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Monday, March 29, 2010

Is there a living to be made in hyper-local journalism?

I don't live in Stoke Newington but if I did I'm sure I'm sure I would appreciate Stokey Talk. This is a news blog devoted to issues local people care about, ranging from the really serious (knife crime) to the serious if you happen to be directly affected (the maintenance of the tennis courts in Clissold Park.) It's run by the estimable Matt Wells, who's a local resident as well as The Guardian's head of audio, and proves once again that if you want something doing ask a busy person.

Even before local papers came under the cosh of economic forces beyond their control it seemed they'd given up on the kind of hyper-local coverage you find in this and other local blogs. The nearest thing to a local paper in the part of London where I live was dealing with an area of thirty-one square miles with a population of 300,000. The chances of it being able to devote much coverage to the areas of my concern (the upkeep of the local bus station, the amount of vacant retail property, the argument about why they removed the speed bumps in the next road but not in ours etc) were pretty remote. In which case the local blog fulfills a local need.

At the same time I wonder if this kind of service could ever provide any kind of living for a journalist. I sometimes look at the area where I live, which is part of a suburban "estate" which was built around the railway line, and muse that there must be at least half a dozen recently redundant journalists living there, one of whom might be able to get at least part of a living out of a hyper-local news service, dealing in the daily stuff (schools, transport, planning, crime, local amenities) that people really care about. We're told that people will still pay for news, provided it's high quality, exclusive and relevant to them. Might this theory be put to the test more effectively at the bottom of the media food chain rather than at the top?

6 comments:

  1. It may be that these things don't provide a living to people, but that some people will do them because they've got the time or the inclination to do so.

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  2. Here's an excellent example of hyper-local with voluntary subscription: http://ventnorblog.com/subscribe/

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  3. Interesting point and one I think local news is seriously considering. As I think I told you Dave music writing simply wasn't paying the bills so I decided to do my NCTJ prelims last year and passed in January. It was a tough course and going back to school at the age of 32 was difficult but there was a lot of satisfaction in passing shorthand, law and local government exams. I've now started working for the Southport Visiter where I report on Marine FC's Northern Premier games and do the odd interview with bands who visit the town - Gomez, Fairport Convention and Stackridge so far! There's a real statisfaction in doing things which are 'hyper local': the paper started a campaign recently to 'shop local' and it was far more interesting taking to florists, bakers and butchers about how they might need a good World Cup for England, to survive trading, than it was interviewing another no-mark band.

    We are encouraged to write blogs and really go into more detail on the web and Trinity Mirror's recent purchase of many of the Manchester local papers suggests that thwy see a similar future to you.

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  4. Can I recommend Viva Lewes? Not only a very good hyper-local, but beautifully designed too.

    http://www.vivalewes.com/home/

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  5. I don't know if anyone else listened to "Start the Week" on Radio 4 this morning but Heather Brooke (of MPs expenses fame) was on talking about the lack of local journalism in the UK nowadays and how local coverage is mostly peddled by Local Government propaganda sheets. She compared the UK situation to that in Norway where she recently went to a conference for investigative journalists and there were 560 attendees from Norway alone, mainly from local papers, with the result that there's a lot of accountability on a local level there. Interesting stuff.

    Oh, and she also said that local newspapers in Norway are by and large state subsidised.

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  6. I'm remind of the 1000 true fans theory - the number of people you need to support a band on the internet.

    http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

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