6 hyperlocal networks in the UK that are showing the US how it should be done

In a very rare spate of blog posts this week I’ve been talking about hyperlocal networks. Now I want to talk about the UK-based hyperlocal networks that are leading the way.

Guardian Local

Most of you will probably know about this. Headed by Sarah Hartley, it is the Guardian’s experimental exploration into different forms of local media.

They have 3 sites at the moment, serving Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds. Each is run by a beatblogger who works full time in that community. They are John Baron (Leeds), Hannah Waldram (Cardiff) and Michael MacLeod (Edinburgh). All three have a background in media and have been trained up by the Guardian for a role that demands they use multiple forms of media in their reporting.

Supporting the beatbloggers are the three web sites which are pre-loaded with tools from e-democracy charity mySociety. These tools allow citizens to more easily report street issues, write to their local representatives and track the activity of their MP.

Technically, it’s a form of ‘top-down hyperlocal’ – something those who know me are already aware I passionately despise. However, Guardian Local is a great example of how an existing (large) media organisation can tap into what makes hyperlocal successful and make it work from the top down.

John, Hannah and Michael are given the tools and the freedom to serve their community. They only need to concern themselves with being an effective beatblogger. Note that the Guardian calls them beatbloggers too, despite all of them being trained journalists. That says to me that the beatblogger is somewhere between a local blogger and local journalist, taking the best of both the new grass-roots hyperlocal bloggers and the traditional local journalist, mashing it all up and producing something pretty damn good.

It’s not all good though – they still haven’t figured out locally-relevant advertising, and let’s be honest – they need to do that to be a real success. As I look at each of the home pages now, they have three ad spots. Two of them are rich media and are filled with generic national advertising. The third is a spot with two Addiply text ads priced at Β£10 per week. As we found out on The Lichfield Blog, rich media is much more appealing even to local advertisers.

On patches the size they’re dealing with, you’d have thought Guardian Local could attract more locally targeted rich media advertising.

STV Local

Another top-down network but yet again a great example of how to do grass-roots hyperlocal. STV is the Scottish equivalent of England’s ITV if you didn’t know (I think that’s right…).

Their model is much the same as Guardian Local – they find passionate people to report on their area, giving them the tools and training they need so they can forget about the tech and the money, concentrating instead on being a good community reporter.

Each local site has a reporter, clearly named at the top right with contact details (much like Patch). They include news, events, eating out guides, local directory and information sections. I especially like the local info section which includes bus timetables, GP surgeries and the like.

Readers are also very much encouraged to contribute themselves, with a very clear call to action on the right hand side. This is something that you find papers do on their site but it’s generally clunky and not very attractive.

Again, they let themselves down when it comes to advertising though. Two spots on the homepage both contain generic ads (for the evil of BT, no less) and on individual articles there are three spots again taken up by non-local ads, which is a shame. To their credit though, each local site can have a sponsor and on Elgin at least it’s a local car dealership.

Uretopia

Otherwise known as hyperlocal.co.uk, run by Rob Powell who gets the grass-roots bit. I really like this one although I have a feeling it’s less well known than the above networks.

Included in the network are Greenwich.co.uk, The City and About Mayfair. Just yesterday a new site was added for Kingston.Β Rob employs paid writers for the sites and as you can clearly see there is only locally-relevant advertising.

Lichfield Community Media

It’s a new one, and I’ve already spoken about it so I’ll just quickly mention the thought process here.

We have The Lichfield Blog and are in the process of taking Tamworth Blog under our wings. As with STV Local and Guardian Local we’ll be helping Warren by dealing with some of the tech and commercial elements so he can concentrate on being a good community reporter.

Very naughtily, in my opinion, we cover Burntwood within The Lichfield Blog. Burntwood is it’s own town with it’s own identity though and we rarely get out there into the community. To that end I’m talking to some lovely Burntwood folk who’ve already shown the desire to report on their area. The plan is to split out a separate site, with them as the community reporters supported by the rest of the network. Exciting!

We only take locally-relevant ads and are developing lots of cool local information tools at the moment – watch this space!

Journal Local

Again, I’ve spoken before about this but I just want to give a quick overview. Journal Local is primarily a platform for hyperlocal web sites, taking away the stresses and strains of dealing with technology from site owners to allow them to get on with being a good community reporter.

All the sites on Journal Local are independent and free to operate their sites as they see fit. Being part of the wider Journal Local network means they benefit from shared resources which are improved upon all the time thanks to suggestions by other sites in the network.

On top of this, when we launch the public beta there’ll be tools for sites in the network to talk to each other, share experiences and improve together. That’s not being done yet, and I’m expecting it to be pretty awesome!

The un-named one in Cheshire πŸ˜‰

I did miss this one originally (for shame!) but it’s another one I love. I’ll use Martin’s words from his comment to describe it.

Our sites are alderleyedge.com, wilmslow.co.uk and prestbury.com – with knutsford.com launching in due course. Whilst the other sites have some catching up to do our most established site, alderleyedge.com, has a monthly audience that far exceeds the population of the place.

Proper grass roots journalism with good levels of user engagement and a rounded proposition that goes beyond news. And each site even has it own professional iPhone app.

On top of that we have plenty of truly local advertisers paying competitive CPM rates that reflect the quality of the sites. We have about 10 ad campaigns running at present (90% sold out across the network) and every single one of them is a local business or event taking place within the locality (with the exception of 1 campaign where a bloke is trying to sell 3 rhinos – yes you read that right!).

Have I missed anyone?

I’m aware I’ve missed a couple of networks, purely because I don’t see them as proper grass-roots hyperlocal efforts. They don’t have the right characteristics and don’t serve their communities as they should (i.e. they’re simply a revenue generation machine for existing media companies).

If you think I’ve missed something do tell me though.

What do you think?

I’ve made quite a few opinion points here – especially on advertising and the nature of grass-roots vs top-down hyperlocal. So am I talking bull or does it kinda make sense?

12 thoughts on “6 hyperlocal networks in the UK that are showing the US how it should be done”

  1. Disappointed not to see our little network in Cheshire get a mention. Perhaps the fact we have no “umbrella brand” contributed to this. Our sites are alderleyedge.com, wilmslow.co.uk and prestbury.com – with knutsford.com launching in due course. Whilst the other sites have some catching up to do our most established site, alderleyedge.com, has a monthly audience that far exceeds the population of the place.

    Proper grass roots journalism with good levels of user engagement and a rounded proposition that goes beyond news. And each site even has it own professional iPhone app.

    On top of that we have plenty of truly local advertisers paying competitive CPM rates that reflect the quality of the sites. We have about 10 ad campaigns running at present (90% sold out across the network) and every single one of them is a local business or event taking place within the locality (with the exception of 1 campaign where a bloke is trying to sell 3 rhinos – yes you read that right!).

  2. Hi Philip, Interesting that you included Guardian Local in this round up. I’m afraid the assumption that they are ‘top down’ websites is slightly wide of the mark. The blogs are the vehicles for a collaborative community
    journalism iniative (there’s more on what that means here;
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/insideguardian/2010/feb/17/leeds-local-launch).
    Whether it’s reporting potholes, contributing guest posts, commenting
    on the council reporting the beatbloggers have done or submitting
    pictures – the blogs are a place for the residents of those cities to
    share news and information rather than platforms for us to broadcast
    down – I think that’s a very important distinction and perhaps is
    where the ‘hyperlocal’ attitude you talk about can be seen. All the better for that I’m sure you’ll agree.
    On the advertising front, we continue to experiment so don’t write us
    off just yet!

    1. Thanks Andrew. There has been some Twitter discussion about this. It seems they ask for full address and verification by post or credit/debit card which is putting a lot of people off. Myself included.

  3. Nice round-up Philip. As a Burntwood resident, I’m interested in the efforts to spin off Burntwood coverage to its own site. You may be aware that we can be a bit touchy about being rounded up into Lichfield in other things, local politics and spending in particular.

    I keep an eye on the Lichfield Blog daily and think Hyperlocal sites have a quite exciting future if they can fill the gaps in existing media coverage. Even on my own blog I have commented on significant events in the area which the traditional media have either overlooked or never even been aware of.

    I look forward to seeing the developments at Lichfield Community Media. There’s lots of potential there!

    1. Thanks David, great to see you interested in the bigger picture. Things are moving ahead with Burntwood so there should be something on that in the next few weeks!

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