Tag Archives: local media

Comment on Journalists: We know we care, but do our readers?

On occasion I post a comment somewhere I’d like to keep hold of. So here’s my comment on a post by David Higgerson talking about something I said at news:rewired.

Blimey, I really need to stop ranting at news rewired! If only because I end up wanting to explain myself. You’ve done that for me very well though.

On the HS2 example, Ross got some great personal stories that the other media simply didn’t. It’s one of many examples where our own volunteer-created coverage has dwarfed that of trad media. The reasons for that though are many and generalising like I managed to do with my comments isn’t right.

I partly wonder whether the cause is a culture/morale thing. Given the attitude from some regionals (management, I mean) towards the question of sustainability I wonder if their approach (seemingly sacrificing good journalism to keep making a profit) has filtered down somehow.

I’m not suggesting journalists are only interested in money (you’ve already pointed out why that’s pointless) but perhaps journalists are more conscious that they need to make money for the paper so they are subconsciously changing their attitude towards stories they perhaps don’t see as profitable.

You’ve given examples that show you’ve identified where your passion for reporting influences sales of the paper. So perhaps what I’m trying to get across is that regionals need to be looking at why the paper sells and helping its journalists to see that. The passion would tie directly into a successful paper as well as a well-served community.

You’ve written on this before David so it’ll be nothing new to you. If only all regionals involved their journalists like that, instead of sacking them and replacing journalism with glorified discussion forums.

More House of Commons exposure for The Lichfield Blog

Whilst discussing his vision for local TV during a House of Commons debate on the future of local media [& video], Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries Ed Vaizey mentioned The Lichfield Blog and it’s efforts in the local media landscape.

In response to a request from West Bromwich East MP, Tom Watson who referenced another West Midlands hyperlocal, The Stirrer, Vaizey said;

…the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must not lose sight of the fact that there are hundreds of different initiatives that are involved in the delivery of local news.

The last time I mentioned the subject in Parliament, I was e-mailed by the local news bloggers in Lichfield, who met in the pub and now provide an ultra-local news service.

I’m taking that as another sign that we’re doing something good, to be referenced by a Government Minister during a debate on the future of local media.

Encouragingly, Vaizey followed up straight away saying,

Of course, there will be elements of public money available for that kind of research and experimentation.

I’m encouraged by that. Although the coalition has ditched the IFNCs which, according to IFNC-judging panel member Will Perrin, featured a good hyperlocal element, this may mean that the Government might be considering something similar that will be focused on smaller communities than the IFNC regions.

Watch this space!

Local media predictions for 2010

Hah, look at me giving my predictions for local media. What the hell do I know about local media?!

Anyway, at news:rewired Heather Christie jumped on me (metaphorically, not physically – that would have been weird) and asked me my local media predicitons for 2010, along with panel-mates Sarah Hartley of Guardian Local and Joanna Geary of Times Online. The sound didn’t turn out well so I thought I’d post my predictions here for all to read.

  • Hyperlocal will find it’s business model. That’s right, folks you heard it here… again, probably. If it’s going to happen (and that is an if) it’ll be this year in my opinion. I’m certainly not going to be sticking around for too long unless we can make this pay – it takes too much time to rely on volunteers all the time, in my opinion.
  • Pay-walls will fail miserably. Okay, this is more of a wish than prediction but I want pay-walls (in local media) to demonstrate their unyeilding ability to complete finish off the profitability of exising local media who choose to charge their customers. Charging for access after years of free access is moving the goal posts – never an overly welcome move – and will, I predict, face a grass-roots rebellion. Ooh, that’s fighting talk!
  • We’ll see real collaboration. Existing media and grass-roots hyperlocal efforts will show what they can actually get done together, in truly mutually beneficial ways that help sustain them both.

I might be very, very wrong. 😉

Getting serious about hyperlocal, part 2: Journalism

While the conversation continues around legal issues, burning issue number two in my mind is the quality of hyperlocal content. I’m very fortunate that at the helm of The Lichfield Blog is former journalist and current journalism lecturer, Ross Hawkes. I’ve learnt a lot from Ross, mainly that as hyperlocal looks to play a part in local media, it needs to be underpinned by that traditional role of the local journalist. Knowing legally what can and can’t be reported, ensuring that coverage is, as far as possible, un-biased and that those involved in a story are given the right to reply. And there’s much more.

As I see it, new hyperlocal sites springing up in response to disappearing newspapers need a basic journalistic foundation if they are to provide real quality. Those so-called ‘citizen journalists’ need those skills if they are to provide a really valuable, quality alternative or replacement service. At the same time there are journalists sitting at home having been made redundant (and plenty who haven’t) who are looking at hyperlocal and thinking it’s a train they need to catch.

For the citizens, I reckon it’d be good to provide them with a bit of training in the importance of checking facts and the right to reply. This could include some legal training and making sure they have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. Some journalists might need a helping hand in figuring out online news gathering and social media, especially if they come from a very traditional media background.

Again, a hyperlocal alliance might be a way of providing this. It could act as a training and support hub for anyone interested in or running a hyperlocal. Those without the necessary skills can gain them and those with skills can improve upon them and support others. Like a collaborative support network, a big hyperlocal media surgery in the cloud.

Following the excellent discussion on Rhubarb Radio‘s Sunday Local with Birmingham Post editor, Marc Reeves and epic visionary Andrew Brightwell, the cogs started turning about existing local media. First I thought, could existing local media take advantage of all this enthusiasm coming from communities and deliver basic journalism training (especially on legal issues) in exchange for stories? It’s the news onion, again. The bloggers would effectively act as independent journalists, with their own site but as freelancers for local media. Thoughts very welcome on this one…

The way I see it, journalists are being made redundant by local media left, right and center. It may save some money short-term but long term, they’re lowering the quality of their output at the hyperlocal level. That’s why sites like The Lichfield Blog are springing up. Now, to my mind one of two things will happen moving forward; a) journalists will independently fill that gap left by existing local media and eventually send them out of business or b) citizens will fill the gap and local media will have to embrace them and actually use their content out of a lack of resource to get stories themselves. Okay, or c) a bit of both. I’ll be honest, my preference is with ‘a’ – why let all that talent go to waste?!

Either way, the same skills that we benefit from when reading the local paper are going to be needed, as well as some new ones. Who provides the training? Again I ask could we collectively provide the necessary training? How do we fund that? Who does it? How is it delivered? Or do you even agree that those skills are needed? We need to figure it out if hyperlocal is going to make a real difference.

Again, I’ve started a journalism discussion on the hyperlocal alliance group and comments are welcome here or on Twitter with the #HLA hashtag.

Why I don’t think journalists need business skills

There’s tons of talk around hyperlocal and local media at the moment and some of it is about the kind of skills journalists need*. Not being a journalist, I’m looking at it from a business perspective.

We have a good system with The Lichfield Blog. Ross is the journalist, that’s what he does – he writes a large proportion of the articles and works with the contributors. I deal with the technical, behind the scenes stuff and the advertising that we’re trialling.

In my view it’s the best way for it to work; Ross is left to do what he does best without having to worry about anything other than serving his community and doing what he feels is his responsibility as a local journalist.

I worry that if journalists are taught or expected to be entrepreneurs as well we risk distracting them from that core purpose of reporting. Just think of the to-do list they’d have;

  • Reporting
  • Distribution (printing, web site development)
  • Sales & marketing
  • Business admin

Okay, so it doesn’t look like a big list but there’s a lot there. Creating and maintaining a web site can be hard enough, selling advertising to local businesses is going to be very hard without a unique proposition or sales skills, and business admin can be a whole minefield if you haven’t got business experience.

Expecting journalists to effectively run a business, I feel, would just soak up time and energy that they need to be journalists, threatening their ability to actually be journalists. Not to mention whether or not those journalists would even have the drive to commit to all that extra work.

I know plenty of people in the hyperlocal space won’t agree with me, so what’s the alternative?

As good as the role split with The Lichfield Blog is, it’s not sustainable in the long term. There will come a time when I can’t afford to spend so much time on it and I’m sure Ross’ wife will want him back on evenings and weekends eventually.

So imagine this; a network of journalists all working off the same platform. This platform would provide a range of tools and resources to help them deliver news in their community out of the box. It would save the need for the journalist to set up their own web site and all the costs and pitfalls that come with it.

Imagine this platform was part of a service that provided training. Traditional offline journalists could get training in online news gathering. All the journalists would get training on using the publishing platform and training on how they can use other platforms to interact and engage with the community. Training on audio and video production could be given for beat reporting. Journalists who sign up would receive legal guidance on issues like comment moderation.

Meanwhile, in the background the service would be providing revenue streams on the back of the journalist’s content by engaging with local businesses. The journalist would take the revenue, earning (hopefully eventually) a living from it. As the network grows, the combined content production could begin to serve existing regional media, opening up opportunities for more revenue streams.

Another benefit of such a network would be the economies of scale that it would give to independent hyperlocal journalists. It could be that the network eventually brokers relationships with content providers like the BBC, ITN and the Press Association.

I would really love thoughts on this, especially from those already engaged in the hyperlocal space and considering where it’s going. Agree, disagree, sit on the fence, have an alternative? Let me know in the comments.

*Although I’ve been thinking about this for a while, this post was inspired by the C&binet Forum and the following thoughts from attendees;