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:
(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.)