Tag Archives: Lambeth

Hyperlocal Voices Revisited: Tim Dickens, Brixton Blog and Brixton Bugle

 

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In our Hyperlocal Voices series we speak to hyperlocal publishers about their journey as they seek to build a successful hyperlocal offer. From time to time we also check in again on some of the more established players to see what’s changed and how their operation is evolving.

One such example is Brixton Blog in South West London.

Originally established by Zoe Jewell in 2010, the site has evolved considerably since, launching the Brixton Bugle newspaper in July 2012 (10,000 copies of which are distributed each month) and working with The Carnegie UK Trust as part of their Neighbourhood News initiative by providing structured work placements for local trainees.

In 2013 The Brixton Blog and Bugle were shortlisted in the ‘Innovation of the Year’ category at the British Journalism Awards, alongside Sun Plus, Guardian Witness and Independent Voices in Danger projects. The team are currently in the middle of a crowdfunder campaign designed to raise money for a part-time news editor.

Co-founder Tim Dickens tells Damian Radcliffe what’s changed at Brixton Blog since we first spoke to them in June 2012; alongside some of their plans for the future.

1. What’s been the biggest change to the site in the last 30 months?

We’ve appointed more editors, who each work on different sections independently on a voluntary basis. These include: Features, Sport, News, Food & Drink, Arts, Music and Listings. The editors commission and write their own content and upload straight to the site, as well as being responsible for their own sections in our monthly print newspaper, the Brixton Bugle.
We also have a couple of (very part-time) team members who are paid for their time, plus an ad sales person.  The physical website hasn’t changed at all.

2. What sort of traffic do you now get and how has that changed?

In the past few months we’ve averaged about 90,000 page views per month, from 65,000 unique visitors. If anything this has dropped from earlier days. Unsurprisingly, traffic is directly linked to volume on content. Sadly, the amount and quality of content going up on the site has varied depending on our time and resources. Our Twitter audience has grown to over 20,000 on our @BrixtonBlog handle – and this helps to build traffic. Our weekly mail-out list continues to grow steadily.

3. Have you seen any changes in the way that audiences interact with you?

We still get the most traffic from social media. Facebook is highest for referrals followed swiftly by Twitter.
We have tried to structure our articles to prompt debate, and as such we have seen an increase in discussion about the issues we cover. This is less and less on Brixtonblog.com, but increasingly takes place on Facebook.
We also have a lot of offline interaction from people who have read the Brixton Bugle who may not be online – we get a lot of phone calls to the office and letters by post.

4. How would you describe your relationship with the traditional media in the area?

We don’t have a relationship with the traditional local media. Because we have a print newspaper we compete with them for print advertising and licensing notices. Our local newspaper, the South London Press, doesn’t have much of an online presence so we don’t compete online. Our biggest competition in terms of traffic comes from other blogs and websites, like Brixton Buzz.

5. What new blogs, bloggers or websites have you seen which you think are doing this stuff well?

We have an enormous respect for London SE1. They are not new – and the fact they have been doing this for so long is testament to how good it is. I think hyperlocal publications can learn a lot from them.

 

Our neighbours, the Herne Hill Forum, provide a very useful service to residents in terms of a directory and discussion forum which has spilled on to do a lot of offline civic good, like setting up the Herne Hill farmers market and attracting funding for street improvements etc.

 

I’ve always had a huge respect for Simon and Sally at OnTheWight.com too.

6. What are you most proud of over the past couple of years?

We ran a beautiful series of features called Faces of Cressingham Gardens, it was a print-first portrait of a series of amazing people who live on an estate which is threatened with demolition by Lambeth Council.To add value to the news coverage we gave to the residents’ campaign, our features editor and a photographer teamed up to give a picture of six very different residents who’d lived there for a long time.
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Photo: Shaun, from Brixton Blog’s The Faces of Cressingham series

It was a moving piece that went beyond the headlines and added real colour and a human element to the news stories.Keith Lewis (the writer) left the politics out of his articles and really succeeded in capturing an essence of his subjects. The first woman he interviewed sadly passed a few weeks later, and we received a really touching letter from her family saying thank you for the article. People still tell me how much they enjoyed reading it.

7. What is currently your biggest challenge?

Creating a financially sustainable platform to do what we do and pay some contributors and editors for their time. Also, funding a central management role to keep it all together. At the same time – and all linked in – we struggle to cover all the relevant news and information in the area, including attending council and other community meetings.

8. What are your plans for the future?

We really want to increase our coverage of local news – including council meetings and community events – which we don’t have the resources to do at the moment.
In the long term, we’d love to see a weekly or fortnightly edition of the Brixton Bugle newspaper, although that is a long way off. We’d like to expand the opportunities that we can offer local young people by way of training in the media industry and journalism too.
We’ve launched a crowdfunder to help pay a new news editor, part-time, to get on top of all the news stories and content that we often miss.

9. What one thing would most help you to move successfully to the next phase of the site’s development?

An angel investor, or grant funding, to give us 6 months to really build a sustainable platform to provide what we do.
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Hyperlocal Voices: Jason Cobb, Onionbagblog

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As part of the Hyperlocal Voices series, Yessi Bello speaks to Jason Cobb, publisher of Wivenhoe’s Onionbagblog, which has moved with its author from town to town, and from covering local sport to an increasingly civic focus, including coverage of council meetings. Cobb describes attending his first Full Council meeting as “almost on par with this despair of watching sub-standard non-league football.” He now also publishes The Wivenhoe Forum.

Who are the people behind the blog?

My blog is essentially my own personal online home, where I can create and dump any digital content that comes my way.

My day job involves managing online communities, as well as producing online content for local schools. Sitting somewhere in-between is my blog, hopefully as a platform for local co-operation and engagement.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I started blogging in 2003 using Blogger. It was the online equivalent of the old punk rallying call of here’s a chord, here’s another one – now go and start a band. Starting a blog was as simple as setting up an account with Blogger.

I’ve since moved platforms to a WordPress self-hosted site, which offers more flexibility and control over the design. But ultimately it really is still all about the content.

I’ve changed direction, if not focus, in the eight years that I have been blogging. This shift more or less reflects my own offline lifestyle changes from sport, to local community issues, and then my current lifestyle change having moved out of South London to the North Essex estuary wilds. Essentially I blog about what I see around me.

In Lambeth I witnessed an incredibly poor level of local accountability when it came to local council matters. The press gallery for Full Council meetings was often empty, with local journos guilty of being caught asleep on the job.

Through blogging and tweeting about some of the political twaddle that was taking place, I was able to engage the local community in how petty local politics can often appear from the outside.

It is great to now see many similar local blogs carrying on this level of political accountability, as well as the traditional media taking to tweeting from within the Town Hall.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The mighty Urban 75 has always been an inspiration in terms of community passion, and what is possible to achieve collectively online.

The South East 853 blog often overlaps with similar local authority themes that I addressed in Lambeth.

Lurking About SE11 was an online neighbourhood friend, although we only ever met once by accident, despite constant accusations that we were in league together.

memespring is doing some very interesting work with data journalism in South London.

Since my move out towards North Essex, Keep Colchester Cool and the online/offline creative hub at 15 Queen Street have both offered much support and many opportunities for collaboration.

There is a tangible sense that Colchester is going through a period of positive creative growth. It is no coincidence that this move coincides with the emergence of the Cultural Quarter in the town.

By continuing to blog about hyperlocal matters in my new home of Wivenhoe, I have been able to connect with others members in the community and share ideas as to what direction our estuary town is hopefully taking.

How do you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

The distinction is often one that is made by the traditional news media, and not by bloggers who are simply going about their business. We are all observers and reporters of events that happen around us. Traditional media may make money out of this process, but that is the only difference.

I personally operate best in a news patch that I know inside out. Size is all-important here – I have little interest in what is happening in a one mile radius outside of where I live and work: that is for others to look into.

Traditional media spreads itself thin by the very nature of being tied down to a financial model of covering a greater footprint.

Having moved into a new town, I am slowly, slowly finding my feet, and finding out more about the social history. Being active online in the area is a great opportunity to go about learning more about the sense of history in the place I now call home.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Covering local sport was a large part of my old blog. I then began to ask more questions about how local decisions were made, and why this supposedly democratic process was often leading towards a shambles of democracy in the local town hall.

Attending my first Full Council meeting was something of a key moment, and one that was almost on par with this despair of watching sub-standard non-league football.

This has led to breaking new stories such as the Lambeth Councillor who attended only 50% of meetings yet still claimed his full allowance ; the local journo who received a police caution for the common assault of a cabinet member and the allegation that the Leader of Lambeth Council ordered an apolitical officer to hack into the email account of a fellow Councillor.

Sadly the downside to this local level of journalism is that you don’t exactly make yourself popular with the local politicians that you are holding to account. I felt some sense of justice when a Lambeth Councillor who left a completely random comment with racist connotations on my blogwas then ordered by the Council to participate in social media training.

Moving forward and I have recently set up a hyperlocal forum for the community where I now live. The Wivenhoe Forum is growing organically, and it has been great to see how locals are joining the online community and starting conversations about how we can make out town an even greater place to live and work.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

To my great surprise my traffic levels have doubled since my blog took a more rural direction along with my house move.

I prefer the more qualitative approach to measurement than quantitative. Many new opportunities come my way via my blog. I am able to make offline connections in the local community, something that a daily data report of unique users is unable to compare with.