In another Hyperlocal Voices post, Philip John talks about how The Lichfield Blog was launched to address a gap in local news reporting. In less than 2 years it has taken on a less opinionated tone and more “proper reporting”, picking up national recognition and covering its costs along the way.
Who were the people behind Lichfield Blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?
Ross Hawkes founded the blog in January. Ross is a senior lecturer in journalism at Staffs Uni and previously worked at BPM. He started his journalistic career at the now defunct Lichfield Post. There’s also Nick, a semi-professional photographer who helps out with the creative side of things and I look after the techy side of the web site as looking after WordPress is where I specialise. We also have a good group of contributors and a couple of advisors, many of whom are either current or former journalists at local newspapers.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
Ross’ wife heard sirens going past their house one day and was curious as to where they were going. Ross realised no-one was reporting those kind of low-level goings on and that with the beat reporter disappearing there was a gap for community-focused news.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
Ross started the blog on 19th January 2009 on Blogspot (which you can still see here). I got involved while it was there and persuaded Ross to move to WordPress.com which he did on 24th Feb 2009 (also still there). At first the blog was very blog like, where Ross had a bit of a moan but also asked some good questions of the local authorities and certain attitudes to issues in Lichfield. It was quickly picked up by the Twitter community in Lichfield, including myself and after a tweetup it just sky-rocketed and more people got involved.
What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
Probably the Mercury’s website, thisislichfield.co.uk because they only publish stories on Thursday when they come out in print as well. It was created more out of need than being based upon anything else that was going on. Of course, we later realised just how many people had done exactly the same!
How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?
I’d say we both have the same aim really – to report what’s going on. But that’s where the similarity ends. We’re not constrained by space – we have a sort of motto that we’ll print anything so long as it’s relevant to Lichfield; it’s why we can have 13 articles in 5 months about lost dogs.
We’re actually in the community too, which means we’re close to the action and can respond quicker, and because we do that we have a following that will gladly provide us with stories. There’s two examples I always use – the story of a fire at a local pub which was on the blog just 3 hours after the call to the emergency services (who were impressed we were on it so quickly), and the story of a body found in Beacon Park which was reported hours later because my house mate alerted me to the Police presence on his way to work enabling me to go and get a photo while Ross phone the Police for details.
We’ve become actively involved in some local events too so we’re not just observing and reporting what’s going on but taking part and people seem to really respond to that. I think it shows are commitment to Lichfield, not just to the success of the site.
What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
The first was the move from a blog style to the more straight-laced independent, impartial stance we have now. Without much discussion it was obvious there was a gap for proper reporting and so the blog took a more serious style – we believed that we should provide the info and let the community decide what they think about it, rather than us putting a slant on. That and the acceptance as a news source by the local authorities including the City and District Councils, Staffs Police and our MP.
We’ve also been taken aback by the willingness of local businesses to advertise – we’ve consistently paid our costs through that without having to put any effort into selling the slots.
And we’re starting to generate revenue in other ways now, too, which is helping to make continuing the work worthwhile.
The recognition we’ve had both locally and nationally has been astounding. We’ve been in the national press, on Radio 4 and mentioned in the House of Commons a couple of times as well as being asked to talk about our story at various events and in interviews. It really validates the effort we’re putting in because it shows we’re making some sort of difference to the local media landscape.