Award-winning hyperlocal ‘not the media’

NMJ is spending some time away at the beach this month, but we’ll still be keeping an eye out for key developments and bringing them to you.

Meanwhile, the third of a series of case studies examining hyperlocals, NMJ looks at the Isle of Wight’s award-winning Ventnor Blog

It’s easy to see what won Ventnor Blog the title of ‘Best Hyperlocal site in the UK’ in this year’s Talk About Local awards. The site exudes both professionalism and passion, with its clear, user-friendly format and rapidly-changing posts about life on the Isle of Wight.

Husband-and-wife team Sally and Simon Perry have been pouring time and energy into the site since starting it five years ago, when they moved to Ventnor from London, having previously run a site about digital media.

‘We couldn’t believe how much was going on in the island. We were amazed at the vibrant music and arts scene.’ says Simon Perry. Harder news followed, with the pair covering stories such as the council’s education reforms and the financial details of its PFI schemes.

Now, nearly 9,000 articles and 28,000 comments further on, the website has firmly established itself as a major information-provider on the island. Locals turned to it for vital updates during the January snow earlier this year. ‘It doesn’t snow on the island,’ says Perry. ‘The council website couldn’t keep up with the demands, so we were the source of the info for everyone.’

But such success comes at a cost. Perry admits that the site doesn’t provide its owners with a viable living: local advertising generates only a modest revenue, while Adsense, with its tourism-oriented adverts, proved of little interest to a readership made up largely of islanders.

‘We’re constantly wondering how we are living,’ he says. ‘We’ve been editorially driven up to now – it’s really the pursuit of the story that’s replaced food. Now we’ve got the audience, the shift is to start to make money from it.’

The publisher-editors have also had to face the other main challenge that often besets the blogger – the charge of unprofessionalism.

In February this year, the local coroner’s court ejected Perry from a hearing about the sudden death of a council employee on the grounds that he was ‘neither a member of the public nor a member of the press.’

Perry has challenged the decision, citing his years of reporting and membership of the NUJ, who have backed the case.

But his main argument expresses that classic journalistic principle that the activities of the courts must remain open to public scrutiny:

‘If you lose free access to the courts, all sorts of nasty things could happen,’
he says.

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