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Q&A with hyperlocal site boasting 15,000 newsletter subscribers

ChiswickW4.com, which claimed 50,000 unique visitors during January, has just gained it’s 15,000th email newsletter signup.

Launched by the Neighbour Net group in 2000 to cover the W4 postcode area of London, Neighbour Net now boasts a portfolio of nine other hyperlocal sites in London, including EalingToday.co.uk and PutneySW15.com.

One of Neighbour Net’s directors, Sean Kelly, spoke to Journalism.co.uk about the site’s model.

Who’s behind the operation of the website? What inspired you to set up a hyperlocal site?

The site was set up by Tony Steele and Sean Kelly who both live in the Chiswick area. The aim was to fill the gap in local news provision initially in Chiswick and then extend the concept out to other areas.

Are your articles written by local contributors or do you have a dedicated team?

We have a dedicated editor for each site and a significant number of other local contributors in each area. The contributions tend to be reviews – restaurants, concerts, theatre. There is also a central office resource for content production which can write stories when the editor is away.

Is anyone employed to work full-time on the site?

Yes, we have four full-time staff but that includes sales and back office. The aim on ChiswickW4.com is to be able to respond 24/7 to breaking news.

Your site has a number of subtle advertisements – could you tell us a little about your business model?

Nearly all our customers are small local businesses and they either have advertising packages which include banner display and newsletter inclusion or listings in our directories.

We also like to be supportive of local independent businesses and like to write positive stories about them. Obviously we are more inclined to cover items about our clients but often feature non-clients as well.

Do you have a social media strategy? If so, what social networks do you use and how do you use them?

We put all our news content out on Twitter and Facebook as well as some aggregated feeds with local offers, events, jobs and traffic reports. The main use for us of social media is sourcing stories rather than broadcasting. It is particularly powerful for breaking news.

We try and follow as many people as possible who live in the area to ensure that if something is kicking off locally we hear about it quickly.

Why did you go down the newsletter route, rather than taking a different approach?

Probably because in 2000 there weren’t really many alternatives but e-mail newsletters have proven to be the most effective broadcast method ever since.

On a proportional basis they still deliver the highest level of response both for advertisers and in terms of click through to news items.

How does your traffic for the Chiswick site compare with the rest of Neighbour Net’s sites?

It makes up around 50 per cent of group total over the course of a typical month. On exceptional days sites like PutneySW15.com and EalingToday.co.uk can exceed Chiswick’s traffic.

Do you have any plans to roll out new features on the sites?

The plan is to increase the amount of user contributed content further although the editor will remain central to the story production process.

Are you planning to expand? If so, where to?

We normally expand contiguously so that people in the area may be familiar with the site and we can cross-sell to existing clients as well as provide editorial support from neighbouring sites.

The most important determinant of where we launch is finding a suitably high quality editor. The plan is to recruit more actively once the content management system is up and running.

ChiswickW4.com can be found on Twitter as @ChiswickW4.

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Students relaunch the Cardiffian to fill gap left by Guardian Cardiff closure

Trainee newspaper journalists from Cardiff School of Journalism have relaunched the Cardiffian, a hyperlocal.

One of those involved, Tom Rouse, explains how it is run.

The news site is staffed by trainee newspaper journalists at Cardiff School of Journalism. With 29 reporters, each assigned their own patch, we are able to cover a large part of Cardiff at a ward level and cover a depth and breadth of stories which engage with communities on their own level.

The site was originally set up for last year’s students, so our focus this year has been reviving a site which has lain dormant since April and rebuilding ties with local community groups.  This background means we have not had to build a readership from scratch, but has presented a different challenge in ensuring we offer something different from what is already out there.

Fundamentally, the Cardiffian is a news site and a chance for us to put our work in a real world setting.  The majority of our second term is dominated by our first efforts as journalists in sourcing stories and producing a paper. As this paper is produced as a training exercise it allows us to make mistakes in a safe environment. Putting our work up on the Cardiffian builds upon this by giving us an invaluable opportunity to gain feedback from readers about the stories we’re writing and understand what works when presented to an audience and what doesn’t.

But, we are hoping to make the site far more than just another source of news in Cardiff. We want to fill the niche in the local online community which was left vacant by the demise of Guardian Cardiff and act as a hub for a variety of content, not just our own.

This means a large part of our strategy revolves around making ourselves useful to communities and encouraging them to engage with the site, whether that means submitting their events to our listings page or writing a guest blog on an issue they feel passionately about. We are hoping to build a genuine two-way relationship with our readers,

Glyn Mottershead, lecturer in digital journalism at Cardiff University, said:

The key point of the site is to help our students learn about the ways in which the industry is changing, to understand content and community strategies and build a living portfolio of work.

It is also an opportunity for them to engage with groups in Cardiff and try and help them get their message out.

The first year was very much a news site, which worked well in its run and received good feedback. This year is more about involving members of the community in the site and trying to understand and support an online community that is interested in what is happening in the city around them.

The site is also a bit more of a lab than other parts of the course and gives the students the opportunity to explore ideas that may be of interest to the community and suggest changes to platforms and strategies based on genuine feedback from them.

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#jpod – SoLoMo: a look at the Guardian and Northcliffe’s innovations in social and local

February 3rd, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Hyperlocal, Podcast

Developments in technology relating to social, local and mobile and how they can intersect have come together in a “perfect storm”, Sarah Hartley, community strategist for the Guardian Media Group explains in this week’s podcast.

Journalism.co.uk technology correspondent Sarah Marshal looks at SoLoMo and the opportunities for news.

The jpod hears from Sarah Hartley about the Guardian’s n0tice start-up; Jamie Riddell, CEO of Digital Tomorrow Today, investor in apps and  freelance technology columnist for Archant’s East Anglian Daily Times; and Lee Williams, general manager of Northcliffe Digital, who heads up the Local People sites, a group of hyperlocal sites launched in 2009.

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the Journalism.co.uk iTunes podcast feed.

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Guardian’s n0tice launches advertising platform

December 12th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Hyperlocal, Local media

New online noticeboard, n0tice, which is owned by the Guardian Media Group, today announced the launch of an advertising platform which will enable noticeboard owners to earn revenue.

According to a post on the site, which also enables community groups, individuals, hyperlocals and bloggers to post announcements, event information and local news, noticeboard “owners” can now “earn revenue by selling featured positions for classified listings or ‘offers’.”

Outlining the model n0tice says owners will take an 85 per cent revenue cut, while the platform gets the remaining 15 per cent.

Posting an offer on a noticeboard is self-serve and free for n0tice participants. Offers can then be upgraded to a Featured placement for £1/day (or the equivalent base-level regional currency). Featured positioning includes both a visual enhancement and priority ranking on the page.

Alongside the new revenue platform, n0tice also announced the addition of other new features in today’s post, including geoRSS and the ability for each user to have a number of noticeboards.

Read more on n0tice here.

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Sourcefabric promises a free, multi-platform solution for news outlets

Sourcefabric, a non-profit, has announced it is working on a new platform: Superdesk, an open source newsroom tool designed by journalists that covers the entire journalistic process from source to signal.

When it is released in summer 2012 Superdesk promises to be a tool newsrooms can use to pull in news feeds from social media and APIs, and then output the signal to a range of different platforms, such as television, radio, mobile, tablets and online.

As free software it can be used by organisations of all sizes, from hyperlocal or global, and by print or online. As with Sourcefabric’s other two open source platforms, Superdesk will be accessible through any web browser after being installed on one Linux server.

Although not yet publicly available Superdesk is already being used by new Swiss online-print hybrid paper TagesWoche, launched last month in Basel, 14 months after the city’s liberal Basler Zeitung was sold to investors. By using the platform the news organisation is helping Sourcefabric shape its development.

An announcement from Sourcefabric states:

Superdesk is a newsroom tool made by journalists, for journalists, which will offer new ways to source, manage, verify, process and present the facts behind a story.

Whether you source your news from Reuters or random RSS, stringers or Storyful, citizens or Open Calais tags, Superdesk streamlines your workflow.

It centralises and standardises your content allowing you to move it around the newsroom to other journalists, editors or translators for further editing or sign off. Superdesk will then deliver the finished article to any platform or device – web, mobile, print, radio, television. All will be at your disposal.

Adam Thomas from Sourcefabric told Journalism.co.uk that the software has been developed by journalists who understand exactly how newsrooms work.

We have this ethos of creating once and publishing everywhere to really create efficiency within the newsroom.

Sourcefabric has two existing platforms: Newscoop, a CMS, and Airtime, for radio stations.

Newscoop

Newscoop is a content management system, a demo of which provides a taster. As with Superdesk and Airtime, Newscoop needs to be installed on a Linux server and can then be accessed using any web browser from a device running any OS.

Asked how it differs from WordPress Thomas said:

WordPress is great for blogs and Newscoop is great for newsrooms. It’s built by journalists for journalists and has lots of tools that journalists really like, like workflow hierarchies. It’s multilingual, you can upload to SoundCloud, it’s very friendly to audio and works very nicely with images.

Being multilingual is key for the software, Thomas explained.

We work in a lot of post-conflict areas, a lot of transitional democracies, where a multitude of languages are often spoken, so it is multilingual both in the back end, for the journalists, and also for the front end, so readers can get the news in different languages.

Airtime

Airtime is Sourcefabric’s open source radio automation package. Thomas explained how it works:

It allows radio stations, for free, to download software and set up a professional radio station and manage a media archive, build shows and then output via webstream, by FM or digital.

One of the radio stations using Airtime is West African Democracy Radio, a radio network operating out of Senegal but covering the whole of the West African region.

They use Airtime alongside Newscoop. They get the journalists to write the articles on Newscoop, they take these and prepare them as scripts, give them to the radio shows who then broadcast via Airtime.

Airtime records automatically to SoundCloud so then these shows are recorded to SoundCloud, uploaded to the web, and then shared by Facebook and Twitter.

Sourcefabric launched in its current form, as a non-profit organisation, in April 2010 but the seeds of the organisation and platforms date back as far as 1999, when a team first started creating digital newsrooms.

The current incarnation of the organisation has bases in Europe and North and South America: in Prague, Berlin, Toronto, Warsaw, Guatemala, Serbia and Minsk.

Thomas said:

The software is actually only seven months old. We’ve re-factored and made new versions, we’ve renamed them so these are new products. We have really tailored then for the web and for modern journalism.

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Hyperlocals can now create noticeboards using the Guardian’s n0tice

Online noticeboard n0tice has today opened to all community groups and hyperlocal sites after testing the technology with a limited number of users.

Groups can now create their own customised page, choosing a domain and can start to moderate activity. The platform is still being developed but there are plans to later introduce revenue-sharing between n0tice, owned by the Guardian Media Group, and page owners, such as hyperlocal news sites and bloggers.

notice is like a cross between a village noticeboard, Gumtree and Foursquare in that it is a space for users to post small ads, local news and announcements and that information can be pushed to location-enabled mobile phones and devices. There is more on how and why n0tice was created at this link and how it will make money by charging users for promoted, location-based small ads.

Following a recent invitation roll-out, hyperlocals, bloggers and community groups can now create their n0tice page, measure performance and activity with social analytics tools, and “moderate community activity in order to encourage the kind of behaviour they want to see on their noticeboard”, Sarah Hartley, one of the team behind n0tice told Journalism.co.uk.

She added:

This service is designed to serve community groups of all shapes and sizes, active local champions and community leaders, local publishers and bloggers, interest groups and hobbyists, and anyone who wants to manage a community noticeboard. We are focused on serving UK-based community groups, but it works anywhere in the world.

The service is still in development, and we have a lot we plan to add in the near future.

For example, we will develop revenue sharing opportunities via the classified advertising platform so that noticeboard owners can earn money. We will also develop a private, restricted access community noticeboard service which will be offered for a fee.

We don’t have a date when these services will be launched, but we release new capabilities on a regular basis.  You can follow @n0tice to stay in touch with the team.

Access to n0tice.com is open, but community participation is currently by invitation only. There are details on the technologies used to create n0tice here.

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How a hyperlocal is calling on the community for crowdfunding with Pitch-in!

November 2nd, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Hyperlocal, Online Journalism

The Port Talbot Magnet, a hyperlocal launched by a group of journalists six months ago, has been asking the community to fund stories in an bid to make the site sustainable.

One of those behind the hyperlocal, Rachel Howells, told Journalism.co.uk:

Last month we launched Pitch-In! which was our call to the community, to let them know that we are here and that we want to collaborate with them and we want them to be a part of the news service.

Pitch-in! follows crowdfunding initiatives such as Spot.us, based in the US, in asking readers and interested parties to donate money.

The Port Talbot Magnet is asking the community to meet targets to “sponsor our football results service”, “help us buy public liability insurance”, “sponsor a court reporter for a day” or contribute to the development fund or offer general support.

Howells, one of the directors of the Port Talbot Magnet, explained:

These are just a taste of what we would like to achieve. We have a long list of goals, including reporting council meetings and news, police and emergency services news, increasing our coverage of business news, sport, arts, music, entertainment, charity groups and campaigns – things we don’t have the resources for at the moment. And we are looking for local people to tell us what they would like us to cover, as well as giving journalists the opportunity to pitch in with ideas for investigations or news that they think should be covered.

A month on from launching Pitch-in! as a “call to community” and Howells said it has had “some success”, appearing to have generated around £40 in donations.

It’s a little more than we would have had if we hadn’t asked.

The Port Talbot Magnet is the result of cutbacks in South Wales and the closure of the Trinity Mirror-published Port Talbot Guardian, which shut in 2009.

A group of journalists, the majority of whom were members of the Swansea branch of the National Union of Journalists, started discussing how to “do something proactive to keep ourselves in journalism”.

Howells herself is former editor of Big Issue Cymru, who was made redundant when her job moved to Glasgow.

We could see there were changes in the industry that were particularly affecting Wales and that were affecting journalism generally.

As they were setting themselves up as a cooperative the group toyed with various ideas, settling for a news site for Port Talbot to fill the “natural vacuum” left by the closure of the local paper.

When the Port Talbot Guardian closed we just thought; here is a group of people who need local news, we are a group of journalists who want to provide it, surely there must be a way of filling the gap and creating some employment for ourselves as well.

The journalists’ joint effort developed into a local news site for the town of 35,000. Eight professional journalists are on the board of the Port Talbot Magnet, plus there are 20 “interested parties”, including academics and PRs.

The site launched in April 2011, in the same month as the Passion, a three-day play starring Michael Sheen, was performed in the local area and the hyperlocal became a community partner for the National Theatre Wales. Howells said this provided traffic and a “great test and great showcase” for the site.

Attempts to get public funding had proved unsuccessful, prompting the group to last month turn to community funding and also set up a membership scheme.

We can’t run it just as volunteers for ever, we want it to grow and develop, but we recognise that we can’t do it by ourselves.

Howells is hoping the community will answer the call, to subsidise the money generated through advertising.

Along with her role as journalist and director of the news site, Howells is also studying a funded PhD at Cardiff University, looking at what happens to a town that loses its local paper, the implications for democracy, and looking at possible sustainable business models. For obvious reasons her research is focused on Port Talbot.

Asked about her findings so far she explained it was too early to provide results from her research.

What I can tell you is that there were all these awful predictions that the number of local newspaper titles would drop significantly and that up until 2015 we were going to lose a percentage of them. This hasn’t happened at all and the number of closures has been minimal.

But underneath the surface though, when you look at the number of staff that have gone, if you look at how newspapers have merged with each other, the pagination of newspapers, there is an encroaching poverty in the newsgathering, particularly in this area.

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New Guardian community platform n0tice invites more users

October 26th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Hyperlocal


n0tice, the Guardian’s latest community project, has today opened to more users.

The platform is an online version of a village noticeboard, allowing people to post and find community news and classified ads. It is location-based, enabling searches and delivering news related to any location worldwide.

Guardian News & Media plans to make money out of the site, which was inspired by a hack day, by charging for featured ads and selling the white-labelled technology to companies wanting to use n0tice for commercial purposes.

The platform has a read API, a self-serve white label version and feed importing meaning that it can be adapted for hyperlocals and “could potentially work just as well for hyperlocal community bloggers in northern England as it could for cricket fans in India or birdwatching groups in Oregon”, Sarah Hartley, community strategist at GMG and one of a team of three working on the project told Journalism.co.uk.

Matt McAlister, director of digital strategy at the Guardian, has announced the latest developments in a blog post:

The release today is a big one for us. We’ve added the ability to create your own n0ticeboard.

He goes on to say:

If we can make citizen journalism possible in more contexts for more communities then I think we will have done a good thing. If we can also make citizen journalism a financially sustainable activity then we will have done a great thing.

As we go along we are increasingly unsure of what happens next. Participants are starting to determine what we do more and more. So, if you want this platform to do something, please get in early and share your thoughts with us.

The platform is in still private beta so invite-only, but Journalism.co.uk has 10 invites. You can try to claim a n0tice invite by clicking here.

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How to get involved with the Guardian’s latest venture into hyperlocal

October 19th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Business, Citizen journalism, Hyperlocal

Six months ago the Guardian Media Group called time on its regional news pilot Guardian Local, but it is continuing to experiment in the local market, its latest venture being n0tice, a location-based online notice board to share and read news and notices.

The hyperlocal website and mobile site is currently in private beta, with a team of three at GMG along with an army of contributors helping to shape the online version of the village notice board. Others who want to get involved will soon be able join.

n0tice was born out of a Guardian hack day and has SoLoMo, a trend towards social, local and mobile, at its heart, but as it does not currently have Guardian branding it feels more like an independent start-up than a child of the news outlet.

The platform is a space for people to buy and sell, like the classifieds section of a local newspaper, and can be used for general notices, local news and liveblogs or updates posted by citizen reporters as community news breaks.

It is like a reverse Foursquare, where rather than checking in to a business or venue, you allow your computer or mobile to grab your location information and the site finds the community groups, items for sale and news near you.

How is it going to make money?

Listing on n0tice is free but users get the option to pay for a featured post. Pricing is yet to be confirmed but the figure currently being worked with is a charge of £1 for each mile radius from the seller’s location per day.

The site, which can be used worldwide and white labelled, will be given free to hyperlocals and sold to commercial ventures, such as anyone who wants to use the technology to set up a location-based site, according to community strategist at GMG Sarah Hartley, who was head of online editorial at the Manchester Evening News and later launch editor of the now defunct Guardian local experiment.

And of course, being a Guardian platform, it has an open API.

Along with Hartley, who this week spoke about n0tice at the Brighton Future of News Group, two others are working on the development of the platform: Matt McAlister, who is director of digital Strategy (who in May announced n0tice with this thorough explainer) and developer Daniel Levitt (whose blog is here).

One of the areas the team is looking into is how to best reward users who contribute, with a current system in place of an ‘Editor’ badge which goes to the first user in an area.

The next round of users will be invited into the platform soon soon, with a planned release of the site next year. You can sign up to be one of those by entering your email address here, you can follow @n0tice on Twitter and get involved by joining this Flickr group and “celebrate noticeboards” by contributing photographs.

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Opinion: Birmingham students outshine Mail and Post in riot coverage

The Manchester Evening News has proved that long-established newspapers can shine online, following Roy Greenslade’s criticisms of some London local newspaper publishers for what he considered weak web riot coverage, with their focus instead being on print editions.

The MEN had around 25,000 people viewing its liveblog at any one time between 8pm and 11pm last night (9 August), one of the paper’s digital editors, Lee Swettenham, told Journalism.co.uk.

We didn’t want to fan any flames so held off from liveblogging until something concrete happened.

The liveblog was started shortly after 6pm, once it was clear riots were taking place in Manchester and Salford.

We had half a dozen reporters out tweeting and taking pictures from the whole area.

We received thousands of comments on the liveblog, including lots of very positive feedback. We were providing information such as travel news.

MEN used liveblogging platform Cover it Live which “worked perfectly” despite heavy traffic.

It shows that if you do it properly online the audience and interest is there.

We shone compared with a lot of the national media. It just shows how valuable we still are.

But where the MEN excelled, readers of the Birmingham Post could be forgiven for failing to realise rioting had taken place in the city.

Just two of the five top stories on the home page carousel are about the riots, the others include a cinema reopening as an independent, a story how a Hong Kong “newspaper shakeup gives Birmingham City investment hope” and a top story about Dragon’s Den. Sister title the Birmingham Mail had more riot coverage on its home page but its site design means it failed to shine (see pictures below which illustrate this).

UPDATE: Responding in the comments section below, David Higgerson, who is head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror, explains the stats prove readers have been going to the Mail and Post for news of the riots and more.

Both sites have seen unprecedented levels of traffic over the past three days, and have devoted many, many man hours to covering the story in a responsible way. The riots coverage is prominent on the home page, but our traffic analysis also demonstrates that people are interested in more than just the riots – hence the promotion of other content on the site. In the case of the Birmingham Post, it is a relied upon source of business information for the city and people expect to be able to find that too. The Birmingham City Football Club story you reference is a very important story, and has been very well read.

Like the MEN, and the Liverpool Echo, the Birmingham Mail and Post sites have run a live blog, and will continue to have reporters working in difficult circumstances to ensure we bring our readers the best possible coverage.

Your analysis of the Post and Mail v the Redbrick coverage seems to centre on not liking our front page design. That’s purely a matter of taste. If you apply the logical web publishing question of ‘Can people find the content they are looking for?’ to our home page, then there’s no doubt those looking for riot coverage will find it, as will those people looking for the content they also expect – other news, business news, sport and so on.

Wolverhampton’s Express and Star, which is behind a part-paywall does well, making its riot coverage available to non-subscribers.

Compare the home page of the Trinity Mirror-owned Birmingham Post (which does have riot video content further down its front page) and sister title the Mail with that of Redbrick, the University of Birmingham’s student newspaper.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that Redbrick has seen 93,000 visits and 148,000 page views since 7 August. And because it is summer, and most students are out of the city, it has been co-ordinated from afar. The editor, Glen Moutrie, an economics student, is in Singapore, and just two student reporters are on the ground getting stories.

Moutrie told Journalism.co.uk how he has been coordinating coverage “quite easily”:

We are doing a lot of it through Twitter, keeping a check on hashtags and following things up.

I’ve also been chatting on Facebook and have managed to do things such as organise a statement from the MP.

Meanwhile The West Londoner, a blog that is the work of another student covering the riots, has seen a million views in one day.

So if a group of unpaid students can get to the heart of the story when the editor is the other side of the world, newspapers which have suffered the closure of their town centre offices in favour of out-of town news hubs should be able to cope.

That is exactly what happened at the Hackney Gazette, which moved from its Cambridge Heath Road office, a short walk from the location of looting on Monday night, to Ilford, Essex, which is nine miles away.

But far from being removed from the story, the Archant-owned weekly has one reporter who works from their Hackney home.

Emma Bartholomew was able to get on her bike and go in search of the story. She described the scene she was reporting on as “a little intimidating”, as she witnessed bricks were being thrown by rioters.

It seems location is less important as long as some reporters are able to go out, tweet, upload videos and get the story. The problem, as Greenslade said, is not to do with the journalists who have shown themselves to be perfectly capable, but with their print-minded publishers.

The problem could not be clearer. Local newspapers remain wedded to print. They are just not set up to report online, even if their journalists have engaged with new media tools.

So long-established local newspapers must focus on their online content, on site design, allowing a story to have sufficient impact if they are not to be outshone by students working without a budget and with an editor posting from the other side of the world.

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