Hyperlocal till I die

In the 20 months I’ve been editor and proprietor of bournvillevillage.com I’ve often been on the verge of giving it up. I tend to update it no more than a couple of times a week but sometimes I just get fed up with it. What usually makes me carry on is the knowledge that looking for someone else to do it would take as much energy as just doing it myself.

So, I thought I’d write a post here to offer some advice on how to keep sane and keep your hyperlocal blog going.

1. You are not a business model
Perhaps the greatest revelation I’ve had is that hyperlocal doesn’t have to be financially sustainable. You may have to finance it (a minor cost if you self-host and buy a domain name), but don’t go worrying about a return. There are many engaged in a debate about the economics of doing this stuff but by and large they’re not talking about you. You didn’t get into this to make money and the debate is distracting you from being…

2. You are a Creative Citizen
I’ve decided that rather than a hobby, running the Bournville blog is part of my ‘practice’. Positioning it this way makes it sound a bit arty and pretentious – that’s a good thing. Putting together words and images is a creative act. Maybe you’re only telling the world about a lost cat but that lost cat article is contributing to a new form of journalistic practice – hyperlocal blogging. Given you don’t have to adhere to the techniques journalists get taught at journalism schools, that you can experiment and test out new ways to use various media, you’re not far off being an artist. At the very least you’re playing a part in a shifting media landscape that’s coming round to your way of working, take pride in that.

3. Making is Connecting
In my review of David Gauntlett’s book, Making is Connecting, I talked about the pleasure of fiddling about with bits of code as I go about making the stuff I publish. Recently I got handed some data from the city council (they didn’t release the data, I had to go ask for it and it slipped out the back door into my hands) from which I created a map that I thought might be useful to residents. It’s not a great map, I’m not a designer, but in creating it I learnt tons of stuff and got useful advice and guidance from others with a bit more map knowledge than myself. And that’s part of the joy of creating. Hyperlocal is not only about the community you blog about but also the communities of interest that you connect to as part of your practice (mappers, photographers, other bloggers).

4. You are not the community
You’re just someone blogging about a particular space, in which there’s no doubt many communities. Stop worrying about representing them, or being their ‘voice’. Imagine all the tiresome meetings you would have to go to to properly represent them – nobody wants to be the kind of person who goes to tiresome meeting all the time. Blog about stuff that comes your way and that you think might attract readers; heck, don’t even worry about attracting readers, it’s not like you have a business model to support (see point 1).

5. Have some children
Or something that keeps you tied to an area. I could equally have put, provocatively, ‘be unambitious’, or ‘have an aged parent close by’. The longevity of your blog is directly connected to your life circumstances. As long as Bournville has good schools I’ll probably stay here. I’m sufficiently lacking in career ambition to not go chasing employment anywhere that would take me away from Birmingham. My ageing Mother lives locally(ish). In short, I’m staying put. And ‘staying put’ is the best chance your blog has got of a long life. Knowing I’m staying put helps me not worry about updating it 10 times a week; I know my hyperlocal blog will be around and part of the media landscape for quite a while to come.

6. Local media is worse at this than you
You think your journalistic prose is bad? Think some interesting local stories have passed you by? Have you not read a local paper lately? By quite some distance you are better at covering local stuff than they are. There are exceptions. On the Bournville blog we did a decent job of covering the Cadbury takeover but now Kraft are in place they tend to feed the PR opportunities only to established media. I quite fancied interviewing Irene Rosenfeld when she finally came to Bournville but despite their PR people knowing I exist they only ever send press releases, and give opportunities, to established media. But really, who cares. There’s bigger fish to fry.

Have been meaning to get these thoughts down for a while – hope they’re useful. I hate to see hyperlocal blogs grinding to a halt so maybe my views (in summary: stop worrying about it, do what you can, you’re amazing) can give you some comfort.