“We are going to build a new eco-system of news, from the bottom up”, Rick Waghorn promised the 100 or so participants at the #1000Flowers event in Norwich this week. “We are moving away from an imposition of news from the top down to an age of participation”.
With attendees from Scotland, Cornwall and many points between, Waghorn likened the burgeoning hyper-local television scene to the pockets of radical thought that flowered briefly at the fringes of Britain during the seventeenth century. “Three hundred and fifty years ago ‘freedoms’ came from the dark corners of the land, and the same is true today”, he said.
That such a gathering could take place, and that it was a buzz of interest and networking, is probably is most significant feature. There were presentations from MyCornwall.tv, LitchfieldBlog-does-tv and STV as well as interventions from representatives of the BBC, Trinity Mirror and several creative agencies with interests in this area.
In the opening session, Anthony Lilley – one-time News International Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford university – sketched out the landscape within which these new services are appearing. “We are now in an attention economy”, he said. “Media used to be scarce, now it is abundant and almost all of it is irrelevant to all of us, until it becomes something in which we are interested.”
He suggested regulation continued to be “an analogue approach to digital problems”. And worried about new media’s tendency to draw us all into ghettos of people with similar interests and prejudices to ourselves. His most interesting suggestion, though, was that high speed broadband might be licensed as ITV franchises once were, with an obligation to fund local news.
Lilley’s adage that it is the content genres that matured a decade ago that are today making the money – such as tech blogs – was certainly borne out by those participants who described their experiences of making hyper local tv. Dorian Sprackman from MyCornwall.tv, for example, represented most when he said: “We are helping to give local communities a voice and to allow them to represent themselves”, but admitted that when it came to finances they had to “beg, borrow and steal”.
The elephant that remained unremarked upon at the conference was the essentially opposing interests of some of the participants. Most there appeared to be from largely voluntary, determinedly local, start ups – precisely the 1000 Flowers of the event’s title. A few – STV and Trinity Mirror – however, represented public companies whose interest in hyper local content is significantly less anarchic that those with whom they were willing to share platforms yesterday.
Waghorn did not draw his seventeenth-century simile to conclusion. Those who have high hopes for the burgeoning hyper local tv scene of today should perhaps give a moments thought to fate of those seventeenth century radicals to whom he likened them. After a relatively short-lived burst of enthusiasm, most met decidedly sticky ends.