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.
I think you are right not to get too upset about the hyper local reporting. I am trying it in Wylde Green on an allotment and although my Ning has nearly 40 members only about five people ever contribute anything in the way of words or pictures. The weird thing is loads of people now greet me like they know me really well, and complain to me about stuff to do with the allotment. The majority of the 40 people are 60 or older and come from the news consuming generation – not the news making one.So, for them it is natural to consume – whether they get it free or not. I have given up expecting them to “say” anything on the Ning, because they prefer to say it in person. But they do read what I put there.
I like this approach Dave. My head is grizzled over hyperlocal. Hyper! Local? There’s an oxymoron swimming about but the tag is here to stay. Most local stuff comes across as incredibly boring and it takes that creativity to make it interesting. There’s a wealth of stories and experience to be tapped into but it rarely makes it online. Too much effort? I’ll be watching how you do it from now on. Cheers.
Thanks for your thoughts on this. As a newbie to hyperlocal blogging you’ve covered many things that have crossed my mind since I’ve started.
Everything you say here rings SO true to me — even as a hyperlocal blogger ‘across the pond!’ When I started my blog 4 years ago, it was out of passion for my community, and because there was nothing else available like it online for people like me … and, well, because I thought it might be a way for me to earn an income while working from home and raising my babies. My goal was sincere in its altruism: I could help support my local economy by bridging the gap between local businesses and area residents through helpful information about all facets of life in the community, and, in turn, the local economy would support me.
Wow, have I ever been schooled on local economics since then — comments about which I will reserve for another forum — and, while I have fought tooth and nail to keep going with my Little Blog That Could, it has been an unbelievably emotional roller coaster ride. Enter big-money-big-brand name competitors like Patch.com and Main Street Connect, who about 1 and 1/2 yrs ago decided to set up shop in my TINY community, where I had already spent my time and money trying to educate the market on the value of advertising online, and it was kind of the final blow to my will to keep going.
But it seems a crime to just let it go. It represents 4 years of my heart and soul: a love letter, if you will, to my community. And, like you, while I have entertained the idea of handing it over to someone else, I really don’t think I could bear to see it change — or SUCCEED without me!!!
I have tried to view the competition as a ‘relief’ of sorts, because now my blog doesn’t have to be all things to all people — as you pointed out — I can return to my original goal, which was to offer useful information. I no longer have to panic over breaking news or being an alert or THE definitive events calendar — elements which were never part of my original vision and really drained my time and resources.
And the best news is that my audience continues to be loyal: it grew organically and through word-of-mouth over the years, and the readers seem to be adapting to my new format fairly readily. Unfortunately, now, after supporting the venture for years and losing money on it continually, my husband doesn’t even want to HEAR about the site anymore … I’m paying the hosting costs behind his back at this point … and I am now back to a full-time work situation on top of two children under the age of 4 … It truly breaks my heart to say that I feel my interest in and dedication to my site beginning to slip away.
So all I can say is that I have loved every word of your post here. Thank you so very much!
Great post Dave – some really interesting points!
Two years on and I’m just about able to not to feel guilty if I don’t post stuff as regularly as I’d like to on our hyperlocal site. It’s definitely about the long game, we’re not trying to replace local papers and distancing yourself from them does you a lot of favours.
I also love the ‘Creative Citizen’ idea – might nick that for my bio! 😉
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I dont have a hyperlocal blog but I found you post honest and interesting for any blogger. The idea that blogging can just be part of your practice and is a creative act gives me an excuse to go on with my food blog – even if it has very few followers. That’s not what it’s about.
Only came across this post now via a tweet by Karen Strunks (thank you Karen) And like one of the other commentators said so much of what you said rings through.
I am about 18 months now working on my hyperlcoal blog. Most of the time I love it but there are days where I get totally frustrated with it. And it is mostly the technical bits & articulating what I’m trying to say into short, interesting stories. So maybe as you say I should stop worrying, I’m not doing it for the money, so just relax & keep chipping away post by post 🙂
My reasoning for setting it up was to create a community site that would gather & assemble all the information about Drimnagh into a one stop sort of news/info portal. And I am kinda getting there. The site is getting known little by little by word of mouth. And I am starting to get emails from people asking for events/stories to be posted. All good signs.
Good luck with your work & thanks again from one creative citizen to another.
Another one who has stumbled across this post thanks to Karen Strunks – and another one who completely relates to this.
Lichfield Live (formerly The Lichfield Blog) has been three years of my life. It’s been like the child that’s never mentioned. It puts pressure on every aspect of your life – not going to bed because a story is breaking, not arranging to go out because those Sunday football results won’t write themselves. In short, it has been a pain in the arse.
But I love it. There, I said it. Bizarrely, it’s become my release; my opportunity to do something I genuinely enjoy. I can only assume that deep down, something in me says it is the ‘no pain, no gain’ theory that drives me on.
It feels a little like an AA meeting, but, Dave, I applaud you for being able to beat your demons and not worrying if you don’t post every five minutes. I’m not at that stage at the minute. In truth, I probably won’t get to that stage until someone makes me do it. Someone asked the other day how I got time to make sure eight to ten posts appeared a day. The answer is that I really don’t know.
It’s also good to hear that you’ve come to that realisation that you are not the voice for anyone. Hyperlocal (which is not a phrase I’m comortable with anyway) is still a social activity until someone makes the money side of it work, so you should only do it for one person – you. That’s the way I view it. While I want to do it, I will. When I don’t, I won’t.
I was having a chat with my digital better half Phil just the other week about the site and the future. While we have some fab plans and hopefully one day the whole thing will come to fruition, it’s been nice to realise that we can’t do everything. I can’t report on every issue and every little thing that happens. Just realising that has made my hyperlocal life that little easier.
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Words of wisdom indeed: ” You didn’t get into this to make money and the debate is distracting you from being…”