Earlier this year I interviewed blogger Mike Atkinson, who launched Parwich.org in 2008. I wanted to get a feel for how the reality of hyperlocal blogs compared with the perception (there are other interviews to follow). Here are his responses:
Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?
Local villagers (current team is six people), differing backgrounds and interests. I’ve been blogging since 2001 (my personal blog was one of the better known UK blogs in the first half of the decade, and was shortlisted for a Bloggie award), but the others had no prior blogging or website management experience. Most had never even read a blog before.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
Official reason: to promote the fund-raising activities for our proposed Memorial Hall rebuild. We needed to provide evidence to potential funders that we were an active self-organised community, and this seemed like an idea vehicle. Also, we could offer promotion for funding bodies in our Sponsors section on the blog sidebar, which might have been an added inducement for them.
But speaking personally, as the person who first suggested the blog, I simply wanted the blog to help foster and maintain a sense of community in a village whose resources at the time felt under threat – and I wanted to give us an effective voice when presenting ourselves and our concerns to the outside world.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
December 2007 to April 2008: Initial brain-storming & strategy meetings. An unpublicised pilot blog was launched, and I gave WordPress training sessions to the team.
April 2008: official launch, with leaflets and posters issued round the village.
What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
None. We were effectively the first regularly updated village blog in the UK. Maybe 2 or 3 blogs had preceded us, but they weren’t being actively maintained and had never got off the ground. So I suppose they influenced us, in terms of what pitfalls to avoid.
How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation? How are you different and how are you the same?
We complement, we don’t compete – and we provide a level of ultra-local detail that would be out of scope for a newspaper. We have ongoing good relations with our nearest local newspaper (Ashbourne News Telegraph). They trawl us for stories, some of which have made their front page, and we post a weekly round-up of articles of interest from them. So we drive traffic to each other.
Other local newspapers have also picked up on several of our stories, as have BBC East Midlands and Central News.
What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
A lot of interest arose from our coverage of Tom Chambers in Strictly Come Dancing (2008). He grew up in the village, visits regularly, and still has family here. Major traffic spike the day after his victory: over 1200 page views.
Coverage of flooding in summer 2008 generated much local media interest.
A campaign on a dangerous stretch of road gave us two cover stories in the local paper, and provoked long-awaited action from Derbyshire County Council.
The village’s relationship with the Peak District National Park Authority has significantly improved. They are very much aware of us, and we are able to hold them accountable much more effectively than before. A successful meeting took place between PDNPA and the blog team, resulting in the PDNPA actively taking steps to promote ultra-local blogging elsewhere. A senior member of PDNPA was also inspired to start his own blog.
The blog was been held up as an example of best ultralocal practice at a major conference in London earlier this year, sponsored by The Guardian. We have also been linked to by the national BBC website and the Huffington Post.
We held meetings with villagers from Alstonefield (a few miles from Parwich), as a result of which alstonefield.org was set up. It continues to prosper.
What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
Typically 400-850 page views per day, occasionally spiking higher. (Not bad for a village with 500 on the electoral roll.) 3000-5000 per week, 11k to 17k per month. Slight upward trend owing to inevitable increase in Google searches hitting archived content.