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Archive for the ‘Citizen journalism’ Category

Offset opposition, the rise and fall of Britain’s alternative press

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Review, by Tim Dawson

The reappearance of Nigel Fountain’s ‘Underground, The Alternative Press 1966 – 1974’ as an eBook provides a timely moment to reflect on the clutch of magazines that he describes, and to ask whether they have any contemporary parallels?

His focus is the wave of publishing that grew up in the wake of Alan Ginsberg’s celebrated appearance at the Albert Hall in 1965.  Oz, International Times, Friendz and Black Dwarf and most of the other titles he describes did not survive much beyond the initial wave of enthusiasm that first spun them into orbit, but they did encapsulate the giddy moment of rebellion, self-expression and freedom that overtook at least one milieu in swinging London.

Fountain does not consider whether these titles and their staff can really be considered as linked phenomena.  His account of individuals swapping from magazine to magazine, learning in one place and applying the lessons elsewhere make this case for him, however.  Neither does the role of technology play an important part in his argument, although in his pithy phrase, ‘The IBM Golf Ball typewriter was the Kalashnikov of the guerrilla journalist’, he is on to a truth.  Offset litho printing and increasingly sophisticated typewriters were key to allowing the 1968 generation to find its voice in print.

As a piece of writing, it is a head-long rush, describing the events that shaped the scene as much as the publications itself.  As a giddy fast forward through the years in question, at least for the ‘turned on’ generation who emerged from the rapidly expanding university sector, it is a vivid picture that Fountain paints.  He is also good on the social changes that underpinned the scene – the arrival in London of baby boomers from the US and Australia and a cohort of grammar-school boys who were happy to side step the professions.

Writing in the mid-1980s, it is perhaps not surprising that the representation of, and work environment experienced by, women in the alternative print was at the front of Fountain’s mind.  Two decades on, the sexual revolution that It appeared to embody, in which women were expected to drop their prudish resistance to male demands, is an embarrassment brilliantly unpicked in this book.

At the time of his writing, Fountain could not have known that the City Limits on which he worked, as well as nearly everything recognisable as the alternative press of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s would have disappeared.  The 100 regular ‘alternative’ newspapers and magazines that mushroomed in the provinces disappeared in much the same moment – just as the internet was about to solve the problems of reproduction and distribution – if not income.

Tony Harcup, a long-time veteran of Leeds Other Paper and now a lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sheffield has had quarter of century longer to consider the question.  In Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices (Routledge 2013, £24.99, also available as an eBook) he detects a number of factors behind the abrupt demise of the alternative scene – exhaustion after the left’s political and industrial defeats of the 1980s, a shifting journalistic focus from news to arts and music, and the departure of the individuals whose fuse had been lit during the 60s and 70s.

Harcup puts a good deal of leg work into finding a new generation of angry young pen slingers focusing on the underdog.  He unearths a couple of contenders, Indymedia, Manchester Mule, a news website with a familiar alternative beat, and Knee Deep in Shit, a Bradford-based publication that is currently in abeyance.  All share DNA with the litho-produced titles of decades ago, although it is hard to locate in them the scope, range and élan of their forebears.

Perhaps the truth is that new technology has brought with it a paradigm shift.  The alternative press was a DIY phenomenon inspired by a desire to reflect the world in a way that was quite different to the traditional media.  Today, the internet makes getting your message out there simple and cheap; the challenge now is to attract sufficient attention to legitimise your endeavors and to generate a sustaining income.  Perhaps given the infancy of online publishing, by comparison with its inky predecessor, it is not surprising that these are questions to which we are still awaiting answers.


Written by Tim Dawson

March 18th, 2013 at 7:25 am

Come the revolution, Sister – if we can afford it

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

My last blog reported on the curious absence of women among the pioneers of digital journalism – a regressive trend seen by some as symptomatic as an emerging form of e-patriarchy.

But hang on, isn’t the beauty of the digital age the new opportunities it opens up, the way it affords everyone, including those historically with the least access to the means of (print) production, to have a voice? In theory, the digital revolution should bring us a new era of protest and debate, in which old hierarchies can be challenged and more powerful, inclusive forms of campaigning created. At the very least, you get a few good feminist websites.

Let’s head over, virtually speaking, to one such. Run by a team of volunteers, The f-word started as a forum for reviews in 2001, becoming a collective blog several years later. Yet ten years on, the team is only just starting to think about a business model, and are finally putting together a funding committee to look at ways of bringing in revenue.

With the only revenue raised so far having come via an appeal on a blog for donations to cover the costs of a re-design, attempts at income generation have been ‘slow-going’, admits music review editor Holly Combe.

But looking back, she goes on, it would have been almost inimical to the spirit of the project to think in cold commercial terms.

‘A lot of women have come together to do something that’s almost anti-organisation, and anti-business model,’ she says. ‘Gradually they do more and more, and then they start to wonder how they’re going continue to do it, and earn a living.’

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a stellar example of a website run by and for women. With revenue of £3 million this year, Mumsnet can hardly be accused of not being business-like. And, with 1.7 million unique users a month, it uses its considerable influence to campaign on behalf of women, raising everything from the over-sexualisation of girls to the impact of night car parking charges on women.

Yet the path to success was hardly a clear, or even a thought-out one. For the first few years, according to co-founder Justine Roberts, the aim was simply to provide a forum for parents to exchange ideas and support each other. The site’s campaigning voice first emerged when an advert about Madeleine McCann advert caused an outcry among Mumsnet members. As time went on, politicans started to take notice of this vocal constituency, but it wasn’t until the ‘Mumsnet election’ of 2009 that the company finally decided to invest in some dedicated campaigning staff.

‘We didn’t start off with the intention that we would be a campaigning website,’ says Roberts. ‘We became large enough and attracted the interest of politicians. We thought it would be remiss of us not to use that access.’

Even more compellingly, she admits that the first business model she drew up in 1999, based on e-commerce, ‘wasn’t worth the paper it was written on’. But while its contemporaries over-invested in costly infrastructure, Mumsnet survived, thanks to a low-cost, slow-grow approach which enabled it to gradually build large numbers of engaged visitors. Running the site was effectively a voluntary job for years, with its founders relying on the family income earned by their partners. (Roberts is married to Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz.)

Yet – and here comes the paradox at the heart of the Mumsnet model – Roberts acknowledges that the site’s success depends on, well, its success. ‘Having a voice that people will listen to means that you have to have scale,’ she says. ‘The only way your voice will be effective is to have scale. You have to have a business model that works. It’s chicken and egg.’

The Mumsnet secret, it seems, boils down to a blend of hard graft, patience and something that its more idealistic counterparts lack – a canny willingness to identify and act on commercial opportunities. The site is now entirely sustained by advertising, to the point where even media folk wanting to access its membership are sent to a Worldpay page charging £30.

In July this year, the site launched the Bloggers Network, a scheme allowing contributers to take a share of revenue based on the number of page views their work generates. ‘It doesn’t feel right to take people’s work and publish it without sharing the potential revenue,’ says Roberts. ‘The Huffington Post model didn’t feel right for Mumsnet.’

But, the almost serendipitous success of Mumsnet aside, the problem of how to sustain campaigning websites remains. Courtney Martin, editor of
Feministing, a US blog started in 2004 and run entirely by women in other full time jobs, puts it starkly:

‘So I’m sitting here, mindful of my own legacy and very struck that what one might reasonable argue is the most robust, powerful medium for feminism today is being created in a truly unsustainable way,’ she writes in a post earlier this year. ‘I start to daydream about all of the amazing things we might be able to do if we actually had the funding, space, and time to do more than keep our heads above water.

‘I just can’t shake the feeling that one of the biggest mistakes my own generation is making is accepting the status quo of an unsupported blogosphere and losing the opportunity to make an even larger impact,’ she adds.

Written by Alex

December 12th, 2011 at 5:33 am

New model journalism, old model sexism – do we need a new e-feminism?

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Over the two and a half years I’ve been researching emerging forms of media for New Model Journalism and the NUJ conference which preceded it, a question has been slowly pushing itself to the forefront of my mind. It feels a bit like that story about the emperor having no clothes, but no one being prepared to say so, and it’s certainly too early for any data on the subject. But finally, I’ve got to the point where I can no longer stop myself from asking …

Where are all the women?

This question crystalised in my head, I had a rummage around the New Model Journalism archives, which are replete with case studies of impressive start-ups and reports of exciting new digi-developments. And there, my hunch was confirmed. From the founders of pay-what-you-want sports mag the Blizzard to the inventor of innovative advertising system Addiply, the population of pioneers is overwhelmingly male.

The process of deciding on the speakers for the conference on new ways to make journalism pay, I recalled, told a similar tale. It wasn’t that the organising committee unwittingly invited panels almost entirely composed of men; we noticed quite quickly that the lack of female speakers and scratched our collective head, but failed to come up with anything approaching a gender balance. Finally, we settled for a single woman speaker, resolving to break up the monotony with a few female chairs.

That single speaker was Angie Sammons, editor of Liverpool Confidential, a news and reviews website that has thrived since it started five years ago. During that time, Sammons has earned what she describes as a ‘good living’ from the site, and is as passionate as ever about ensuring a future platform for news about the city she loves. But she admits that, as a woman, the networking side of the job has been challenging.

‘I know that if I was a bloke I’d be perceived very differently,’ she says. ‘Websites are very blokey by their very nature, and it’s quite difficult, on a social level, to be that blokey. I’ve certainly ‘”manned up” since I’ve been doing this.’

‘As to women in this game, it’s the same old rule with just a different kind of ball,’ she continues. ‘The rule being “best batted by men”, and the ball is just digital media, rather than traditional media.’

Her experience chimes with that of Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, a longtime researcher into media and gender issues. ‘I don’t know of any data on this, but it’s classic stuff,’ she says. ‘Newsrooms are fiercely macho environments. They’re squeezing out an enormous amount of intelligence and communicative understanding that is critical to the digital age.’

Danuta Kean, books editor for the women’s writing magazine Mslexia, agrees. ‘In the creative writing industries, men do seem to get an easier time. The voices of men are taken more seriously, and it’s a question of women having to break into a boys’ club.’

‘People see the digital world as a shiny new world,’ she adds. ‘It isn’t. It’s the same old world. Why should we be surprised if we see the same sexism in the digital world?’

And, if current trends are examined further, it looks as if things will only get worse. According to Sammons, women in regional journalism are failing to acquire the skills necessary to participate in the digital revolution, and are getting left behind. ‘Most of the women I know in journalism don’t interact with the internet,’ she says. ‘And I don’t think it’s going to change.’

Meanwhile, says Fenton, the crisis afflicting the media industry is affecting women, who tend to work more on a freelance or part-time basis, particularly adversely. ‘When any crisis strikes, equality goes out of the door,’ she says. ‘The fragility of the business model is worse for women.’

At the same time, she adds, the 24/7 demands of the digital age mean that, for staffers on newspapers, it’s the women who are increasingly doing the online work. ‘They are very conscientious, and it’s communicative work,’ she says. ‘Women are better at that. I think they’re being exploited, because it’s so round-the-clock.’

‘As a result, they’re getting more kudos. But we know that, as time goes on, work is seen as less valuable because women are doing it. That’s a standard pattern that’s happened throughout the technical transformation of the working environment – think typewriters. Women end up doing the busy stuff, and men take the leadership roles and the kudos.’

‘That’s a pattern that’s difficult to break, because it’s patriarchy,’ she concludes, depressingly.

So is the digital revolution generating the need for a new e-feminism? If so, it’s too early to say what form it might take. No one I spoke to had any strong ideas about possible remedies; it seems that we’re still at the very early stages of diagnosing the problem.

(I am confident that two leading female players in the new media world – feminist blogger Laurie Penny and Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ’s first woman general secretary, could shed further light on this regressive trend, but neither have responded to interview requests. Laurie and Michelle, I’ll be keeping a watching brief on this area, and would still love to hear from you.)

In the meantime, dear reader, I’ll leave you with a provocative hypothesis from Danuta Kean that there’s something about the digital world, with its new forms of communication via forums and social media, that fosters a New Sexism.

‘It’s not a two-way conversation. You’re inside your head, and not empathising with another person,’ she says. ‘It’s quite a narcissistic medium, and maybe that suits men better.’

Written by Alex

November 28th, 2011 at 5:56 am

Under the spotlight: Citizen journalism site Blottr

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Since launching a little over a year ago, Blottr, or ‘the people powered news service’, has been growing exponentially.

With regional sites covering eight UK cities including London and Leeds, Blottr has recently expanded overseas, launching sites in France and Germany. Its traffic is impressive – 1.6 million unique users a month, or nearly four million page impressions – and the site’s own research suggests that the demographic of the readers is reassuringly mainstream: a quarter are students, and the rest an equal male-female split of adults aged 18-52.

Founder Adam Baker, a former digital projects director at Northcliffe Media,
is evangelical about the ability of a news service largely created by ordinary people to ‘disrupt’, as he puts it, the practices of traditional media organisations increasingly struggling to put reporters on the ground. ‘That’s the power of citizen journalism’, he says. ‘People at the scene are best placed to report it.’

‘The riots did us a massive favour,’ he adds. ‘We got nearly three million unique users over three days that propelled us into mainstream awareness, and broke the riots exclusively in Ealing and Woolwich.’

He also claims that Blottr published the first footage of the shooting of Gaddafi in Europe, just eight minutes after the event, considerably before mainstream media such as Sky.

The 24-hour news operation is overseen by a single editor supported by a handful of community and country managers, who monitor the content contributed by the public and alter it, post-publication, only if it is libellous, malicious, offensive or grammatically faulty. But editorial influence of a more traditional kind is exerted over the home page, which highlights selected stories deemed most likely to appeal to the Blottr readership.

The site’s revenue-sharing scheme pays selected contributors £1 per thousand views, an arrangement which says a lot about the way the model privileges popularity over labour; contributors are invited to join the scheme only after they have proved that they will be of continuing value to the site by regularly pulling in the punters via social media.

‘It rewards them for the popularity of their content; they’re not getting paid to write; they’re getting paid to promote their story,’ Baker explains. ‘It’s based on how valuable they are to us – they can write one brilliant post, but if they don’t write regularly, they’re not going to go on it.’ (The contributor of the Gaddafi photo-scoop, for example, did not get paid.)

Early indications suggest that, for the chosen few – about a hundred out of nearly 1600 contributors – the revenue-sharing scheme can be lucrative: ‘Last week we paid someone £230 for a three paragraph article because it was really very popular,’ he says.

The scheme is in keeping with another unusual feature of the site, an ‘authentication algorithm’ which attributes influence to each contributor, breaking down the number of people who have contributed to a story, whether in the form of photos, videos or revisions and additions.

While Baker is unfazed by questions his model raises about the quality of such future journalism, his answers do reveal a certain respect for traditional reporting. Does he think the citizen-based news model will replace news-gathering by professional journalists?

‘It definitely won’t replace it,’ he says. ‘It’s not analytical enough – that’s the reason I pick up The Guardian every day.’

And he denies that there’s a risk, if things go as profitably as he hopes, of a Huffington Post-style rebellion from unpaid contributors in future. ‘We’re really different from the Huffington Post,’ says Baker. ‘The Huffington Post are looking for professional bloggers to contribute content without being paid; that’s not what we’re trying to do.’

‘If you’re a journalist and you can’t get published elsewhere, a student trying to build a portfolio, or a member of the public just wanting to capture something, we provide a platform,’ he adds.

So far, the prospects for a profitable future are promising. Having been bankrolled for the first year by Baker, Blottr earlier this year secured a £1m investment from Mark Pearson, founder of web-marketing outfit Markco. ‘We’re not breaking even yet, but we’re close to it,’ says Baker. ‘We’re ahead of our projections, especially for traffic and revenue.’

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the revenue comes from non-traditional sources. Some 80% comes by selling licenses for the software developed to enable the Blottr’s user-generated content to other publishers, now branded as Newspoint; the remaining 20% comes from self-serve advertising in the Gumtree mould, persuading customers able to advertise events and services free to pay to have their adverts promoted.

It’s hard to tell, at this stage in Blottr’s development, whether the news site is really a basis for a new form of quality journalism, or whether it’s the product of a canny business mind that has seen an opportunity to ride a profitable new wave of technology and culture. But its early success certainly testifies not just to the healthy demand for web-based news, but also to the growing appetite of citizen journalists to report it.

If you have any feedback on Blottr or other initiatives reported on this site, please tweet us @newmodeljourno or email us directly.

Written by Alex

October 31st, 2011 at 7:14 am

News from your street served up by a ‘publishing visionary’

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Case study by Tim Dawson.

Postcodegazette’s aim is to create a virtual newspaper for every street in Britain.  Using mobile technology to map the location of its audience, it focuses on news so local that readers are interested in cars being scratched and the exam results of neighbours’ children.

Users of the service – which is being piloted in Sheffield, and has minimal content in some other UK locations – either enter their postcode, or allow the inbuilt GPS in mobile devices to tell the service where they are.  This allows Postcodegazette to serve them up with a diet of ultra-local stories.   “The list of stories will be slightly different from street to street, focussing on what has happened nearest to you”, promises managing director Chris McCormack.

Content will be provided by paid local ‘publishers’.  They receive £50 per week, for which they are expected to file 15 stories a week.  As the business develops, they will also be offered a share of local advertising spend.  Drawn from ‘interested local people’ such as parish councillors, community activists and potentially students, they are offered informal training in the practice and pitfalls of journalism.  A full time staff of between 15 and 20 people, many of them trained and experienced journalists, vet all copy post publication, as well as advising on potentially contentious stories before publication.

Revenue is expected to come from advertising – but again the model is hyper-local and immediate.  “It will be possible for a business to advertise to just a few streets – or just a few hours for as little as £1”, says McCormack.  He cites the example of a sandwich bar that wants to get rid of excess stock in the afternoon as the kind of opportunity where Postcodegazette will provide an unique service.

The initiative is the brainchild of Vitek Tracz, a serial publishing entrepreneur who, two years ago sold his BioMed Central publications to Springer for an undisclosed sum, thought to be in the region of $50 million.  He also owns the Faculty of 1000, which aims to become ‘the Facebook of science’ as well as Telmap which makes smart phone applications to connect users to local businesses.  McCormack comes to the company after a career which started in local newspapers.  He was most recently the ‘head of digital’ at the Press Association and oversaw the news agency’s coverage of the most recent general election.

For the moment, content is available on the web as well as on mobile devices – although McCormack anticipates that the emphasis will increasingly shift towards the latter.  He expects to need 80 to 90 publishers in every major town for the service to work although for the moment, while he is interested to hear from potential applicants, most of the UK is likely to be in the ‘pending tray’ for some months.  “The income we are offering could only be a supplement to other earnings at the moment”, he concedes.  “But as the service develops, someone who was really working their patch and making it attractive to advertisers, should be able to bring in a good deal more”. 

He believes that interest in their stories will be sufficient to bring in traffic but says that the kinds of neighbourhoods that will really drive the service remains to be seen.  “Traditional wisdom has it that advertisers are more interested in higher income neighbourhoods, but students are more interested in and responsive to offers and voucher codes – so we will have to see”.

Generating interest in his redefined parish pump would seem to be Postcodegazette’s biggest challenge.  But, with a deep-pocketed financial backer who is sometimes described as a ‘publishing visionary’ and a management team with a strong professional track record, they represent the UK’s most serious attempt to date to make a proper business from hyperlocal news.

Written by Tim Dawson

July 4th, 2011 at 2:08 am

Hard data shatters hyperlocal dream

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Crystal Palace transmitter by Lancey (Flickr)

Report by Alex Klaushofer.

When hyperlocal publisher Chris Thomas was casting about for a topic for his postgraduate research, he decided to investigate some of the claims about the rise of hyperlocalism, and come up with some hard data about who is using them, and why.

‘There’s a lot of hype about hyperlocals, but there’s very scant research,’ says Thomas, who has just completed an MA in e-commerce at the University of Wales Trinity St David. For his dissertation, he decided to take a close look at how far such websites have succeeded in replacing more traditional local media, and the profile of their keenest users.

The London suburb he chose for his case study – which happens to be the much-loved habitat of your correspondent – was a rich source of material. Known for its strong community spirit and villlagey feel, Crystal Palace has a healthy range of hyperlocal media, from long-established community website Virtual Norwood to the celebratory local lifestyle mag the Transmitter. Thomas himself runs the online edition of its predecessor the palacemag

He first conducted a survey, leaving paper forms in the local library and cafes and inviting online responses via his website. Almost two hundred people responded, and the findings were then supplemented by a longitudinal study, conducted in February this year, of the ways in which people use Virtual Norwood and the community website for the neighbouring area Sydenham Town.

The key findings suggest that people see hyperlocal media as one small part of the information sources available to them about what is going on locally. ‘Users interact wtih hyperlocal media primarily for their information needs – they’re not looking for entertainment, or community interaction,’ says Thomas.

And it seems that digital media lags behind good old-fashioned word of mouth communication. Person-to-person communication ranked top of the list of thirteen channels delivering local news and information, with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter coming in the bottom five.

Other results are somewhat disappointing for those who hail hyperlocals as the means for a new wave of citizen-based community activism. Just 3.8% of the members of the community websites were responsible for all contributions to debates, a finding which rather debunks the idea that the web is bringing about a new form of participatory democracy.

Meanwhile, the demographic of those taking part is narrow, with the under-twenties notable in their absence. The standard of users’ education was unusually high – more than double that of the 2001 census data and 22% higher than the average person in the research sample.

‘Hyperlocal websites are affected by an extremely narrow social demographic, middle class, middle aged and highly educated,’ says Thomas. ‘This is far higher than is seen in general web use and much higher than in general society. This lack of diversity could mean that similar opinions are being made by similar voices.’

Shrewdly, Thomas also uncovered some hard data to evidence the dynamics of local politics by asking whether fear of negative reaction put people off contributing to discussions: some 61% of respondents said they had hesitated in posting something due to fear of criticism.

The anecdotal responses that emerged en route were particularly revealing. ‘Some members of the forum complained of pettiness, and people hiding behind their avatars,’ he reports. Other respondents suggested that some posters used multiple screen names to launch attacks on people with opposing views.

‘It seems that participation inequality is higher in hyperlocal websites than in forums in general,’ says Thomas. ‘This could be because people are more passionate about their own locale, as what happens there affects them directly. This is particularly the case in areas such as planning, crime, shops and services. When key local campaigners get involved in postings they will have their own agenda and try to influence others as much as they can.’

So what should media-watchers conclude from these findings? At this early stage in the digital revolution, such research is as valuable as it is rare. But rather than throw out the baby with the hyperlocal bathwater, we should perhaps use it as a reality check, a reminder that the claim that new media alone is capable of opening up a brave new world, should be treated with caution. It’s still the old world, with all its human failings, and a bit of new technology thrown in.

Written by Alex

June 13th, 2011 at 5:01 am

Hyperlocalism – the next landgrab?

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Comment by Alex Klaushofer.
foto.bulle (Flickr) If the rhetoric is to be believed, hyperlocalism is the most promising trend the digital age has brought journalism. There are now hundreds of websites around the country, bringing local communities unprecedented levels of news gathered by newly-empowered citizen journalists. With their scrutiny of the local and celebration of the particular, it’s tempting to see hyperlocals as a new form of democratic journalism driven by a synergy between readers and writers.

For media-watchers looking for an answer to journalism’s money troubles, hyperlocalism may provide the beginnings of some reasons to be cheerful. It shows, at least, that there is still an appetite for local news, prompting the hope that where there is demand, money must follow.

But a bit dig deeper, and a different story emerges. Most hyperlocals are run by volunteers and activists – a feature which, according to evangelists like William Perrin and Networked Neighbourhoods, is part of their beauty. But it’s not a recipe for sustainability. The husband-and-wife-team behind the award-winning Ventnor Blog admit to ‘constantly wondering how they’re living’ despite running a site that’s become central to life on the Isle of Wight since it started five years ago.

Meanwhile, Tony Walley, the founder of Pits n Pots, the hyperlocal known for its hard-hitting coverage of Stoke-on-Trent, says the site’s development has run aground on the problem of monetisation. Even possible counter example start-up Preston, which has been notably successful in securing grant funding from NESTA, is hardly a model that could be widely replicated by others.

The common thread running through all these cases suggests an unpalatable possibility: it could it be that what we’re seeing is a movement with a limited life-span rather than the emergence of a new form of grassroots journalism.

The developing relationship between the grassroots hyperlocals and their bigger counterparts provides an indication of the direction things could take. Last summer, Trinity Mirror announced the launch of a network of hyperlocals working ‘in partnership’ with established sites like the Lichfield blog. In exchange for allowing Trinity Mirror sites to feature their material on their sites, contributing hyperlocals get to showcase their work and be properly credited.

The deal is symptomatic of the way the big media organisations are responding to the hyperlocal conundrum, reluctant to let such a promising new media trend pass them by, but unwilling to invest much in something that isn’t profitable. Northcliffe, Trinity Mirror and the Guardian all have modest hyperlocal operations, and it’s likely to be a while before they get any return for their investment. ‘It’s going to take a long time. Whether they’ll have the patience, I don’t know,’ says Sean Kelly, founder-director of NeighbourNet, the UK’s only fully commerical hyperlocal operation.

It’s hard, with the row about the Huffington Post profiting out of unpaid bloggers and aggregated content rumbling on, not to see an element of parasitism in the big media companies’ relationship with community-based hyperlocals. Neither Trinity Mirror nor Guardian Local, which shares a similar model, are thieving copy, as publishers have to sign up for the deal. (There are examples of outright theft in hyperlocal land: earlier this year had to take down content it had posted without permission, while Pits n Pots’ Walley claims his stories are frequently used, without attribution, by mainstream media organisations.) But it’s possible, further down the line, to see weary community publishers selling to big players seeking aggregation.

While everyone eagerly awaits hyperlocalism’s moment at the bank, it’s worth keeping an eye on the States, which is ahead of the UK in the new-models-for-journalism-game. Last week it emerged that Twitter co-founder Biz Stone is to join Huffington Post to develop a platform for community journalism, fuelling suspicions of a new media strategy based on free content now, profit later. The chief exec of local news aggregator Topix recently observed that – with a resurgence in local advertising now taking digital form – a land-grab is underway in hyperlocal media. So – to transplant the western analogy here – if the big media companies are the cowboys and the grassroots hyperlocals the Indians, what will happen when the landgrab comes here?

This article was first published on the New Statesman’s website, where it has generated a lively debate.

Written by Alex

March 21st, 2011 at 5:16 am

Hyperlocal wins grant funding

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The announcement yesterday that Blog Preston has won public funding is surely a sign of a growing recognition that hyperlocals have a key role to play in British media.

The site, whose bid was made in partnership with other local organisations, is one of 16 community projects to have succeeded in the Neighbourhood Challenge run by NESTA – the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

According to blog founder Ed Walker, the grant will provide ‘significant funding’ for a collaborative media project aimed at creating ‘a surge in community journalism’. As reports, it will fund the recruitment and training of a number of citizen journalists.

But, with Preston one of six hundred projects who applied for an award, grant funding is unlikely to provide a sustainable future for most of the hundreds of hyperlocals now beavering away around the country.

Written by Alex

February 18th, 2011 at 7:41 am

Tweeting ’bout the revolution – the case of Tunisia

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The digital revolution has been meeting actual revolution over the past week in Tunisia.

Users of social media are being credited with bringing about the downfall of President of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, reports National Public Radio in the States.

Meanwhile. the authorities have been extending the usual means of suppressing unfavourable reporting by mainstream journalists, arresting bloggers and interfering with email and social media accounts including Facebook.

But tweeters opened themselves up to accusations of inaccuracy by falsely reporting mid last week that the president had been ousted before he had in fact fled.

However, as the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker points out, online communities’ ability to self-correct quickly means this doesn’t completely undermine contributions’ from citizen journalists.

The BBC reports how the fall of the Tunisian regime is being hailed by bloggers around the Arab world.

For a backgrounder on how citizen journalism is flourishing in the Arab world – where most people are subjects rather than citizens – see here.

Written by Alex

January 17th, 2011 at 5:46 am

C4’s Snow appeals for snow news from citizen journos

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Photo by Anirudh Koul (Flickr)

Covering the chaos at Heathrow on this evening’s Channel 4 news, Jon Snow has appealed for passengers inside the airport to send footage and pix to the programme.

Accredited journalists have been banned from filming inside the airport, which is owned by private operator BAA. Snow described the decision as a ‘deliberate policy’ to prevent showing the public the ‘agony’ of passengers.

Written by Alex

December 20th, 2010 at 3:47 pm