Tag Archives: local government

2011: the UK hyper-local year in review

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some topline developments in the hyper-local space during 2011. He also asks for your suggestions of great hyper-local content from 2011. His more detailed slides looking at the previous year are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

2011 was a busy year across the hyper-local sphere, with a flurry of activity online as well as more traditional platforms such as TV, Radio and newspapers.

The Government’s plans for Local TV have been considerably developed, following the Shott Review just over a year ago. We now have a clearer indication of the areas which will be first on the list for these new services and how Ofcom might award these licences. What we don’t know is who will apply for these licences, or what their business models will be. But, this should become clear in the second half of the year.

Whilst the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t directly been looking at local media, it has been a part of the debate. Claire Enders outlined some of the challenges facing the regional and local press in a presentation showing declining revenue, jobs and advertising over the past five years. Her research suggests that the impact of “the move to digital” has been greater at a local level than at the nationals.

Across the board, funding remains a challenge for many. But new models are emerging, with Daily Deals starting to form part of the revenue mix alongside money from foundations and franchising.

And on the content front, we saw Jeremy Hunt cite a number of hyper-local examples at the Oxford Media Convention, as well as record coverage for regional press and many hyper-local outlets as a result of the summer riots.

I’ve included more on all of these stories in my personal retrospective for the past year.

One area where I’d really welcome feedback is examples of hyper-local content you produced – or read – in 2011. I’m conscious that a lot of great material may not necessarily reach a wider audience, so do post your suggestions below and hopefully we can begin to redress that.

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Online journalists left out in the cold by local government

Hedy Korbee is a journalist with 29 years’ experience in broadcasting. She has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Global TV, and CTV, among others. In September she moved to Birmingham to study the MA in Online Journalism that I teach, and decided to launch a website covering the biggest story of the year: the budget cuts.

Her experiences of local government here – and of local journalism – have left her incredulous. Since arriving Hedy has attended every council meeting – she notes that reporters from the BBC and ITV regional news do not attend. Her attempts to get responses to stories from elected officials have been met with stonewalling and silence.

This week – after 7 weeks of frustration – she discovered that the council had called a news briefing about their business plan for consultation with the public on how to cut £300 million in spending – and failed to tell her about it, despite the fact that she had repeatedly requested to be kept informed, and was even stood outside the council offices while it was taking place (and asked directly why TV crews were being waved in):

“At first, [the head of news] told me that it wasn’t a news conference but “a small briefing of regional journalists that we know”. [She] described them as five people, “local, traditional journalists” who were on her “automatic invite list”.  She said they were journalists that the press office has been talking to about all aspects of the budget cuts and have “an understanding of the threads of these stories”.

“She also said they were journalists who have talked to Stephen Hughes before and “know where he is coming from”.”

Hedy’s experience isn’t an isolated case. Hyperlocal bloggers frequently complain of being discriminated against by local government officers, being ignored, refused information or left to catch up on stories after council-friendly local newspapers are leaked leads. The most striking example of this was when Ventnor Blog’s Simon Perry was refused access to Newport coroner’s court as either a member of the press or a member of the public. (UPDATE: A further example is provided by this ‘investigation’ into one blogger’s right to film council committee meetings)

On the other side are press offices like Walsall’s, which appear to recognise that the way that blogs use social media allow the council to communicate with larger, more distributed, and different audiences than their print counterparts.

The issues for balanced reporting and public accountability are well illustrated by Hedy’s experience of calling the press office seeking a quote for a story:

“[I] was told that Birmingham councillors are “important people”  (I don’t know what that implies about “the public’s right to know”) and was told to simply write no comment.  The refusal by the press office to deal with us has made it exceedingly difficult to cover all sides of the story on our website.”

In contrast Hedy details her experiences in Canada:

“City Council meetings are considered a valuable source of news and attended by most of the local media and not just two print reporters, as they are in Birmingham.  Interested citizens show up in the gallery to watch.  Council meetings are broadcast live and journalists who can’t attend can watch the proceedings on television along with the general public.

“It is acceptable behaviour to walk up to a politician with your camera rolling and start asking questions which the politician will then answer.  If politicians are reluctant to answer questions they are often “scrummed” and wind up answering anyway.

“When major budget announcements are made by the federal government, politicians at every other level of government, as well as interest groups, hold news conferences to provide reaction.  Quite often, they go to the legislative chamber where the announcement is being made to make themselves more readily available to journalists (and, of course, to spin).”

Have you experienced similar problems as a journalist? Which local authorities deal well with the online media? I’d welcome your comments.

UPDATE: A response from Birmingham City Council comes via email:

“A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “We have proven that Birmingham City Council takes blogging and citizen journalism seriously through the launch of the award-winning http://www.birminghamnewsroom.com online press office.””

UPDATE 2 (Dec 16 2010): Sarah Hartley writes on the same problem, quoting some of the above incidents and others, and suggesting press offices confuse size with reach:

“Let the recently published London Online Neighbourhood Networks study enter the debate. It asked users of the citizen-run websites to identify what they regarded as their main source of local news. The result: 63% of respondents identified their local site as their main source.”

UPDATE 3 (Feb 23 2011): Guidance from the Local Government Secretary says that councils should give bloggers the same access as traditional media.

UK hyperlocal blog, meet Icelandic blogger: the iDaventry council debt campaign

Launched in April/May 2009, idaventry is a community driven local news and features site with strong editorial comment. I invited publisher Dave Raven to write a guest post for OJB on their latest campaign regarding Daventry Council’s investments in Icelandic banks.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be writing this guest post, since there will be few occasions when a local community website such as iDaventry.com can speak off-topic about an international event.

The reason is Daventry District Council’s investment fiasco, locking up £8 million of ratepayer’s cash in the four Icelandic banks that crashed so spectacularly last October.

This June a Parliamentary select committee the CLG, concluded Local Governments were badly advised by external treasury management advisers. So that’s alright then – it’s not the Council’s fault. Continue reading