It’s been a while – here’s a new Hyperlocal Voices interview, with South Norwich News, an 18 month-old site set up by former BBC journalist Claire Wood and her husband Tom when she “wanted to test the hypothesis that people’s interest in local news actually only spans a relatively small area.” In the process they discovered the power of social networks and how to avoid the deadline-induced reliance on press releases.
Who were the people behind the blog?
South Norwich News was set up by myself and my husband, Tom Wood, who runs a design agency who specialise in advising online clients on how to make their websites more user-friendly. Using his knowledge, we drew up the information architecture for the site and then found a web developer who could put our ideas into place.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
We came across the idea of hyperlocal news sites being set up and growing in popularity in the States. As a former BBC journalist, I wanted to test the hypothesis that people’s interest in local news actually only spans a relatively small area and that their interest wanes when the stories come from further afield.
In a way I wanted to reclaim the idea of “local news” to mean news that actually matters to you because it’s happening near to where you live. I want to make the news relevant for readers.
I also wanted a way to return to the patch reporting I did in my early days with the BBC, step away from “churnalism” and start setting my own news agenda, dependant on what I believed local people were interested in.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
We launched in January 2010. In the previous 6 months I started building up contacts, exploring what sort of stories might be of interest to people who live in the area and building the website.
Our site is built on WordPress with some customised changes.
What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
We looked the USA at sites. There were two or three being set up in New York for example, sometimes funded as an experiment by traditional news titles.
How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?
We’re very much in the news business but on a very small scale. We wanted to get away from deadlines and pressures that cause papers and news bulletins to churn out the same press releases across the day.
Some big stories we can’t avoid covering along with the local paper or radio station, but we always try to find a different angle. There’s little point covering the same stories that people can find elsewhere.
As we become more established, it becomes easier to set our own agenda. We aim to delve a little deeper into stories which matter to people locally which other news outlets might not be able to do in such detail..
What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
Google Analytics gives us a really good insight into which stories interest people the most. We were often surprised by the stories which gained the most traffic. People like hearing about things that are new to the area and also like detailed information on events such as the parade route for Norwich City Football Club’s successful promotion-winning team. We’ve adapted the sort of stories we cover in response to Google analytics research.
After about 6 months, we launched a new Features section, for stories which aren’t strictly “news” but are still of interest to our readers. This allows us to run advertorial features in this section too, which is one of our revenue streams.
What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
Last month we had close to 6,000 unique visitors, with 18,000 page views. This has grown month on month since setting up.
I wouldn’t call it a blog. It’s based on WordPress and takes the form of a “blog” but we offer an online news service on a very local level.
Anecdotally, our readers like the service we provide. I think Twitter and Facebook have had a huge impact on our ability to spread our stories to a wider audience, without which we might have floundered.