Tag Archives: created in birmingham

Hyperlocal voices: Jon Bounds (Birmingham: It’s Not Shit)

Hyperlocal blog Birmingham: it's not shit

Jon Bounds surely has the claim to the most memorable title of a hyperlocal blog. Birmingham: It’s Not Shit (“Mildly sarcastic since 2002”) is a legend of the local and national blogging scene in which Jon has been a pioneer. In the latest of my ‘Hyperlocal Voices’ series, he describes the history of the site:

Who were the people behind BiNS, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?

There was, and to a large extent still is, just me Jon Bounds. Although I’ve now got a couple of ‘columnists’ and feel that there are people around that I can call on to let me have a break.

I’ve an odd background of a Degree in Computer Science and a postgrad (CIty & Guilds) qualification in Journalism (and a brief, not entirely successful time as a freelancer on very poor music publications), but it was really working on internet design books in the late 90s that made me think about “the web” as a method of sharing.

As a kid I’d run fanzines (computer games and later football), but there were real creatives getting to grips with the web at that time and that was exciting.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

The blog part of the site came a couple of years after the site itself — which was originally a much flatter website with funny articles/video and a forum. The idea behind the site came as a direct reaction to the terribly drab view of the city that Marketing Birmingham/the Council put forward for the European City of Culture bid in 2002 — and the fact that all of the local media went unquestioningly with it.

Birmingham wasn’t – and still isn’t – a city of loft living and canalside bars, yet “organisations” only seemed comfortable with that little bit of it. To cover the bits of Brum that real people recognise and care about is still the main thrust of the site. Continue reading

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Opportunities for local news blogs: Trends in Blogging

In the last year or so there have been a number of new blog / news sites developing which provide commentary for a geographically identified area, covering politics but also giving a more rounded view of life in the area.

The site which has drawn my attention recently is The Lichfield Blog, which I mention on the Wardman Wire or on Twitter (follow me to keep up to date) from time to time. There are examples of sites with a similar ethos established for some time, including some personal blogs, and I’d mention Londonist and Dave Hill’s Clapton Pond Blog (Hackney), but also sites such as Created in Birmingham (Birmingham Arts, mainly) and Curley’s Corner Shop (South Tyneside).

Some areas have a range of local blogs. The tiny Isle of Thanet, for example, has Bignews Margate, Thanet Life and Thanet Online, in addition to the more idiosyncratic Thanet Coast Life, Eastcliff Richard and even Naked in Thanet. It’s worth noting that – once again – this set of blogs are all edited by men.

And if you think that Thanet is small to have all those local blogs, try the Plight of Pleasley Hill, an ultra-local blog specifically created to foster community in an area of 3 or 4 streets in the Nottinghamshire village of Pleasley Hill, near Mansfield. I did a podcast interview with Mark Jones, who has triggered the project, for the Politalks podcast. One interesting point is how the creation of a website has helped “institutionalise” a small group internally, but also how it can help externally in the process of persuading large bureaucracies (e.g., the local council) to engage with the group.

Some of those sites have political stances, and some don’t. The common factor is that they provide coverage of local life and grounded politics, and don’t pay unnecessary attention to the Westminster Punch and Judy show.

Occasionally “ultra-local” has been used to refer to areas the size of a London Borough, or a provincial city. I’d suggest that we need to think in *much* smaller areas. I wonder if the one-horse-town newspaper of settlers’ America, but written by local people for themselves, is where we are going to end up, and then with sites covering larger communities, areas and specialist themes which are able to draw an audience.

I’d suggest that there is also a new opportunity opening up for these independent commentary and reporting sites due to a pair of current trends:

  • The drive by national media sites to find new ways of persuading their readers to pay for parts of their web content – pay-walls, charges for special services and anything else they can dream up. As the editor of an independent “politics and life” commentary site with a number of excellent contributors, I can’t wait for the age of “Pay 4 Polly” to arrive.
  • The continuing liquidation of our local newspapers and regional media.

Locally focused blogs with a more rounded coverage may provide an answer to consistent criticisms made of “the political blogosphere”:

  • Political bloggers only do partisan politics (which is wrong, but it can sometimes look as if it is true).
  • There is too much coverage of the Westminster Village (which is right, but someone has to do it, and it is the place where many decisions are made).

I think group blogs with varied teams of contributors may be best placed to provide a decent level of coverage and draw a good readership, while competing effectively with other media outlets. That is a trend we have seen in the political blog niche over several years – the sites which have established themselves and maintain a position as key sites have developed progressively larger teams of editors, and provided a wider range of commentary and services.

A team of contributors allows a site to benefit from the presence of real enthusiasts in each area of reporting, from the minutiae of the Council Meetings to Arts Events at the local galleries.

I’m developing a list of sites aiming to rounded provide coverage of a defined local area, town, or community. If you run a good one, or know of one, please could you drop me a line via the Contact Form on the Wardman Wire. Alternatively, use the form below:

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(Note: if you want to know more about local news blogs in general rather than what I think can be done with them, the go-to place is Talk About Local.)

10 Twitter users that every journalism student should follow?

UPDATE: From the comments: similar lists now available for Norway and Sweden.

I will soon begin teaching my annual module in Online Journalism and one of the first things I get the students to do is set up a Twitter account. It’s often a struggle to demonstrate the usefulness of Twitter, so this time around, in addition to following each other, I’m going to give them 10 people to start following from the off. This is the list I’ve come up with – would welcome your suggestions for others:

  1. @davelee – former journalism student and excellent blogger who landed a plum job at the BBC after graduating. Get the point?
  2. @channel4news – example of how a news organisation can use Twitter in a personal, conversational way, rather than simply republishing its RSS feed (see also: @r4news, @mashable) Continue reading