How local news is holding its own in a world wide web of change

I RECEIVED an email this morning asking if
I was a passionate and entrepreneurial online journalist.

It went on to question whether or not I
wanted to be part of a dynamic and innovative team of journalists, engineers,
designers and business pros who are creating a bold new solution for our
industry.

It asked if I thought that traditional news
media just don’t get it anymore, if I wanted to run my own local news Web site,
tapping into any multimedia and social media skills I may have mastered to
transform community journalism and connect with communities.

Apparently this organisation already operates
more than 50 news sites in towns with a population of under 70,000 – underserved by
mainstream media – with plans to hook up with journalism colleges.

What’s more it is recruiting full time Local
Editors and Regional Editors with a minimum journalistic experience ranging
between two and five years.

We see this as nothing less than the
future of online journalism
”, they assured me.

Just one small issue, all the jobs are based in
the US.
 

Already patch.com who are behind the recruitment campaign have caused a significant ripple in America over the new way it is approaching local news journalism.

And like most things, we're fast catching on with the ideas spawned by such sites right here in the UK too.

Take STV for instance and it's recent high profile recruitment drive for editors at various levels be it community, regional or top end.

Not a million miles away from some of what patch.com are working at, but based on Scotland and its specific target audiences, with a clear vision of where they see their news engagement heading.

Or Guardian Local and it's bid to make Beatblogging a success in Edinburgh among other local centres such as Leeds and Cardiff.

As traditional newspapers bemoan the lost readerships, online seems to be reaping the benefit of the content which now largely ignored, was once the staple of print editions.

Consider patch.com's site for Garden City in New York.

An easy to navigate series of tabs take you effortlessly between news, events, a local directory, marketplace or even a list of places to volunteer.

Down page you find tagged maps, videos, photographs, announcements, events and a way to sign up for an online newsletter.

The magic in much of this is how simple it is for users to add their own events, announcements or other content – doing much of the work for the site.

But it isn't just the States. In Australia there is a network of hyperlocal sites under the very impressive streetcorner.com.au banner which does much of the same in inviting locals to submit stories, but is heavy on encouraging comment to stir the debates.

So successful, those running the site were one of just 16 given a 'masterclass' by operatives from Google and the New York Times and other specialists to help make it better still.

Of course they are just two examples I happen to like. 

It's all in the eye of the beholder – and the audience using them. But by listening to their visitors those running them can learn, as can we all.

I personally like the ideas from talkaboutlocal.co.uk which suggests ideas for local publishers to consider for their sites – again staples of what local evening papers used to provide – supplemented with sites which allow people to feel empowered, such as fixmystreet.co.uk

Other more specialised fields include the likes of openlylocal.co.uk which aims to track all that's fit to print in the field of local government, ensuring democracy isn't hidden behind apathy.

Wikileaks may be off the scale with its innovative approach, but openlylocal currently claims to be offering details from an impressive 30,000 documents, 271,000 pieces of data and 52,500 financial transactions.

Yet simple garden fence gossip about what's happening just within your neighbourhood can be equally engaging to others, an idea used to good effect by the likes of Front Porch Forum which claims 20,000 households.

All that is needed is some effort, and the right platforms to reach the people who may want to take part.

One of the simplest ways to give local communities a voice, quite literally, is through platforms such as audioboo – almost brilliantly easy yet slick and effective.

Taking voice a step forward, you are into the realms of blogtalkradio.com which promises to help you create an online radio show; ipadio.com which really is as simple as lifting the phone.

Or on a grander scale, prx.com the Public Radio Exchange in the States which acts as a marketplace for audio content.

If you want visuals, perhaps William Perrin's thoughts on alt.local.tv are worth looking into at much greater length.

Or for those looking to include video for their local sites but lacking the resources, could the likes of strome.com be the answer to their problems.

Engagement is of course one thing, but making a profit even to fund the resource can be all important too.

The likes of GoogleAds and affiliate advertising are a starting point, but what if there were more sites like addply.com to help with better targeted advertising for locals.

After all, with advertising, you don't risk being hamstrung over a story in the same way could prove problematic if it were to involve say a major sponsor.

There are some energetic local news sites here in Scotland, Glasgow Local News for example or in the Isle of Wight, the award winning Ventnor Blog, but as good a job as they are doing, it must be hard to keep pace with innovations which would help.

After all, these great ideas keep coming.

Rather than the story leading the headlines on a front page, for instance, what if it were the conversation around the original article which justified its prominence, as is being put into practice through the likes of Echo River for real time debate?

But be it online or in print, the best journalism always, always come from someone telling another something they didn't know. It can come from a comment, a tip off, or paying attention to the evidence presented to you.

That basic principle is put to the test in a site I'd love to see get up and running here in Scotland, Crimespotting

A tangible way to track what's happening in your community, and interesting enough to engage the journalist on the other side.

The community should be able to shout loud enough and articulate their concerns and interest, so that news media want to listen again.

Perhaps some of the sites above might give even a few of us in the trade an idea of how to help do just that.




Categories: Blogs, Hyperlocal, Media philosophy & trends

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Zeitgeist. There’s a word you don’t see every day. But maybe I tapped into the spirit of the times and your article when, this very week, I went live with my own community website – http://www.glasgowsouthwest.com – to complement the well-read local paper, The Govan and Glasgow SouthWest Press.
    I felt this area needed a hub of its own where around 100,000 Govanites and Pollokians could share their news and views. It’s early days yet, and my first major task is to get a Forum up and running.
    But, hey, obviously great minds think alike!
    Please have a look, and drop me a line at glasgowpress@live.com if you have any views or tips.
    John Maclean, The Glasgow Press

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