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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?