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Finding the value in Guardian local ‘experiment’

Yesterday the Guardian announced it was winding down its local blogging “experiment” Guardian Local.

The platform, which ran three blogs for Cardiff, Leeds and Edinburgh, was first launched in March 2010, described at the time by Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger as a “tiny toe in local web water”.

Guardian Leeds

But – continuing with the metaphor – it seems the waters may have been too cold, as the Guardian decided to start winding down the sites this week. The decision drew much disappointment from readers, expressed in both the comments section on this Guardian article, and across social media.

Editor of the project Sarah Hartley used Storify to bring together some of the reaction on Twitter. And speaking of Twitter there is already a hashtag campaign gathering pace on the site in particular reference to the Cardiff service.

On his blog Andy Dickinson contributes his thoughts, turning the debate onto understanding the value of the “beatbloggers” behind each site.

No, I’m sure that the Guardian has learned loads and will see the benefit. I’m sure they understand how to run a crowd now.

I’m sure they see the value in having someone on the ground. They must see the potential of new technology in having faster, targeted and responsive journalism. It even strengthened their brand – albeit in a passive way.

So a lot for the Guardian to be proud of. But the failure of any experiment comes from how you use the results not the experiment itself. And they’ll fail if they take the results and don’t keep the hyperlocal team.

… The truth is that the value of the Guardian local communities rests with them; their work and their relationship building. The unique nature of each area can’t be homogenised in to a broad model. The people who are upset to see the sites go didn’t have a relationship with the Guardian – the Guardian is the bastard that broke their realtionship up!

You can’t just transplant the Guardian Cardiff model anywhere. You could put Hannah or John or Michael anywhere and they’d use that experience. But you might also lose some of their passion and, with the best will in the world, there would be little or no reason for their Guardian Local audiences to follow them.

And so, Dickinson goes on to say, hyperlocal is not a model that large media organisations “can ever get right”. The impact of the closure of Guardian Local on the perceived future of hyperlocal journalism also formed part of paidContent’s reaction to the news:

Despite years of talk, hyperbole and failed experiments in “hyperlocal” journalism, which has been championed by many including the Guardian Local staff, there remain few concrete examples of formalised such efforts becoming commercially sustainable.

In the latest re-emergence of the hyperlocal hype curve, some pundits have even been pitching the paradigm to journalism students as the rock-star, enterprise-journalism career to seek out, in an industry where graduate job vacancies have dried up.

GNM’s decision may be one more indication that there is no future for industrialised “hyperlocal” journalism. At least its staff were salaried, trained professionals.

But the publisher says it will “integrate communities and topics into our wider site coverage wherever possible” and versions of the idea live on through sites like Northcliffe Media’s LocalPeople, networks like AOL’s Patch, Scotland’s good-looking STV Local and the imminent new UK government-sanctioned local TV network.

Some consolation to the faithful – GNM is also aiming to secure its future at the international, not local, level, by courting a US audience to sell as advertiser scale. Meanwhile, the many independent, volunteer-run hyperlocal blogs which had already existed prior to each of these exponents will go on publishing, perhaps buoyed by the qualitative, if not commercial, success of Guardian Local.

But there could still be a future for hyperlocal and the Guardian in the areas reached by its local project, in one form or another. Writing in the comments section of her own article on the Guardian, head of digital engagement Meg Pickard said one potential way forward could be for communities in the affected areas to raise funds to keep the project going, or carry on with the blogs themselves and keep the legacy going.

On that note, in conversation with editors here earlier, an interesting idea was mooted: would any of the local communities or individuals affected be interested in carrying on the Cardiff/Leeds/Edinburgh blogs? Or fundraising a sum to enable us to continue?

If we could find an alternative – community-supported? – funding model, that could extend the local project…. Worth pondering? Any thoughts?

Stumping up a bit of cash by way of pledging support (rather than full-on funding) to the Guardian Local site is not out of the question for Matt Edgar in Leeds, who writes on his blog that he’d be happy to commit the value of his print subscription to a citizen-run news service in the area “that offers quality writing with a determinedly local focus” – if 35 other local people will do the same, he says.

The Guardian is “winding down” its Guardian Local pilot including the successful Leeds blog. I think this is a mistake.

In just a short time John Baron and Sarah Hartley have created a service that gives a new and authentic voice to the UK’s sixth largest city. They’ve proven the value of a professional beatblogger who nurtures and complements the wider network of local bloggers.

… And as I wondered what to do, it struck me that I already pay the Guardian £23.32 per month to subscribe to the print edition of the (London-based) paper. What if that money went directly to supporting, in Mike’s words, “quality writing with a determinedly local focus”? And how many (or how few) committed subscribers would it take to make a service sustainable?

Back of an envelope, 36 print subscribers pay the Guardian £10,000 per year. It wouldn’t fund a whole beatblogger but it’s certainly enough to get the ball rolling. If you subscribe to the Guardian (or indeed any other daily paper) in Leeds would you consider switching that spend to a citizen-run news service? I would, and so far seven other people have joined me on Pledgebank.

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Hyperlocal – what does it mean?

Not long ago it was the buzzword of the media and news industry – but what does ‘hyperlocal’ really mean today?

It’s a question Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley has sought answer on her blog, putting forward ten characteristics which represent the meaning of the phrase as it evolves.

First, she discusses the growing range of the term, which has developed from a postcode-focused news patch to now being used to describe focused subject matter, story treatment, or even geographical areas which are actually large in size. “Can these things be considered hyperlocal in nature?”, she asks.

Here is a summary of the main characteristics Hartley associates with the term:

  • Participation from the author.
  • Opinion blended with facts.
  • Participation from the community.
  • Small is big. Scale is not important, impact is.
  • Medium agnostic. Use of different platforms.
  • Obsessiveness. Sticking with a story.
  • Independence.
  • Link lovers.
  • Passion.
  • Lack of money.

Readers are invited to comment on her blog on whether it is time to find an alternative to the term ‘hyperlocal’ or whether it is well used enough to keep.

See her full post at this link…

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Guardian Local on Twitter; wants to talk to local bloggers

Guardian Local, which launched sites for three cities in February,  introduced a new Twitter feed yesterday, @GdnLocal, with the aim of helping hyperlocal sites and local bloggers in the UK “stay connected”.

Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley says:

If you run a hyperlocal blog and want to be included in the lists for each region or need an easy way follow the activity going on in your area, I look forward to sharing with you @GdnLocal.

In other Guardian Local news, the project is advertising for a new blogger for its Edinburgh site. We’re told that launch blogger, Tom Allan, has decided to move on and will concentrate on other multimedia projects, after six months in the role. He will, however, continue to contribute to the blog, said GNM.

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Hyperlocal ad trial spreads to Guardian Local’s Edinburgh and Cardiff sites

April 26th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Advertising, Local media

As reported by Journalism.co.uk last week, the Guardian’s trial of hyperlocal advertising system Addiply has spread across all three of its recently launched local “beatblogs”. The system, which offers low cost adverts that can be sold on a weekly or monthly basis with different rates for different sized customers, went live on the Leeds site last Thursday before being introduced to the Cardiff and Edinburgh Guardian Local sites.

Publishers retain 90 per cent of the revenue earned from the ads, with the remaining 10 per cent split between Addiply and PayPal.

“One of the things Addiply is good for is for people to be able to promote their own community events and local services. It’s not designed or intended to bring in big name advertisers; it’s more for the smaller advertisers in the community or for people listing individual items for sale,” Sarah Hartley, Guardian Local launch editor, told Journalism.co.uk last week.

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Guardian’s first local site launches

Guardian Media Group has just sold its regional arm to Trinity Mirror, but the group’s still exploring local territory, with its new Guardian Local project, first rolling out in Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

The Guardian’s first beat blog has launched today:

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger called it a “tiny toe in local web water” over Twitter.

Its designated blogger is John Baron (@johncbaron). Introducing the site today, Baron provides a run-down of local Leeds activity and its first guest blogger – Leeds Student editor Virginia Newman, “who’s writing her take on the planned strikes by Leeds University staff”.

Features include a ‘find your councillor’ search and ‘report local problems’ feature powered by MySociety; Flickr content; Delicious links – and Leeds-only Soul Mates adverts.

Expect sites for Cardiff and Edinburgh soon.

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Guardian names three new Beatbloggers

January 29th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers, Online Journalism

Yesterday afternoon Guardian News & Media announced its three new beat bloggers, part of the Guardian Local initiative.

The Local project is an “experimental small-scale community approach to local newsgathering,” according to launch editor Sarah Hartley.

Hartley writes:

We had a tremendous response to the advertised positions and, as the Local launch editor, I’m delighted to announce that the project has reached an important milestone, with the appointment of three journalists to take on the new roles in the three cities.

Tom Allan, Hannah Waldram and John Baron have been based at the Guardian’s offices in Kings Place this week to undergo training and will be starting work on their beats of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds respectively from next week. The Local blogs will be launched during the first half of this year although no dates have been confirmed.

I’m thrilled that these talented journalists have joined this exciting new venture at such an important time, and more details will be announced in the coming months.

Full post at this link…

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Guardian recruiting ‘beatbloggers’ for new local project

For its new Guardian Local online news project set to launch in 2010, the company is advertising for bloggers in each of Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh ‘to create and curate local text and multimedia content’. The job advert states:

“You will lead the Guardian’s innovative approach to community news coverage by reporting on local meetings and events with an emphasis on political decision making, identifying grassroots issues of importance to residents and signposting information and news provided via other sources.”

“Guardian Local is a small-scale experimental approach to local newsgathering. We are focusing on three politically engaged cities and we expect to launch in early 2010,” said Emily Bell, the director of digital development at Guardian News & Media, the Guardian’s PDA blog reported.

Sarah Hartley, previously head of online editorial at the Manchester Evening News, will lead the project as the Guardian Local launch editor.

PDA: ‘Guardian Local planned to launch next year’

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