STV Local is among the UK’s most ambitious attempts yet to create a network of local, internet-based news services. The independent television franchise holder for Scotland aims to create up to 120 community-based news sites. Six pilots have been running since September and the company intends to launch six to nine new sites a month, and promises a footprint covering a fifth of Scotland’s population by Christmas.
The pilots are based in the North Lanarkshire towns of Aidrie, Bellshill, Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Motherwell and Wishaw. In each, a community editor is responsible for news gathering, writing and co-ordinates input from voluntary contributors. Larger towns, including those in the pilot, will be served by a full-time editor. The next wave of openings will be in the north-east of Scotland, with smaller settlements, such as Buckie, in Aberdeenshire, having a quarter-time editor.
STV won’t be drawn on the scale of their commitment. “We are investing a significant amount into STV Local – and we are spending most of it on employing journalists”, says Alistair Brown STV’s head of digital.
David Milne’s appointment as executive editor of STV local signals the company’s commitment that the quality of journalism on the sites equals that of their broadcast content. Milne, a former deputy editor of The Sunday Herald and digital editor of the Herald group, will manage a group of regional editors, who will oversee community editors.
“We hope that the sites will become part of their communities they serve”, says Milne. “But as well as being STV Local, it is also STV Anywhere. We don’t care where you are when you view the sites.”
Milne also stresses that he sees the local services radically changing STV’s overall approach to news. “Until now, lots of people with great stories did not come to STV because they thought that we would not be interested. Now we are saying, if you are interested, we are interested. And when stories are really good, there is no reason why they should not be used elsewhere in our news provision – all the way up to the national news.”
Brown and Milne place heavy emphasis on the partnerships they are striving to build, with local authorities, police forces and health boards. Although they don’t describe these as primarily commercial relationships, it is clear that part of their vision is to provide a communications channel with local communities that can be profitably exploited.
STV makes much of not having any ‘legacy media’ to consider when approaching advertisers – an acknowledgement that newspaper publishers find it difficult to focus on online advertising when printed advertising rates remain so much higher. Indeed, much of STV’s offer is couched in terms of offering additional consumer choice. Whether newspaper groups will continue to take a relaxed approach to incursions into markets that they have considered their own for decades remains to be seen.