Jon Clarke launched the UK hyperlocal site Beckenhamtown.us 2 years ago using the social network builder Ning. He sees the site as differing from traditional publishers in offering everyone a free voice, as well as providing a space to play out local debates around issues such as academy schools and parking zones. Here’s the interview in full:
Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?
Me, and no one else, I’ve been in digital media at various ad agencies for over 10 years and therefore am au fait with lots of the ways to create and promote a website.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
The main reason was that I thought Beckenham was not well served with a ‘live’ and ‘community’ based website, there just weren’t any for what is quite a neighbourly area for neighbours to talk and share local things.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
The site was set up in August 2008. I’m not a programmer or web designer so I used the Ning.com community website platform that allows one to cut and paste and move various features around to make a good community site. I then used my knowledge to bring in lots of dynamic content, widgets and RSS feeds to pad out the site and bring it alive.
I wanted to use a co.uk address but it was gone so I plumped instead for a .US address. I thought it best represented who the website was for and about – all of US in Beckenham Town. Continue reading →
I’ve just been casting my eye over the Magazine Production work of two groups of second year students on the journalism degree I teach on. In addition to design and subbing, they were assessed on ‘web strategy’ – in other words, how they approached distribution online.
To give this a little context: early in the module ideas for magazines had to be pitched to the student union for financial backing in a Dragons’ Den-style competition (where among other things they had to address web strategy and business model). One idea per class ‘won’, which the whole class then had to work together to produce.
The winning ideas were: Nu Life – a magazine aimed at international students; and Skint – a money-saving guide with a particular focus on food. This is what they did…
The social network as web hub
Both groups created a Ning social network as the hub of their activity. Nu Life‘s pulled RSS feeds from the magazine blog and from local news services, in addition to having blog posts on the Ning itself, hosting images, originally produced video, an event, and forums. Continue reading →
Here are the 3 things she’s learned about community management:
1. Know and treat your community as individuals
Each person on our platform has created a network or belongs to one. Each member of my team is familiar with hundreds of networks and their Network Creators. This familiarity leads to better support because we know a fan network for a band is different from one that is used to collaborate in the classroom, and can respond to their needs better with that knowledge.
2. Be flexible
Community guidelines are there for a reason, and consistency is key to providing a great environment for people to engage. That said, there will always be unique cases where you will need to be creative with a solution that benefits all involved.
3. Show your humanity
The larger your community gets, the less you are looked at and treated as a real person. It is important to provide context and explanation for changes and decisions, and to admit mistakes to your community. Your communications and online presence should reflect your personality.
Just when I thought I’d put the 21st century newsroom to bed, along comes a further brainwave about conceptualising newsgathering in an online environment (the area I covered in part 2: Distributed Journalism). It seems to me that the first stage for any journalist or budding journalist lies along two paths: subscribing to a reliable collection of RSS feeds (and email alerts); and exploring a collection of networks. The first part is passive; the latter, more active. So I’ve called it, tongue-in-cheek, “Passive-Aggressive Newsgathering”. But if that sounds too Woody Allen for you, you could call it “Aggregating-Networking Newsgathering”.
Recently my attention has been drawn to the Dutch news website www.en.nl. Wilbert Baan, interaction designer for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, told me he wants to see “what we can do with news, social networks, wikis and more.
“I think you might like the experiment we are doing,” he wrote.