Broadcasting Today: In Conversation With…..Kurt Barling, Jane Mote and Middlesex University Students on local media

I am talking with Jane Mote Programme Director of London Live and Professor Kurt Barling and his student journalists about UK local media this evening at Middlesex University. The session will be filmed and available on YouTube, I’ll put a link up when ready, but i thought it might be helpful for students to have a blog post as some notes.

I set up a website in London’s Kings Cross in 2006 to help me with my local civic action – the site now covers a wide range of issues and has a team of contributors.  Talk About Local works with companies to help them understand local web media and we do a lot of public service work to help people find their own voice online for their community.  For students wondering what this hyperlocal stuff is all about here’s some background drawn from a couple of blog posts I have written on the local web and local TV:

What is this hyperlocal thing?

Normally, a ‘hyperlocal site’ means something on the web that talks about a place – sometimes big places like cities, sometimes tiny places like an individual street or hamlet. Hyperlocals can be websites, blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages and groups and networks like Nings and forums. Let’s call them websites for short here as an all encompassing term. Not all sites about places like the label ‘hyperlocal’ and indeed very few sites label themselves as such to their audience. Like ‘the press’ it’s more a metonym than a literal label.

What do these websites talk about?

Pretty well anything from hard core local politics, local news sites like WV11 & A Little Bit Of Stone doing traditional journalism, campaigns, events, local information and notices through to celebrating the good side of an area with pictures of local flowers and trees. Some websites have lots of comments, some don’t. What seems to be common is the creation of either bridging or bonding social capital in the local discussion. Given that there are practically no barriers to entry the sites can talk about whatever the person who creates it wants and for which they find an audience.

Where are they, how many?

There’s a map at Openlylocal originally set up by Chris Taggart, now maintained by Talk About Local. There’s about 700 sites in there. Our judgement is that the map catches less than half of the local websites. It seems that local sites are not evenly distributed, we observe few sites in Scotland, Wales (outside South Wales) and Northern Ireland. In England, many large and small towns have a section of a local paper website but nothing that seems like a hyperlocal.

Who runs them?

In the UK usually volunteers who enjoy providing a community service or people running a hobby business as a sole trader. We observe a recent upturn in a the number of people setting up or ramping up entrepreneurial local sites with a business focus. A small minority of local sites are run or owned by small limited companies and there are a couple of networks run by larger companies or organisations. Talk About Local’s observation is that people behind UK local sites are a broad spread of internet entrepreneurs, including large numbers of older people also active in their community in more traditional ways and an increasing number of journalists that used to work for traditional media. The majority seem to be run as not for profit sites by volunteers.

Local TV

I used to be a civil servant who worked on telecoms and media regulation – I ‘produced’ the Communications White Paper that created OFCOM.

UK Local TV in its current incarnation came from a report by Roger Parry, former Chair of Johnston Press produced for the Conservatives in Opposition. However Parry’s original plan was for a completely new form of ‘local media company’ that was truly multimedia not wedded to a particular form of transmission.  The coalition’s local tv proposals are a watered down version of Parry’s original – Parry was trying hard to create viable groups (NB viable) that could seek revenue from all sorts of media – print, radio, internet, TV.

‘If you look at this as purely a local TV station they are a non-economic proposition,’ Parry said

In many ways the Evening Standard’s ownership of the London licence comes closest to that.  The original report is just clinging on online on the Conservatives website. Or I have rehosted it : CREATING VIABLE LOCAL MULTI-MEDIA COMPANIES IN THE UK CONSULTATION PAPER TO STIMULATE DISCUSSION Creating_Viable_LMC_Report.

I was on a government appointed panel on the future of local TV news in 2009 and gave evidence to the Shott Review of local TV – I wrote it up here.

Local TV should not be confused with Regional TV – the big TV regions the BBC and ITV use – these are based upon transmitter location from a cold war communications system called ‘backbone’; and have nothing to do with modern population patterns or natural communities.

Local TV isn’t new in the UK – there was a low power TV experiment in several new towns in the 1970s/80s – the best surviving is the quite remarkable Swindon Viewpoint archive website – all described in this excellent BBC article.

Cable TV began as hundreds of tiny local franchises all of which were bought up in a tortuous process ultimately to become Virgin. Allegorically, Prime Minister Thatcher was thought to want these to become like American local TV – advertising small local businesses.  It remains to be seen if this is what happens to the new local TV stations – both the buying-up and the local advertising.

Follow Will

William Perrin

Founder of Talk About Local, Trustee of the Indigo Trust, member of UK Government transparency panels, former Policy Advisor to UK Prime Minister, former Cabinet Office senior civil servant.Open data do-er, Kings Cross London blogger. Loves countryside. Two kids, not enough sleep.
Follow Will