Tag Archives: Tim Dickens

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: Zoe Jewell and Tim Dickens, Brixton Blog

We haven’t any Hyperlocal Voices interviews for a while, so Damian Radcliffe has agreed to remedy that. To kickstart this new series he talks to Zoe Jewell and Tim Dickens from the Brixton Blog in South West London.

The site relaunched earlier this year, with an aspiration for the “website to perform the role of the now all but defunct traditional local paper.” Interestingly, Tim left his job at a local paper (run by Archant) to concentrate on a venture which seeks to be: “a focus point for all section[s] of the community to come to and read, share and discuss. A voice that you can trust amid the frenetic tumult that is Brixton.”

Here the Editor’s answer ten quick questions about the history of the blog and outline some plans for the future.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Zoe Jewell, who works in television production, originally set up the Brixton Blog in 2010 to cover some of the interesting stuff happening in the area where she lives and grew up. In January 2012 she relaunched the website with local newspaper journalist Tim Dickens as a comprehensive online news resource for people in Brixton. We are now helped by a team of more than a dozen regular talented contributors.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

We felt there was a massive gap in the provision of news in Brixton, an area where news is made all the time and where lots of change is happening that was previously unreported. We wanted to hold the local authorities to account by covering council meetings.

It is vital that the community can come together to discuss big issues like gentrification and housing, so we wanted the site to report facts and stimulating discussion on them.

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

We relaunched the Blog in January 2012. We met and came up with the idea in November 2011 and very quickly got the idea up and running. First we spoke to local business owners, bloggers, community leaders and councillors about the idea and what was needed in the area from a resource like this.

We also spoke to hyperlocal experts and bloggers from across the country to find out about their own experiences and ask for advice. We tweeted that we needed help from graphic designers and website designers and managed to find people who felt strongly about contributing to the brixton community and would, very kindly, help us out for free.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Se1, Herne Hill Forum, The Londonist, Hackney Citizen

5. How did/do you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

As trained journalists and media professionals we see our role as a replacement to traditional local newspapers. We aim to report timely news accurately and in a balanced manner, giving all points of view and enabling discussion through the comments thread. The launch of our printed paper, the Brixton Bugle, this month will take this one step further.

At the same time, the nature of web and the relationship we have built up with our local readers means we can have more of a personal relationship with our readers than most traditional media and be much more flexible – we can very much have our own personality online, especially on Twitter. That also means we are, quite rightly, held to account too – when you might to meet your reader in the local shop buying a pint of milk or having a pint in the pub you want to be sure you’ve done good!

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s editorial development?

Other than our campaign victory regarding the Lambeth Country Show, we are proud of the time we began “live blogging” council meetings. We had three reporters in the council chamber all tweeting, writing and blogging simultaneously during the budget setting.

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

We currently have an average of about 1,500 page views per day from just under 1,000 unique views. This has been steadily rising.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

By far our biggest challenge has been monetising the site and trying to find advertisers to support it. It is also a challenge to prioritise our time: There is so much to write about, and so many potential projects, but so little time!

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of?

Two weeks after our relaunch we learned that the local council, Lambeth, planned to cancel a popular country show, which attracts 250,000 annually. Although they blamed the Olympics we felt there was more to it and began a petition to reinstate the popular event.

We began a community campaign to reinstate the show that attracted almost 1,000 signatures in just a few days. It prompted responses from councilors, MPs and the police borough commander. A few days later they announced that the show would in fact go ahead. We believe that it was the pressure exerted by the Blog’s campaign that led to the u-turn. (Ed: see this report from the Evening Standard.)

10. What are your plans for the future?

Later this month we plan to launch the Brixton Bugle, an 8-page hyperlocal newspaper on newsprint. It will be distributed to about 5,000 commuters at Brixton tube station and across the town centre in shops, cafes and libraries.

We are also in the process of organising a series of “offline” debates about issues we have raised on the site.

We have ambitions to create a mobile app edition of the site (NESTA funding allowing) as well as developing the listings side and in