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.

3 thoughts on “Finding the value in Guardian local ‘experiment’

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