Tag Archives: featured

The Revenge of Lilliput: Former-SPCK Bookshop Campaign blog passes 150k visitors

20090824-spckssg-news-blog-past-150k-pageviews-screenshotThis morning the SPCK SSG News, Notes and Information campaign blog passed a total of 150,000 page views since it was established in June-July 2008.

This is a story which is an excellent example of both investigation by a network of people, and campaigning blogging. It shows how a coalition of individuals can make a significant difference. You can read a brief outline on the blog’s introductory page.

The blog is about the mismanagement and destruction of a chain of 25 Anglican bookshops, which have been around since the first half of the 20th Century, by two brothers based in the USA, J Mark – who is a lawyer – and Philip Brewer. They took over control of the Bookshops from the SPCK charity with the promise of maintaining and improving the business back in 2006. They used a charity called the “Society of Saint Stephen the Great” (SSG) as their vehicle.

Since then there has been a saga of “shenanigans”, including sackings by email, bullying of staff, “Cease and Desist” attempts to suppress straight reporting, creation of half-a-dozen business entities to confuse everyone, a fake attempt in the US at putting the core charity into bankruptcy (declaring only liabilities not assets) where the court has no jurisdiction anyway, and much much more, which I will be describing in some detail in a series of podcasts.

I (along with many others) helped promote the new campaign site in summer 2008 when Dave Walker the blogger doing the existing reporting (75 posts in about 18 months was one of several threatened legally by Mark Brewer; here is an example of the style of letter used – this one was published by Sam Norton. An instant archive of these deleted posts was of course established within days on the blog Open Debates not Libel Threats .

20080827-philip-brewer-of-spck-aircraft-for-sale-1-small1There have also been some lighter moments, such as the lawyer running a chain of religious bookshops being instructed by the Court to take remedial education in bankruptcy law and legal ethics, and the discovery that his brother possesses a private “hobby” aircraft painted in “Trotter Trading” yellow, which was maintained at charitable expense . However, the core objective is to make sure that the mismanagement of the chain is scrutinised, and the miscreants brought to book.

The campaign blog now has nearly 250 articles, and has received 2500 comments. Here are the visitor statistics from the WordPress stats module. You can see the initial surge, and how interest has been maintained at around 10k page views each month.

20090824-spckssg-news-blog-past-150k-pageviews

Though very respectable, this is not a huge amount of traffic, but a successful niche campaign does not need a huge amount of traffic – and it could even be a distraction to receive many more comments than we do already.

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The Guardian kicks off the local data landgrab

Tonight I’ve been speaking at a Guardian-sponsored event in Birmingham: a special meetup of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe doubling as a sort-of-build-up-to-a-Hack Day.

And I think it’s a very significant event indeed.

For years I’ve lectured newspaper execs on the value of data and why they needed to get their APIs in order.

Now The Guardian is about to prove just why it is so important, and in the process take first-mover advantage in an area the regionals – and maybe even the BBC – assumed was theirs.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: The Guardian has long led the way in the UK on database journalism, particularly with its Data Blog and this year’s Open Platform. But this initial move into regional data journalism is a wise one indeed: data becomes more relevant the more personal it is, and local data just tends to be more personal.

Reaching out to those with access to that data, and the ability and knowledge to pick through it, makes perfect sense. But it also means treading on regional toes, and it will be interesting to see how (and indeed if) regional newspapers and broadcasters react.

Cobbling together some sort of regional API would be a welcome start – but is not going to be enough alone: The Guardian have spent years building a reputation in technology circles for their understanding of the web. As The Guardian’s Michael Brunton-Spall pointed out tonight, theirs is the only newspaper to offer ‘full fat’ RSS feeds that allow you to read full articles on an RSS reader – not to mention customisable URLs that allow you to build your own feeds based on combinations of tags, authors and categories. And Open Platform is one of the most, well – open news platforms in the world.

So if other news operations want to compete in this arena, they’ll need to make cultural efforts, not just technical ones.

There are few people in those organisations who truly understand why they should want to compete. They may see it in the context of the mutterings about a move by Guardian Media Group (GMG) into hyperlocal media, but that could be a different kettle of fish entirely (a red herring of sorts if you want to mix metaphors).

These early moves on the data side of things are about more than the prospect of launching competing web publications. It means the Guardian (rather than the GMG) is well positioned to provide a platform for a bottom-up network of hyperlocal sites, to become, in short, a Press Association for the 21st century, catering for a grassroots journalism movement filling ever-increasing holes in the regional news map: not just feeding national and international news to local and specialist websites, but pulling data the other way (although that doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to meet GMG hyperlocal plans in the middle). They have competition here from MSN Local and Reuters’ Open Calais, but I’ve not seen evidence of the same cultural efforts from that direction.

It’s very early days, but things move fast in this sphere. A cry is being taken up that all news organisations need to heed: “Raw data now!“.

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.)