symposium-devolving-england.pdf
… and I see trends to manage local debate, such as by councils publishing the news, as a more local version of a centralising tendency.
Somebody has to hold local officialdom’s feet to the fire, and that’s partly us.
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“Somebody has to hold local officialdom’s feet to the fire, and that’s partly us.”
That is why I decided to blog in the first place all those years ago, the Corner Shop became an instrument to help hold local politicians to account. Sometimes newspapers locally take a very neutral position and there is a “gap in the market” created, we’ve found in South Tyneside that one or two local bloggers have moved into that gap, some of us have had some success in influencing political positions and decision making and some have caused mayhem and pandemonium. Can’t say it hasn’t been fun though!
Yay Curly !
Thanks for the visit 🙂
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One interesting point is that there are a number of networks of “hyperlocal” blogs which are centrally directed.
One example is the “people” network, run by Northcliffe.
Do these count as hyperlocal sites for our purposes?
For me, perhaps not, since I’m especially interested in *independent* media run and controlled locally. Others may differ, so I mention it for debate.
Nice article, Bignews Margate please not Big News Thanet there is a difference, I write on Bignews Margate, Bignews Thanet exists so that I can sometimes experiment with gizmos or layout also to stop anyone taking advantage of the “brand”.
I write about Thanet but happen to be rooted in Margate. Cheers thanks for the mention anyway.
Incidentally Thanet really does seem to be the hub local blogging, an example to the rest of the country.
Local blogging has allowed for the first time the opportunity for local politics to be discussed or written about in detail, it even has a natural balance since its such a popular medium in these parts.
Thanks – post updated with correction