Tag Archives: Tamworth Blog

How hyperlocal sustainability is only possible with the network; how we’re doing that in Lichfield and with Journal Local

Networks of niches underpinned by local partnerships are, in my opinion, the way forward.

What do I mean by that?

A burning issue for any independent hyperlocal at the moment is sustainability including paying costs (hosting, travel, equipment etc), sourcing content, producing content, organising contributors, handling (& learning) technology. There’s a lot to consider.

So how does the network help?

Let’s look at this in terms of what we’re doing in Lichfield. Last year we launched Viva LichVegas as a way to generate sustainability revenue for The Lichfield Blog.

That was a good move, but it was a bit spur of the moment and not part of any over-arching strategy of how we were going to meet the challenge of sustainability. We thought about it and realised we had a lot of lessons, expertise and technology to share. Lichfield Community Media (LCM) is the answer to that. LCM is the network.

LCM will soon incorporate Tamworth Blog as the first site to join the new network. What this means is that Warren (who started TB shortly after TLB started) can take advantage of the resources we’ve built up. In short;

  • All the technology we use on TLB will be available on TB
  • We can cross-post stories
    Lichfield & Tamworth are covered by the same Police division, County Council,  ambulance service, fire service and – perhaps most importantly – bin collection service. A big chunk of stories don’t require a local presence and can be publish simultaneously to multiple communities, dramatically cutting down on time.
  • Sharing equipment – we’re buying equipment (laptops, cameras etc) that we can share with Warren to help him report goings on in Tamworth
  • Commercial opportunities – I can now largely take care of the revenue generation for Tamworth Blog. Dealing with advertisers, setting up business directories and other services that help to generate sustaining revenue.
  • Shared reporting – I actually helped Warren out at the general election count while Ross did Lichfield. It’s likely I’ll help Warren with the next Midlands Music Festival. This should mean better reporting thanks to more people.

We’re also planning to split out Burntwood & Chasetown to be covered by a separate site which will have it’s own Burntwood-based community reporter(s). This would add a third site to the network and improve our coverage of Burntwood and Chasetown.

Why stop there? We could share our resources, expertise, technology and kit to other sites nearby – building upon their already established desire to support their area.

Why the need for partnerships?

As a volunteer-run operation we don’t have the resources to do more investigative reporting nor to sell ads. To be a real alternative for Lichfield residents we need these things though.

We can achieve them through partnerships.

  • Through our partnership with BPM we could suck in locally-relevant sub-sets of their own classifieds and other services to fill our own whilst simultaneously selling into their directory from the grass-roots.
  • We can fill our ad space by giving a commission to a local publication like Lichfield Gazette who already have a local ad sales team.
  • By supporting awesome projects like News Waves we can improve the depth we can go to in our reporting.
  • Partnering with a company like Civico could help us to promote e-democracy in our area.
  • Tamworth Blog has already partnered with community radio station, TCR fm.
  • We could partner with South Staffordshire College and their media students to produce quality local ‘TV’.

So what about further afield?

As you may know, our sites run off WordPress (mostly because I’m a big WP fan!) and that is basically provided by Journal Local. So that means that anything we decide to do with LCM sites is also going to be available to sites using Journal Local.

Journal Local itself then becomes a network of hyperlocals, sharing resources. Not only that but as sites using JL request new features, those new features are available to all sites. See where I’m going? It starts to give hyperlocal sites a sort of collective consciousness whereby an improvement to one site is an improvement to all.

Just think of how that could impact the rate of progress!

It’s already started to happen. There are now seven hyperlocal sites using Journal Local, not including Tamworth Blog or the new Burntwood site mentioned above. Three of these are sites I created for Birmingham City University that are now being run by their journalism students. Another is run by Kellie Maddox, a 3rd year BCU journalism student.

BCU (and it looks like Staffordshire University is about to join them) have seen the value in joining a hyperlocal network. It simplifies the tech and sets the projects up for future growth without the growing pains experienced by many hyperlocals.

So what next?

There will be a lot happening with Lichfield Community Media this year. My aim is to set a terrific example of how hyperlocal can and will be sustainable long term.

Journal Local will come out of private beta soon. It is set to become a hub of hyperlocal activity and not just for those sites hosted there.

Watch this space.

Tomorrow, I’ll be blogging about existing ‘hyperlocal networks’ TBD and Patch.

Recognition for The Lichfield Blog just keeps on growing…

When I first got involved in The Lichfield Blog back in February this year I had no idea that six months later I’d be writing a business plan for a brand new social enterprise.

The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09
The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09

I never thought I’d be looking at stats showing an average of 11,000 visitors each month (equivalent to over 10% of Lichfield District’s population* and a third of the circulation of leading print weekly, the Lichfield Mercury). Nor did I imagine it would spur such cool things as Lichfield Social Media Cafe and Lichfield Social Media Surgeries (both still in planning). I would have laughed if you’d have told me I’d be live-streaming local artists at Lichfield’s Fuse Festival. A look of disbelief would accompany the thought of our MP, Mike Fabricant advertising on the site.

I knew we’d do lots of very cool things with it – as seems to be customary now my brain buzzed with ideas for exciting developments as soon as I saw it. I’m taken aback by the way things have played out though.

When I first started working freelance in November 2007 my aim was to be a leader in my industry. The heavy involvement in The Lichfield Blog and the recognition it’s seen has proven to me that I’m starting to achieve that.

That recognition has seen a massive boost over the past few weeks for two big reasons. The first is securing Michael Fabricant MP as an advertiser on the blog. He was our third advertiser and (we think) the first MP to advertise on a hyperlocal media site. Rick Waghorn of Addiply (the ad system we use) took the opportunity to shout about it that very afternoon at NewsInnovation London. I saw the tweets rolling in and I could barely contain my elation at having made such an impact.

Second reason, and the inspiration for this post, is that today Lichfield District Council have (after I sent them a cheeky tweet) changed their “Local Newspapers” section to “Local Media” and included The Lichfield Blog. They’re even syndicating us! I’m still undecided as to whether to check the other 353 local government district web sites to see if Lichfield is the only one to do so…

Both of these also come after what I consider to be a huge compliment from Birmingham Mail who recently started syndicating us along with our friends, Tamworth Blog and local blogger, Brownhill’s Bob. I call this traditional and new media meeting and getting along nicely – aka a sneak peak into the future of local media.

I know this is just the start though. All this has been achieved with the only expenditure being less than £100 and the time of a small team of dedicated and passionate volunteers (I say only, but it takes a lot of time). With the extra help and support we’re hoping to get as part of our future plans it’s obvious to me that The Lichfield Blog is going to move on leaps and bounds.

I can’t wait!

* based on data from the Office for National Statistics.

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