In the latest in the hyperlocal voices series, Tamworth Blog‘s Warren Free talks about how the same frustration with lack of timely local coverage – and the example set by the nearby Lichfield Blog – led him to start publishing last year.
Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?
I started up the blog after seeing what was happening around the Midlands, primarily in Lichfield and saw the concept would give us something in Tamworth where we could communicate the news as it happened. At the time I was working from home, so in Tamworth the majority of the time.
My background though isn’t one which is littered with journalism experience. My only brush with journalism was during my GCSE’s where I studied Media Studies: we took part in a national newspaper competition, where we came in the top 20. That’s kind of where I left it, until Tamworth Blog was set up in 2009.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
I saw what was happening in Lichfield and suffered the same frustration: local news in Tamworth wasn’t accessible unless you purchased the weekly newspaper. Great if you wanted to find out what happened on Saturday a week later. So I endeavoured to try to provide this service to people in Tamworth.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
The first story was published on WordPress on March 2009. We moved to our own hosted box in May 2009, giving us a lot more control on the content and what we could do with it. It started off as just me, but over time more people have offered to write articles for the blog.
What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
The big influence was Lichfield Blog. I have known Philip John now for what seems like a lifetime (sorry Phil), after working with him in the past. He assisted with the initial frustrations I had with getting started. He pointed me in the direction of other like minded people across the region including the guys at Pits n Pots and Digbeth is Good. I’ve tried to keep Tamworth Blog unique though, just using ideas and putting our own unique spin on it.
How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?
I like to think we can work alongside the traditional news operation, we both provide services to different demographics in my opinion.
I think a lot of people who read the newspapers are people like my parents who like have paper. Whereas I think the younger generation – and by that I mean anyone from early teens up – if they have an interest in their local area or want to know what happened on their road, will pump it into Google and want to get the information from the web and will never go to a shop for that. I think it’s a generation thing.
We both ultimately do the same thing: report on the news – we just make it available as it happens and don’t do it for advertising revenues, which I think many of the publications are driven by.
What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
We average 2,000 unique hits a week. This depends though on what happens in Tamworth. Strangely this weekend saw a spike because of police cordoning off one of the major roads for forensic investigation, which saw some 4,000 unique hits over the first few days this week. Whilst this isn’t great traffic, it is growing month on month.
What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
Probably the most pivotal moment was being invited to the Operation Nemesis raids in Tamworth just before Christmas. We were invited with the traditional media (both paper and TV) to go out on the dawn raids and report on them.
Normally this is something we would get information on from the police later on. Being there and seeing it happen enabled us to report on it properly. Again, until we published this, there was no information on what happened on the streets of Tamworth that morning. That week we saw record hits, simply to find out as much information as possible.
We were also invited to cover the General Election results, live from the count, enabling us to get the news out for people to follow live or wake up too. We had followers through the night and beat the big boys (BBC, ITV and Sky) to getting the announcement out. Thanks to Rawlett High School and the council for giving us access to that.
The biggest hurdle I have found is convincing people of the value of the news on the web. Once this has been overcome, you can quite easily be swamped with news, some of it that isn’t that useful, but wouldn’t have a place on the web if it wasn’t for the blog. You can have it take over your life – finding the balance is key.