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.


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

  1. Craig McGinty Avatar

    Something that might prove useful is a way for individual publishers to share advice and information between each other.

    This could be everything from journalism tips to shared contact lists of public bodies and organisations, or how to make best use of online tools.

    It also means new arrivals have a chance to get up to speed, without having to ask others.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Absolutely! I can see a clear space for some sort of online community for hyperlocals to talk to each other. That’s what I hinted at with “not just for those sites hosted there”. Contact lists isn’t something I’d really thought about but that would be really useful I imagine!

      1. Ross Avatar

        Contact lists is a good idea, but as a journalist turned gamekeeper that’s one thing I’d never share I’m afraid.

  2. Jon Bounds Avatar

    The network effect:

    “A big chunk of stories don’t require a local presence and can be publish simultaneously to multiple communities, dramatically cutting down on time.” — might be true, but isn’t it the path that traditional local media seems to be following to its destruction?

    I’ve always throughout that part of the value of very local media (however created) is about the effect of national, regional or city-wide happenings on the very local—even two adjoining suburbs could be very differently affected by a council action.

    It’ll take great skill to create the right balance.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Oh yeah, definitely. When I talk about not needing a local presence I’m thinking of things that are generic across all areas. For instance, Staffs County Council send us lots of press releases that aren’t about a specific area but are relevant – the same article can be cross-posted.

      I imagine the balance will come from a combination of both central and on-the-ground production. For instance, Staffs CC might tell us they’re going to close a road for a day. We can write the article centrally but have the on-the-ground reporter pop down and take a photo and perhaps interview a few shop owners about the effect on their business etc to supplement the text.

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