There have been several events and reports worthy of note in the last week in the world of local blogs and websites .
Wired Magazine Intelligence Briefing
Recently I gave an interview about current directions in the world of local blogging, for one part of a Wired Intelligence Briefing, to @jamiedouglas.
The whole presentation identified “10 current trends in 20 minutes”, which characterise our environment:
- We the people – isolation of the political class.
- Abundance creates scarcity of attention.
- Serendipity and shared experiences – where discovery happens.
- Everybody is local – enrichment of neighbourhoods.
- Collaborate and listen.
- The media is unpoliceable.
- Watch out, sport.
- Social networks have a half-life.
- Google’s Achilles’ heel.
- An era of etiquette.
Talk About Local ’09
Also worth a look is a report in the Guardian about the Talk About Local ’09 Unconference, held on Saturday 3rd October in Stoke-on-Trent:
Almost 100 people left their bedrooms, home offices and local community halls for talkaboutlocal’s inaugural unconference this weekend. Some attendees in Stoke-on-Trent are professional journalists, starting out on their own against a backdrop of local and regional press lay-offs and closures, some have a political cause to fight while others quite simply want to give a voice to a community not well-served by a newspaper industry retracting and centralising.
Definitive numbers of these hyperlocal sites are hard to come by but the website www.nutshell.org.uk has already listed more than 50.
The event organiser, William Perrin, from TalkAboutLocal.org says: “People have always wanted to get involved to make things better and suddenly they can do it for themselves. The web 2.0 tools provide platforms that are incredibly easy to use, without any real cost.”
In the Guardian, the report author mentioned the practice of Stoke City Council to treat “Citizen Journalists” as being different from ‘real journalists’:
The town hall which PitsnPots set up to scrutinise has been less welcoming. Stoke Council’s head of PR and communications, Dan Barton, explained that bloggers would not be invited to briefings and are excluded from sitting at the press table in the council chamber.
“Opinion should be encouraged but we do draw a distinction between what is news otherwise we are in danger of de-valuing the role of journalists,” he said.
The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is currently updating its guide to include the rise of social media networks but looks unlikely to change the definition of who gets treated as a journalist. A spokeswomen said: “We can say anecdotally that we would encourage councils to treat only accredited journalists as journalists. And treat citizen journalists as citizens. But that does not stop citizen journalists making enquiries in the normal way … And there is no reason why media releases cannot be available to everyone as they are public documents.”
The comment from Dan Barton seems to imply that the content of newspapers is “news, not comment”, and that the content of blogs is “comment, not news”.
I’d suggest that this is a ludicrous position to take, bearing in mind the extent to which news and opinion are mixed in the local (and especially the national) media, and also the miraculous range of howlers and planted stories which appear regularly. To mention just two that I have covered in the the last 5 weeks, remember the non-fact-checked Mayor of Baltimore spoof, which appeared in half a dozen national media outlets, and the Alan Sugar on Terrorism Death List story, which was invented out of the air and swallowed by the Sun?
I’d assert the opposite position: that thoughtful and careful bloggers, whether our beat is “local”, “subject-based”, “professional”, “political”, “technical”, or anything else, have potential to increase significantly the range and quality of niche coverage, due our tighter focus and our freedom from a need to work tightly to deadlines and volume of output requirements.
There are two clusters of issues that we need to address:
- We need to make sure that we do work to a level of quality which is equivalent to, or better than, our colleagues whom Mr Barton is willing to name as “journalists”.
- We need to make sure that it is impossible for the councils we are scrutinising to refuse to accredit us for any reason.
I’ll cover these issues more in a future article, but I think it is time for local bloggers to go on the front-foot; the decline in local media has left the gate wide-open.
Two places to start are firstly to write for other outlets, such as your local newspaper and sites which are regarded as “media” not “blogs”, and to see if you can get a UK Press Card. There are a range of bodies which issue UK Press Cards, and some people may come within the rules who do not realise that they do so.
Matt Wardman is an online consultant, and edits the Wardman Wire group political blog and Nutshell directory of local blogs and websites.