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Community Journalism: Hyperlocal Success


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© Cardiff University Via: - this is a transcript of my video/mini lecture for Cardiff University's MOOC in Community Journalism, looking at ten different ways to judge what is “success”.

It can be difficult to decide what determines whether a hyperlocal service is being successful or not. Success can mean many things besides the obvious measures.

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Community Journalism: Hyperlocal Success

  1. 1. Community Journalism Presenter: Damian Radcliffe Week 5 Step 5.2 Hyperlocal success Hello. Today we're going to be talking all about measuring hyperlocal success, and 10 different ways in which you can determine if your site is doing well. I'm Damian Radcliffe, and I'm an honorary research fellow here at Cardiff University. I've been writing and researching about hyperlocal media for the last five or six years. And that follows on from a decade or so where I was working in local media. So I come at this from both the research perspective and also the perspective of someone who was a practitioner working in this space for a long time. As you know, Cardiff University is hugely committed to promoting community journalism and hyperlocal media. And we hope you're all finding this course to be as interesting and exciting as we think it is. So today we're going to look at 10 different ways in which we can measure hyperlocal success. The first, and perhaps the most obvious way in which you might want to measure the success of your site, is through traffic. And it's fair to say that some hyperlocal sites get huge amounts of traffic. If you take a site like West Seattle Blog, in Seattle in the United States of America, it's been very successful for some time. Last year alone it got over five million visits to its site and had over 11.5 million page views. If you haven't checked out the site, it's worth having a look at. So it has a real impact on its community there. But what I want to stress today really is that traffic is one thing, but it's not the only way in which you can determine whether you're doing a good job. So one area that you should consider is issues surround coverage gaps. And this has presented huge opportunities for hyperlocals to step into those gaps and produce coverage that isn't being picked up by other media. Or even if it is, being able to dive into that and provide a depth of content that we're not seeing elsewhere. So one great example of that. In Essex, just outside of London in the commuter belt is YourThurrock, which is an online newspaper, which actually has a very strong video focus. They've got over 5,000 video items that they've recorded over the last five years. And as you can see from these slides, they get fantastic traffic. But interestingly, that's alongside covering stories that's perhaps aren't getting picked up elsewhere. Or certainly aren't getting picked up elsewhere in video format. And they're getting about 40,000 views a month on their YouTube channel alone.
  2. 2. The third area where you can measure the success of your site would be around the role that your content and you are playing in holding local authority and local bodies to account. So below I've listed some examples of a few sites who have done this very well. Saddleworth News covered a bi-election a couple of years ago in fantastic depth, including live reporting from the count itself. The depth and breadth of reporting that was shown by Saddleworth News perhaps surpasses that that you got from other outlets. Looking at Manchester, a website like Inside the M60 has done a lot of council reporting, as indeed has London SE1, one of the longest running - and arguably perhaps most successful - hyperlocal websites. Aligned with that, we move on to the fourth way in which you could look at and measure success. And that's around giving access to different voices. Voices perhaps that, some of which will be being heard in traditional media, but perhaps not in the same level of breadth and depth. Or indeed tapping into voices that are just not being heard at all. So in the first instance, if you take an example like James Barber who is a councillor in East Dulwich. You can see him there on the bottom left of your screen winning an award for being the online councillor of the year a couple of years ago. James decided to set up shop on the popular East Dulwich forum, and would answer questions from people on anything they wanted that included things like, there was a very popular thread a few years ago about the temperature in the local swimming pool. It had been closed for a while for renovations. It had reopened. And a lot of residents were complaining that it was very cold. And they weren't clear what the regulations were around particular temperature, and what the legal requirements were, and so forth. So getting an answer to that was really difficult. But by virtue of James being on the East Dulwich forum, they were able to engage with him. And he went away and got the answers and shared it with them. And was able to do that incredibly quickly, in a very responsive and rapid manner. And in a way that wouldn't happen if you'd waited a week for your local newspaper to come out with the answers to those questions. With a completely different take on this would be a website like Spitalfields Life, a fantastic website based in East London which doesn't do a lot of the things that most hyperlocal sites do. It doesn't cover news. It doesn't cover what your local council is doing. Instead its focus is very much on the people who live in Spitalfields. Every day they post a story about a particular person or part of Spitalfields. And the writing is beautiful. The stories that they tell of people's lives and their relationship with that area is incredibly evocative and powerful. And I would really recommend checking it out. And whilst Spitalfields Life is providing those kinds of stories every day, it's worth saying that some sites will be providing that as a part of their mix. So sites like On the White - which is based on the Isle of White - has also included that sort of human interest storytelling as part of their mix. And I think that's an area where you can
  3. 3. really carve out a niche and potentially create a fantastic local archive of stories that are timeless. They're not news based, but they essentially create a fantastic, rich, cultural archive for your site which will give it a longevity that goes beyond the latest news cycle. Now, campaigns probably come as no surprise to many of you. This is an area that local media has historically done very well. It's often engaged in campaigns which really matter to a community. And given it a platform and a profile, and tried to engage with these issues to make a difference. Below I've listed three examples here that are worth checking. So let's kick off them with looking at Hedon Pong. So Hedon is an area in the north of England. And it has a fantastic local website, The Hedon Blog, which has been running for a few years. And this was a campaign against smelly sewage works in the vicinity of the town. So to do something about it, the website set up a campaign and encouraged local residents to do things like scribble on Post-it notes what the result of the smells were to them and what the impact was, which created a wall of shame which they featured on their website. And they also just covered the campaign on a regular basis. The result of this was astonishingly successful. Similarly, the Lambeth Country Show. In 2012, the local authority made it clear that because of the Olympics they weren't going to run the Lambeth Country Show that year. And it was going to be the first time in 37 years that the show had not taken place. So Brixton Blog were amongst those who campaigned to redress that situation. And as a result of that the decision was reversed by the council. And the council committed to also put up the full £400,000 budget into the show, as they had done in previous years. So that was a fantastic result. And finally going to the other side of London, in King's Cross. Now this relates to the King's Cross Environment, the website there which has been running for a number of years. And looked, a couple of years ago they explored some issues that they were having with a very large and very noisy cement factory run by a Mexican firm called CEMEX. And one of the ways in which they campaigned and tried to raise awareness of the issues that residents in that part of the world were facing was by using their phone to record the level of noise and disruption that was being caused for citizens and for residents in the area. And then sharing that on YouTube. And as a result of that, being able to really bring alive a campaign issue that perhaps text alone would not have been able to do justice. So that's another one that's worth checking out, along with the Brixton Blog's successful experience of bringing back the Lambeth Country Show and the Hedon Pong campaign of 2011. We'll look at a couple of other ways in which you can measure success. And for a lot of people, this will involve using hyperlocal media and the creation of a hyperlocal site either to forge a whole new career or as a means to spin off and do other interesting thing. So I've given some examples from a few people below who are interesting people who have used hyperlocal for a variety of different means and purposes.
  4. 4. So Hannah Waldram would be the first person. She's the community manager now for Instagram - which is owned by Facebook - for the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Formally at The Guardian. But she actually started her journalistic career after studying at JOMEC at Cardiff by setting up BournvilleVillage. And it has a fantastic, rich history. And Hannah was one of the people that set that up and used it as an opportunity to put her journalism skills into practice. And even though she's now moved on to bigger and better things, BournvilleVillage is still going strong and well worth a look at. Going back up north again, Paul Smith running in Beverly. And it's an incredibly successful site. It has spin-off print publications. He's done a property guide alongside that and all sorts of other bits and pieces. It's a really, really good site, and an example of somebody coming into this space perhaps not from a traditional local news background, but just someone who's interested in their area. And who's really over time developed his skills in that space as a writer and also as a photographer. And then going to go back to Wales, and also bring to your attention the work done by Richard Gurner at the Caerphilly Observer. In terms of other success factors, I think a really important one - and one we could spend a long time on - is around the role that hyperlocal media can play in terms of creating a sense of community. So I've given a couple of examples here, the East Dulwich Forum and Harringay Online have been very successful examples of parts of London where forums, which might seem quite an old fashioned, digital concept actually works really, really well. And we also see that working in cities as well on a very large scale with something like Sheffield Forum, which has been existing for 10 years now. I think last year was it's tenth anniversary. And then there are also examples of other sites like Digbeth is Good in Birmingham and Brockley Central in Southeast London, which have focused a bit more on the civic pride element. And one of the ways that Digbeth is good and really helped to engender a sense of community was aside from just being very visible at events, and going out and talking to people and engaging with them, was that they also used to hold their editorial meetings in a pub where, if you were interested, members of the community could drop in, meet the people behind the site, and interact with them. So that was a level of openness and interactivity that you would never see typically with a newspaper. Allied to that, there are fantastic opportunities for hyperlocal sites to promote civic engagement. Arguably, already if they're engaging in discourse on your site, that is one way of promoting that level of civic interaction. But you can also use off-the-shelf tools and plugins to help do that as well. And one of the most successful and easiest examples of this that you can use is something called Fix My Street, which was a mechanism for people to complain about everything from potholes to broken street lights and things like that.
  5. 5. By making it easy for people to interact, and to get involved, and to get engaged, then you're automatically creating a sense of civic engagement and responsibility that perhaps people didn't feel before. An example of a site uses that tool is Lichfield Life. If you go to their home page you'll see in the bottom right hand corner they have the Fix My Street widget. And it's incredibly easy to use. The last two things I wanted to touch on, which are also worth considering, one of which is partnerships. And this is something where I'd actually like to see a lot more of. And could be a great opportunity for anybody who's new to this space to really help to make their mark. Particularly if you're working in a big city and there are other people doing similar things to you, I'd be really interested to see more publishers working together perhaps on joint campaigns or other topics of interest. From an income generation perspective, it can be quite hard to explain to people what hyperlocal media is, and to demonstrate the size of your audience, and so forth. But if you club together with other people who are doing similar things, then you start to create a critical mass that can be of huge interest and huge value to advertisers. And then lastly the tenth and final area to consider is the historic value that your site can potentially offer. I've given examples here of a couple of sites that have been running for quite a long time. On the Wight and the SE1 community website, which I mentioned earlier. And another, St. Helena Online, which has a very tiny population, not a lot of existing local media. So in just the same way as we might look back on local newspapers to find out about the issues that mattered to communities at a given time, so in the future we may well look back at the archive of different hyperlocal sites to understand what was going on in different communities and what mattered to them at that particular moment in time. So that's another thing for you to consider. So that's it from me. If you want to find out more about my research in this space and see previous presentations that I've done, mercifully I'm not speaking on any of those. Go to my SlideShare channel, And you can see presentations dating back for the last four or five years, charting some of the key evolution and changes that have happened in this space.