Tag Archives: The Lichfield Blog

The Lichfield Blog Twitter account – can you help?

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware that The Lichfield Blog‘s Twitter account was the subject of unauthorised access and de-activation this week.

We’ve been through the process to retrieve it as Twitter suggests we could still get it back. However, that’s not a certainty and I won’t hold my breath.

It seems we’re popular enough that other variations of Lichfield Blog have already been snapped up. As Ross has said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – so thanks to those people(!)

A while ago I snapped up @Lichfield and handed it over to Lichfield District Council’s tourism team who subsequently changed to @VisitLichfield leaving @Lichfield to be snapped up by someone who hasn’t even used it!

So I’d like to try and obtain @Lichfield instead. It’d be a great account to use and we could really use it well to promote everything that’s going on!

Here’s what I’d like you to do to help;

  1. Follow @Lichfield – this will send the owner an e-mail so if there’s lots of us that means lots of e-mails!
  2. Send a tweet to them, asking them to donate the account and linking to this blog post.

Please don’t retweet each other doing it – send your own, individual tweet as it’s the most sure fire way to make sure the owner gets lots of tweets! Oh and be polite!

Lastly, if you’re the owner and you’re reading this – pretty please could The Lichfield Blog have the account? Hopefully you’re reading this because you’ve seen the support we have locally but just in case, see our about page for what we are & do. If you’re willing to pass it on please e-mail me at phil@thelichfieldblog.co.uk 🙂

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.

The first step towards sustainable hyperlocal. Here’s your entrepreneurial journalism.

Alright so there’s not really any journalism involved in creating a hyperlocal t-shirt shop, but it might help make hyperlocal journalism sustainable.

It’s a proud day for me because out of The Lichfield Blog we have launched Viva LichVegas. It’s a t-shirt brand that takes a light-hearted look at our ‘patch’ to create something that hopefully helps support our hyperlocal news operation.

Simply, we came up with some t-shirt designs with our friends at local t-shirt printing co-operative, Sabcat and are churning them out for a tenner each. Each t-shirt we sell puts a fiver in the TLB kitty, helping to pay our costs and shore us up for the future.

Personally, I don’t entirely agree with the whole ‘journalists must become entrepreneurs’ line of thought touted by the likes of Jeff Jarvis. However, I do agree that in order for local media to become financially sustainable some inventive solutions need to be dreamt up. I believe that’s what we’ve done today.

Viva LichVegas is one of many more to come, too. We pay our costs through the advertising we run on the Addiply network and anything generated by VLV will help to make us more comfortable. Further ventures will build on this, generating enough revenue to make huge leaps.

We need to buy kit so we’re not relying on crumbling laptops, video cameras so we can start doing ‘TV’ and some good audio equipment so we can do more great interviews. And when we’re not using that kit, maybe we could lend it out to community groups and help them to report what they’re doing.

It’d be nice if we could do some more investigative work maybe and hold the authorities to account more, but we’d need someone else to do that for us and luckily they are freelance journalists in Lichfield who may well be up for that, at the right price.

Following the recent ScraperWiki hacks and hackers day in Lichfield, a new group has spawned to keep up the good work. Money generated by our commercial ventures could be used to support that work which in itself could give birth to even more new ventures.

The end goal? Providing community-generated, community-focused, impartial news and information to the people of Lichfield District.

Why stop there though, eh? What we’re doing potentially is creating a template for sustainable local media that can be transferred elsewhere. Maybe down the road in Tamworth, or across to Cannock, up to Burton or further afield.

Start small (hyperlocal), think big!

The choice is clear for out-of-work journalists: pay £2,750 or… less than £100

As a freelance WordPress consultant by day I am horrified that a company can justify charging £2,750 for a WordPress site built using a pre-built theme costing £55 .

The example they give on their hideously long sales page is unremarkable at best. Let’s do a quick comparison;

Even employing me as a freelancer, £2,750 would get you not only a WordPress installation bolstered by a bunch of security features to tighten up the out-of-the-box setup, but a completely custom theme designed by a professional web designer and a good chunk of custom development work.

Having taken a look at euvue.co.uk it looks very simple and something I’d probably charge less than £500 for. Having said that, the exact same site could be placed on my Journal Local platform (also built on WordPress) for a small monthly fee which wouldn’t even approach £500 over 12 months.

So what are Super Local Sites charging for?

The sales page mentions training. That would sound good, if it weren’t for a system that, once you get clicking around, is very easy to get used to and even if you struggle there are a wealth of tutorials, including videos, on the web for free.

I still can’t figure out where that £2,750 is going…. maybe into revenue generation tools?

“Unlock your earning potential with the built-in advertising management system, including sliding banner, 4×4 blocks and classified ads with full AdSense compatibility (Google advertising). You could expect to pay thousands for this unique system however we have taken a sensible approach to pricing that won’t break the bank!” (my highlighting)

Let’s just discredit one thing for a start: no one in their right mind will consider Google AdSense to be a credible revenue generation tool for a sustainable web site. I’d love to know what’s unique about the ability to use WordPress’ built-in Text widget to paste Google AdSense code into your sidebar (here’s a free online tutorial showing you how in 9 steps), or even one of the many advertising plugins already available. I wonder which classifieds plugin they’ve installed (that takes less than a minute to do, by the way, thanks to WordPress’ built-in plugin search and installer).

No, I’m still stumped. Once you get past the features that are standard in WordPress anyway Super Local Sites appears to be charging for something that could easily be created in a day without hardly spending a penny.

I actually find it offensive that anyone can charge that amount for something so simple and that’s built mostly on freely available tools and resources. The fact they’re charging £2,750 to out-of-work journalists is even worse – my fear is that many journalists taking the risky plunge into entrepreneurship will get burned by the unnecessarily high overheads and fail in their first year.

This is not a transaction.

I blogged the other week about The Lichfield Blog’s print debut in the Birmingham Mail with an article I wrote about Fuse Festival. It sparked a nice few comments and I thought they warranted a second blog post to clear one thing up.

The printing of that article was not one side of a transaction, nor was it ever going to be. In the comments Ed Walker and Ventnor Blog specifically mentioned payment but as Ed pointed out in a further comment, hyperlocals like ours are set up for many different reasons.

Have no doubt that we are not in it for the money at TLB, not least because there is very little money to be had.

Our main priority is to make sure we are providing a comprehensive, impartial news service to the communities of Lichfield District. Having our stuff printed in the Birmingham Mail isn’t going to be of great benefit in that respect but it does open doors.

And that’s the point.

Let’s be honest – BPM is unlikely to have the money to be dishing out mullah to hyperlocals like us for that kind of coverage, and as I just mentioned we’re not in it for the money so that suits just fine.

…because we’ll get something out of it that’s more beneficial to us. We’re already talking about a whole new area that we can move into on TLB because of the possibilities this collaboration has thrown up.

That’s where the value is. We’re already generating revenue purely because local people have seen and liked what we do and decided to part with their cash for us. That relatively small amount is helping us to survive and have a bit of a comfort blanket.

Our ongoing collaboration will help us to improve our offering and that quality will show through further still and create more revenue opportunities for us that help us to be sustainable.

One more thing…

Ventnor Blog said that our “early actions are possibly setting the die for the future for many more.” To an extent I agree – this will be looked at very closely to see how it works out. However, this should not be seen as a template for the rest of the hyperlocal scene and local media industry to work together apart from the actual conversation.

As Ed said, each hyperlocal is different and so is each local media company. Each partnership has to be treated differently and a middle ground sought between the aims of each party. That’s the bit of our relationship with BPM that should be focused on, not the actual outcomes which are based on many different factors that will not be the same for others.

Update: We’ve recently published a post about local club Chasetown FC, supplemented with pictures from the Birmingham Post & Mail coffers.

The day my hyperlocal blog post was published in a major regional newspaper

Plenty of people will be skeptical about this bit of news but boy am I excited. I’d love to hear if this has happened before or not, but so far it’s the first time that I’m aware of, and I’m chuffed it’s me.

If you pick up a copy of the Birmingham Mail today you will see, on page 29, an article about Lichfield’s Fuse Festival that I originally wrote for The Lichfield Blog, and with pictures taken by our resident photographer, Nick Brickett.

This represents the first fruit from what looks like a very healthy tree of collaboration between the hyperlocal site I volunteer for and Britain’s biggest newspaper group. It’s the realisation of my long held vision of how hyperlocal will contribute to the local media industry – what I like to call the ‘news onion‘.

David Higgerson and I lead a #TAL10 panel on collaboration between hyperlocal and regional media.*

Trinity Mirror’s David Higgerson and I led a session at the Talk About Local unconference in Leeds back in April that dealt specifically with collaboration between organisations like ours. We went through ideas for how we could work together, and took many suggestions and comments from the audience. In all I felt it was productive and it helped David and I to move forward with our own collaboration of which today is the culmination.

The details of how this relationship will mature are still undecided but there is certainly more to come and plenty more discussions to be had. That said, the next few months will prove very exciting.

*Photo by the venerable Josh Halliday.

Two men spent 24 hours taking over 2,000 photos and 4.5 hours of video, sending 79 tweets and 25 twitpics. That’s hyperlocal event reporting.

Every year in Lichfield there is an event in Beacon Park called Fuse Festival. It’s an arts festival, with three tents hosting a various mix of music, performance and workshops. 2010 was it’s 10th year in Beacon Park and just like we did last year, Nick and I went down to cover it for The Lichfield Blog.

We did a bit more this year, though. Between us;

  • over 2,000 photos
  • over 4.5 hours of high-definition video
  • 79 tweets from dedicated account, @Fuse_Live
  • 25 twitpics

In total we worked for 24 hours, doing 6 hours on Friday, 11 on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. We managed to squeeze in the British Grand Prix and of course the odd pint.

Nick and I showing off our TLB polo-shirts.

It was a pretty big effort and by Sunday we were in the baking heat having had far too little sleep (though the many pints of Weston’s Perry didn’t help) and wishing to be back home in bed.

Still, we pulled it off and although we had a couple of technical glitches (including losing half of that 4.5 hours of video) it was largely a success. Being the way I am it really made me think – if we can make that kind of effort for fun and with last-minute purchases and borrowing of equipment, what could we do if we were paid?

On Saturday we were invited by Formula Ford driver and Burntwood lad, James Tucker, to Rockingham to watch him take part in the championship for his new team, JTR. Obviously that wasn’t enough for us though so we put on our blog gear and while Nick took lots of great photos, I borrowed James’ Twitter account and tweeted his progress on the day. This weekend we’ll be heading down the road to Burntwood Wakes, another music festival and we’ll do a similar job there.

Where it’s within our ‘patch’ we’ll keep doing this for free because we care (though maybe we’ll tone it down for next year’s Fuse) but it strikes me there’s the potential for us to take this kind of reporting out and sell it to people. Festivals of all sorts can be assured of a good buzz and good coverage of their event with such a service (like the Midlands Music Festival which just took place down the road in Tamworth).

James Tucker introduced us to a couple of Lichfield lads who race as well who we could do a similar job for. If we expanded that to all the drivers we could charge them and kill two birds with one stone whilst making it financially viable to continue reporting the Lichfield lads for free.

Just a though, but one that we’re experimenting with and seeing where it takes us….

Also, check out Warren’s great coverage of the Midlands Music Festival.

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!

Content creators are the ones moving journalism forward

A while ago I spoke at the news:rewired conference organised by Journalism.co.uk about The Lichfield Blog and hyperlocal in general. The panel I was on got around to the whole ‘citizen journalist’ debate and who is or isn’t a journalist. I made the point (one I feel strongly about) that many hyperlocal bloggers do not see themselves as journalists despite what some journalists deciding to label them as such. Rather, they are just active citizens who happen to be using some similar techniques to play an active role in their community.

Anyway, I digress. Martin Cloake referred to that point in his well thought out roundup of news:rewired and an NUJ event. In it, he comes to the conclusion that although big media isn’t going anywhere, content creators themselves (i.e. the journalist/blogger/active citizen) are the ones innovating in journalism. It’s a really good listen so I’ve embedded below for your listening pleasure.


You can also listen on the InPublishing where it was first posted.

Hat tip to Josh Halliday for recognising the reference.

£72.50/mth ain’t bad for The Lichfield Blog

What started as ‘suck it and see’ exercise is now generating over £70 in ad revenue each month for The Lichfield Blog. With 7 out of 8 ad spots now taken up on the blog I’m wondering whether there is some money to be made here…

We’ve made very little effort to actually tell people about the ad slots, other than a few tweets, so our advertisers appear to see value in snapping them up. The last 30 days has seen close to 40,000 page views on The Lichfield Blog. For those interested in the advertising stats, that’s 25 pence for every thousand impressions for each advertiser and so far advertisers have paid around 50p for each click.

I think the per-click price is a bit much if I’m honest but then I’ve spent a lot of my career forcing CPCs down as far as I can without ever being satisfied…

Make no mistake, though, I’m not looking at these ads and thinking, “Hey, I could make a living from these ads!” I’m well aware of the impact falling ad revenues are having on newspapers so I’m not about to put my faith in advertising. However, having spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on online advertising campaigns I’ve learnt how to target campaigns. It’s basic marketing principles, really.

So I can see the potential. The next step for The Lichfield Blog – which is now being approached by national advertisers – is to get clever. All the ads currently get run of the site but how about letting Tempest Ford continue their sponsorship of the Lichfield Ladies RUFC on the web as well, by sponsoring their tag.

We have plenty of other sports teams as well which could use similar treatment. As Rick Waghorn suggested, maybe the Department of Health could target advertising on the blog based on their understanding of the health service needs of Lichfield residents?

There’s so much we could do, and advertising isn’t even the only way we could generate revenue to pay our costs, but that’s a blog post for another time…