I’m about to start my sixth year of running a hyperlocal blog for the sleepy suburb of Bournville in Birmingham. It’s timely then to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the years as both practitioner and researcher. Continue reading
At the recent Revival of Local Journalism conference the Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council, Ged Fitzgerald, reminded the audience of local journalists that he’s obliged to use local newspapers to publish statutory notices for planning, road closures and “all sorts of technical type stuff.” Continue reading
I have just launched a new newspaper for Birmingham. It has 24 pages of fantastic original content covering news, arts, politics, sport, satire. and more. What’s more, it’s written by some of the city’s best writers.
(Again, as soon as I get my login back I’ll cross-post this to creativecitizens.co.uk but if I don’t write it now I never will).
Last year I did some stats about how many news stories are produced by hyperlocal websites. I used the Openly Local database as the listing source and then counted the stories pushed through the RSS feeds of the sites (there was also a degree of tortuous manual counting as well. The method is described in a research paper – PDF). The big headline from that research was there’s a hyperlocal story published once every two minutes (during the day).
In summer 2013 I revisited the database and applied the same method of counting. Here are the findings. Some of these (mainly the geographic spread stuff) will be published by Ofcom in a report on ‘Internet Citizens’ in the next few weeks.
List of main findings:
- The research draws on a list of 632 hyperlocal websites listed on the Openly Local database as of 7 June 2013.
- 496 of these sites were ‘active’ and operating in the UK. ‘Active’ was defined as a website having posted a news story at least once in the 5 months prior to the sample period or functioned as a forum-only or wiki-based website.
- 133 are no longer active. This figure is a mix of websites that have closed or have not published in the 5 months prior to the sample period.
- The research sampled the news stories published by ‘active’ websites from 18-28 June 2013 (11 days).
- During the sampling period 3482 stories were produced by 224 sites (46% of ‘active sites). The number of stories produced in the 2012 sample was 3819 items by 313 sites.
- The average number of posts of those sites that published in the 2013 sample was 15.5 posts per site within the sample period (12.2 in 2012). The median number of posts of those sites that published was 6 (7 in 2012).
- 260 sites (54%) produced no story during the sample period (133 in 2012).
- 38 (8%) sites produced just one story (39 in 2012).
- 106 (22%) sites produced 5 or less items (133 in 2012). These were responsible for 8% of the posts (9.3% in 2012).
- 87% of news stories (58% in 2012) were produced by 20% of the sites.
Commentary: the lower number of published sites is largely down to a reduction in output from ‘Local People’ sites . These sites have undergone radical change in the last 12 months with the large network of journalists writing for them now disbanded. The lower figure from these sites might also be accounted for in a refinement of the methodology, which attempted to avoid capturing adverts that were published in the news stream.
- Overall, an average of 13 items per hour were produced by Hyperlocal websites (15 in 2012).
- During weekday daytimes this average rose to 22 items per hour (24 in 2012)
- Number of sites in UK nations:
England: 445 (+45 on 2012)
Wales: 26 (+11)
Scotland: 20 (+7)
Northern Ireland: 3 (no change)
- Number of sites in English regions:
South West: 81
South East: 73
West Midlands: 59
Yorkshire and Humberside: 39
North West: 38
East Midlands: 16
East of England: 36
North East: 7
Birmingham has 26 active sites (-2 on 2012) – the most in any UK authority area.
[As soon as I get my login back I’ll cross-post this to creativecitizens.co.uk.]
Best to have a quick glance at the set of pics of this asset-mapping session on Flickr to give you an idea of what I’m talking about below.
Members of the Creative Citizens research team (myself, Jerome Turner and Andy Williams) attended an ‘unconference’ (#TAL13) on Saturday 29 September 2013, staged by our project partners Talk About Local. Having attended many rather more formal academic conferences throughout the year, this made for a a refreshing and invigorating change. Attendees at the Middlesborough event (hosted at MIMA) were drawn largely from the hyperlocal practitioner community with a sprinkling of members of the locally-based arts community.
Like the other strands in the Creative Citizens project we plan to make use of an asset-mapping methodology which aims to support community groups to consider what digital, human, physical or relational ‘assts’ they have to support their endeavour. It’s effectively a tool for reflection. At #TAL13 I wanted to pose the question:
‘What assets does your hyperlocal have?’
Initially I thought I might ask if it were possible to asset-map an ‘ideal’ or ‘sustainable’ hyperlocal, but that might result in participants trying to second-guess what I was implying by those terms so I left it more open and asked them to imagine their own hyperlocal operation in the centre of the map.
In practical terms, participants put whatever they think more important closer to the centre of the map. Different shaped objects represent different things (spaces, infrastructure, media, groups and businesses, people, other). We had about six people contribute to our hyperlocal ‘map’ (there was a bit of drifting in and out). Here’s my take on what we found:
You don’t need an office, a nice café is handy, but a pub is essential.
Access to broadband was seen as essential but it didn’t necessarily matter where that access was. Cafés and pubs are good for “wifi, events, conversations” and it’s handy to have a “pub landlord who likes to be local hub of odd happenings”.
People with passion and a degree of skill are vital.
From “Paul, the web guru” to “John, our eager photographer”, you need people who have time to keep your hyperlocal ticking over technically and content-wise.
Public sector connections provide content.
It’s fair to say that many public sector organisations, from the police to local councils, now treat hyperlocals the same way they treat mainstream media. Even where they don’t, the degree to which the public sector has taken to Twitter means that hyperlocals are never short of access to stories or quotes.
Revenue matters / doesn’t matter.
This was placed both near the centre and at the edge of the map by two different people. We had Simon Perry from On the Wight with us who talked about needing to get serious about income-generation but others were less concerned about making money from their operation (why this was the case wasn’t made clear). It was noted that the same person who places revenue at the edge also placed ‘passion’ near the centre.
Other people’s stuff on the Internet provides content.
By which I mean, Creative Commons licensed images and Youtube. Several people mentioned trawling such sites for local images and discussed the value they create for them.
We don’t need apps.
In fact there were quite a lot of the ‘media’ icons placed around the edge. This partially represented a rejection of the need to engage with existing media but also a notable lack of interest in bespoke apps.
Thanks to all those who took part in the session. Any thoughts on this, let me know.
Last year, as part of my work on the Creative Citizens project, I set up a twitter account to keep track of news stories that were coming out of hyperlocal news websites. I had a hunch that if you counted the collective output of such sites the figures would be moderately impressive.
My hunch was right and the statistic of ‘one story every two minutes’ piqued the interest, to varying extents, of the BBC, Nesta and Ofcom. I’ve just had published a journal article (online, open access) that draws on the data I produced. Research colleagues of mine have produced a content analysis of some of the stories.
All I wanted to use this short post to do was point out that the @alllocalnews Twitter account I used has now come to the end of its life. It was ‘powered’ by a bundle of RSS feeds that were run through Google Reader. This bundle had its own RSS feed that then triggered an ifttt.com recipe, pushing an update to Twitter.
The death of Google Reader means the updates have stopped. No doubt I could use any number of services to restart it but I don’t really have a research reason to do so right now and none seem to easily facilitate ‘bundling’ in the way that Google Reader did. I have re-run my ‘counting’ for 2013 and I will shortly publish some new stats about the volume of news stories published by hyperlocals one year on from the original ‘count’.
So, during its life, 25 March 2012 until 2 July 2013, the @alllocalnews Twitter account published 138,309 hyperlocal news stories. That’s about 300 per day, 12 per hour. Not bad I think. I would say that figure is way less than the number of stories produced by the local press but perhaps way more than might be produced by the forthcoming crop ofLocal TV stations
I’ve been wondering exactly how many news stories UK Hyperlocal websites publish. Last month I had a meeting with Ofcom where I suggested that it might be a decent amount. So after a bit of research, outlined below, it looks like there is a news story published on a Hyperlocal website every three two minutes*.
Here’s what I did to try and find this out.
- I looked at all the RSS feeds listed on Chris Taggart‘s Openly Local database of Hyperlocals.
- I corrected those that weren’t resolving and omitted those pointing to now-dead sites.
- I took out those that were feeds for a forum as they tend to include lots of ‘stuff for sale’ messages along with their replies (plus, at this stage, I’m not too interested in ‘conversation’).
- I created an OPML file for the remaining 431 feeds.
- I created a Google Reader Bundle so that I would then have a single RSS feed.
- I used ifttt.com to push that feed to a new twitter account @Alllocalnews
- I counted how many tweets that feed produced. I use a google spreadsheet created by Martin Hawksey (who also gave me the ‘bundle’ advice above) to produce pretty visuals and to archive the tweets.
This is all a bit rough and ready as the Openly Local database is currently being worked on to update it and I know there are other data sources out there.
In the next few weeks I’ll be refining the list of RSS feeds, adding to them where appropriate and most importantly, deciding on a sampling period so the counting can be a bit more accurate (the ‘one every three minutes’ figure comes from the two hours of me watching it this morning – update: see note* below).
My spending time on this is part of a new research project I am part of which looks at ‘Creative Citizenship’. An examination of ‘Hyperlocal’ is one of three strands in the project. Overall the project’s research methods will be more qualitative than quantitative but one of the things we said we’d do initially is get a sense of the scale of Hyperlocal publishing in the UK.
So, roughly, kind of, one every three two minutes. More than I thought there’d be.
About that @Alllocalnews twitter feed. Follow it as your own risk as it just spits out lots of news stories with no location context. However, I like its lack of context as there’s a kind of mystery to it, the link could take you anywhere in the UK.
For more on Hyperlocal read Nesta’s new report, written by Damian Radcliffe.
When I pull my finger out I will get our research website up and running which will then be the home for these kinds of updates.
*Have updated this after spending the day monitoring it. Seems like a lot gets published from lunchtime onwards. 44 stories were published between 1pm and 2pm so the average is adjusted. As I say though, I’ll create a proper sampling period in due course once the data is cleaner.