The latest in our series of Hyperlocal Voices sees Damian Radcliffe talk to David Williams, co-founder of MyTown Media Ltd, which runs four hyperlocal websites in Wales.
When were the sites launched?
After about six months of fact finding and market research, the first site – MyWelshpool – was launched on Friday 13th, August 2010. Luckily it has been far from a horror story since!
MyNewtown followed in December that year and then MyBrecon and MyRadnor joined the portfolio in 2012.
What made you decide to set up the sites?
I had moved back to the UK after many years in the Middle East and it didn’t take long to realise that the impact of the traditional local media was diminishing, not just in Mid Wales but across the UK.
Newspaper sales were dropping as readers turned to the internet for their news and information.
Initially I was going to set up a free newspaper or maybe a magazine but they would have been short lived based on the research that was carried out prior to launching the web sites.
The demand for our news shows that decision was the right one.
How did you go about it?
I spent a lot of time talking to local people and businesses. Finding out what they wanted from their local media outlets. And, of course, how they were getting their fix of local news.
What shocked me was that many people were no longer buying local papers and therefore totally missing out on local issues.
I did a survey of 100 people of different ages and it pointed to the need for a fresh way of delivering local news through the internet.
I then set up a Facebook page called the Welshpool Dictionary, to gauge local internet use.
The page reached 2,000 followers in six weeks so there was our audience.
The groundwork had been done and gave the confidence to move forward.
- What other websites influenced you?
At that time, there were very few hyperlocal media sites in the UK so we ended learning from the experiences of a site in Canada. They were very helpful.
It was seen then, as it is now, as a risk so not many people of newspaper groups were willing to give it a go.
- How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?
We see ourselves as a credible media company and a market leader in the industry.
We have launched four sites in three years – I can’t think of many media groups launching four newspapers in that time?
- What have been the key moments in the sites’ development editorially?
In 2012 we were successful in winning a grant from Nesta as part of their Destination Local programme to help us develop our operation with apps for the mobile platforms and the two new sites.
It helped us accelerate our plans to enter new markets and as a result we have got a huge part of Mid Wales covered that was otherwise slipping into a black hole.
- What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
Our numbers continue to grow. Our latest milestone was reaching 30,000 unique users viewing 200,000 pages of news in a single month. We also have more than 10,000 social media followers.
We link our stories from Facebook and Twitter to the sites to drive up traffic numbers, providing a free ‘news alert’ service for our readers.
- What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?
Convincing the public sector to use us.
Organisations like Powys County Council and the Welsh Government (WAG) spend ludicrous amounts on public notices in local newspapers. We simply tell them that we have a bigger audience, can do it for a lot less money, thus saving them huge amounts of tax payers’ money for a better impact – it’s not rocket science.
However, they continue to be hamstrung by outdated legislation which is bordering on illegal in this day and age.
Once organisations like Powys and the WAG start working with us, we can then invest in more sites, more journalists, more resources and an even better service for the user. It will save the local media industry and allow it to flourish.
- What story, feature or series are you most proud of?
We have written thousands of stories since we started.
The beauty of our service and technology is that we can see, through the back office, what type of stories are popular and what people like to read. This influences the content of the sites so stories we know will be more popular will be more prominent and we can spend less time on stories that turn people off.
Newspapers can’t do this and it makes me smirk when I see a big front page splash of a story that had hardly raised an eye brow with our readers days earlier.
- What are your plans for the future?
Right now we are in a period of consolidation.
Our revenues rose about 25% last year but we also invested heavily so the next 12 months will be about striking the right balance. MyTown Media Ltd’s sites must stand the test of time and continue to evolve to meet reader needs but it can only be done though common sense.
However, in future, I would like to perhaps look at linking the company’s online platforms with other media outlets operating in the area, maybe buy a radio station or the local paper!
I think it’s an excellent site – rarely a day goes by without me visiting at least once (mywelshpool)
Well done and keep up the great work!
David Williams makes many of the same statements here that he did in a Press Gazette article (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/filling-media-black-hole-wales-hyperlocal-news) last year, which I challenged in the comments section, but David didn’t reply to comments left on an article in his own name.
David’s closing remarks here also betray the negativity he displays about the printed media, admitting he wouldn’t mind owning a local newspaper.
He should also be aware that both the Westminster and Welsh governments ran separate consultations in 2011 on the “outdated” legal requirement to place certain public notices in newspapers.
As a result both governments concluded such notices should continue to be placed in printed local newspapers. Yes there was heavy lobbying from the newspaper industry but also from politicians and others who could see the many benefits, for all concerned, of continuing to place these notices in local newspapers.
David makes a pitch that public money spent with his (and presumably) rival sites will be reinvested in “more journalists” and would “save the local media industry”.
As he specifically mentions Powys, I think his comments should be put in the context of the local media scene in what is, geographically, the largest county in Wales.
I’m a journalist with The Brecon & Radnor Express while The County Times and Mid Wales Journal also cover parts of the county. I think the paper I and my colleagues produce compares favourably with the output of all our rivals, though I accept there is always room for improvement and hopefully competition will help push this improvement.
David fails to mention redirecting public notice spending could also be at the cost of the jobs of existing journalist – and others employed by local newspapers. Far from “saving local media” it could be at the cost of well established companies that already make a significant contribution to the local economy.
Of course, no company has a right to public money, but David is repeating arguments that were recently considered by decision makers and his Mid Wales ‘black hole’ is actually rather colourful and vibrant.
Good luck to David and his team but there’s also a lot to be said for printed local newspapers (in Powys and elsewhere) as David’s ambitions acknowledge.
At Chas and @NewsatTwm – many thanks for your comments and feedback – much appreciated.