This week’s launch of the new Centre for Community Journalism took centre stage at a Cardiff conference which saw key players in the hyperlocal scene come together to discuss enabling and empowering communities.
Set within the university’s journalism school, the new centre is an unusual, possibly unique, mix of practice, research and advice facility for people interested in local publishing and particularly independent set-ups. Read more
Since I relocated to Cardiff in late December last year, I’ve naturally been getting my bearings with the city’s hyperlocal landscape. There’s certainly plenty of activity, with a wide variety independent websites and online voices for the city’s neighbourhoods and communities of interest.
Before I moved here I already knew of Llandaff News, a voluntary project by journalist Joni Ayn which sadly stopped publishing late last year and MyWhitchurch, a community forum created by Matthew Lock in 2005 to help local residents become better informed and connected, which has since been redeveloped to also include a blog/news style format. However, after settling in I soon became aware of other emerging new hyperlocal websites.
The first I found via twitter whilst searching for mentions of my new neighbourhood of Pontcanna, a small village near the city centre. Pontcanna Hub was created by Fran O’Hara, who taught herself WordPress over the Christmas break, to support the local residents’ group her, Flip White and Simon White have kick-started in their campaign against the development of a chain supermarket store in the area.
“It was two campaigns that started it, in the summer,” said Fran. “There were rumours that Tesco was going to take over one of the smaller shops at the top end of Pontcanna and then we heard from a developer that he was in talks with supermarkets…and that was right in the middle of the more residential part of it. Both these have come back on the agenda right before Christmas. A lot of people were either confusing the campaigns or we wanted them to do specific actions so we thought if we set up a website, it would enable people to have somewhere to go, which is why we called it a hub. The other thing is there’s a lovely community feel but there’s all these rumours! So it was a good pace to capture real voices and actually what’s happening and then the flip side of that would be that you can communicate to press, council etc. what it’s going to be like here if they do let these supermarket chains move into what is essentially a small urban suburb. That was our primary aim and then as part of that because it’s a very community based area there were lots of other things like the cycle routes across Bute Park, all these other things that we felt people had been involved in or were interested in, we could flag those up as well.”
The campaign and its use of the web to galvanise local support has been particularly effective – in light of the issues raised council officials recommended rejection of the plans to the planning committee, resulting the proposal being taken off the agenda of the last meeting.
Last month I was kindly invited by Philippa Davies to speak at the WordPress Users Wales meetup about how I’d used WordPress to build the Birmingham community website Digbeth is Good and trained others looking to do the same across the UK with Talk About Local.
There I met Nicole Rugman and Geraldine Nichols of roathcardiff.net, ‘a hyperlocal news and information resource for Roath, Cardiff’. It keeps the neighbourhood regularly informed of local news, arts and cultural happenings and coverage of the Made in Roath arts festival. The website also has a Roath People category, where you’ll find reflections on Roath life by local people from Baroness Randerson to Matt Jarret, who likes ‘local pubs where old people argue about diseases and the lounge still smells of smoke more than 4 years after the smoking ban was enforced.’
Roath Cardiff began in June 2011 after a chat in the local pub between Geraldine, Matt Appleby, Huw Thomas and Ed Walker, who was working at yourCardiff at the time. Much of the curent Cardiff-themed online activity can be traced back to the work Ed Walker and Hannah Waldram, beat blogger at Guardian Cardiff did whilst they lived and worked here in 2010-2011. As well as broadening the scope and depth of local online news provision they also worked to roll out digital skills in the city and encourage further online activity, starting Roath and Canton social media surgeries and the Cardiff Blogs website and networking events, all of which were sustained after Ed and Hannah relocated to new jobs in London.
A brand new hyperlocal website on the scene is Heathlands.us, started by Richard Wenner on 18th February to celebrate the Heathlands (CF14) area of Cardiff, bring local personal and public archive materials to life and connect residents online and offline with a Jubilee Street Party. Richard is hoping to train up a team of active citizens to help build up the new site and take ownership of the Heathlands profile.
Over on Facebook, Paul Byers has kick-started the open group Connect Cathays, for an inner-city area that’s undergone a rather serious ‘studentification’ over the years. Paul, who says he was inspired by attending the #TAL11 Unconference in Cardiff last year, hopes to use the group to encourage better communication between local residents, students and non-students alike. There are plans in the pipeline to build an accompanying Connect Cathays website and provide local training so residents can use it to tell their stories, voice concerns, promote events and activities and also work with relevant local data to draw out the key issues affecting the area.
And then there’s the sites for and by specific Cardiff communities and communities of interest, such as Cardiff Eastern Post, which focuses on Asians living in Cardiff, Take Root, ‘a central place where people can connect with others interested in grassroots change in Cardiff’ and Amy Davies’ beautiful Cardiff Arcades Project, celebrating the city’s unique Victorian shopping arcades and the independent shops within them, a fantastic example of how you can use the web to help your local high street.
All of this makes Cardiff feel like an exciting and well-connected place to be. Although I’ve only just moved here, I find I’m not at a loss for things to do, people to meet and social media surgeries to get involved in. This is one of the great things about a city with such an active online community, it helps newcommers navigate their new social as well as physical local landscape and make those much-needed human connections quite quickly. For me, it’s making Cardiff feel more like home.
At Talk About Local we are advocates of true #localTV and keep a list of Local Internet TV channels. We are interested in exploring ways that our network of #hyperlocal websites are able to work with the new Local TV channels in mutually beneficial ways. You can contact us at email@example.com if you would like to explore possible links between Local TV & Hyperlocal sites.
Today is the last day of Cardiff’s Great Big Empty Shop Experiment, ’created by the Centre for Policy & Enterprise in Creative Industries [University of Glamorgan] to investigate how the increasing number of empty shops in our City Centres could be put to better use by start-up creative enterprises.’
I went to visit the shop in Cardiff city centre just before it opened to see what was what, which resulted in the very rough and ready slideshow above. The temporary ‘interactive exhibition space’ hosted a range of displays, events and activities such as a mini literature festival and a corner of the old Index catalogue shop was a designated ‘community newsroom’ area. This was one of the preferred options of Gill Allard’s‘quick and dirty’ online survey (below) to try and ascertain what people might like to see fill the increasing number of empty shops on our high streets.
This got the talk about local team thinking about the idea of a physical hyperlocal newsroom independent publishers could operate from. What would it do? How would it work? What were the obvious benefits of having a physical space and local presence as well as an online one?
Gill Allard's 'quick and dirty online survey'
Mike was very enthusiastic about the idea of an open, welcoming coffee-shop style space in a central, visible location where local people could drop by, share their news and find out what was new in the area. I thought it could also make a good space for scheduled and impromptu social media surgeries, to roll out independent publishers’ skills wider into the community. Obviously, the physical presence and space for face-to-face conversation would help build and strengthen the publishers’ local relationships and networks.
William pointed out a physical space is particularly necessary where the content itself is physical and can’t be emailed or linked to, remembering a long queue of parents with babies in a shopping centre looking to have their little darlings professionally photographed to enter them into a beautiful baby competition. A newsroom could also work well for heritage and history projects around physical materials – having a scanner for old photographs and cuttings, some simple recording equipment and lots of time and space to capture the stories of those submitting them means the space could be at the heart of building a rich community archive.
William also felt a community newsroom could be part of a professional newsroom, such as a spare office or few desks in a local newspaper office. This could be one step forward from the Birmingham Mail Your Communities arrangement, where both the newspaper and hyperlocal publishers benefit – the newspaper gets wind of the local stories from those on the ground and the publishers get credit where it’s due, access to some of the paper’s archives and resources and an increased profile. A presence within a more prominent local newspaper’s premises might help a hyperlocal publisher forge new relationships locally and gain new skills from those they are working alongside (and vice versa!).
However Mike and Sarah felt there may be quite a way to go before this could be achieved, saying the newspaper might be inclined to try and impose their processes and protocols on the hyperlocal’s practice and the culture of competition over stories rather than sharing of them may still be too strong for a collaborative working environment between the two camps.
And that’s as far as we got, at which point we thought it might be a good idea to open up the discussion and ask hyperlocal publishers: What do you think? What would you do with a physical space if you had one to use? How might it help? How might it hinder? Please let us know in the comments area.
Of course the obvious answer to the last question is ‘overheads’ but there are an increasing amount of low-cost ways voluntary community groups can use empty shops and buildings, which are becoming a depressingly common site in the current economic climate. A couple of great resources are:
3space, who gave the University of Glamorgan use of the Cardiff shop. ’3Space have a unique offering: offering organisations that benefit the community access to empty properties on a non commercial basis (free of charge in most cases).’
The Place Station, which ‘introduces owners of land and buildings across the UK to social and community entrepreneurs with ideas for transforming their local area.’
As reported in Third Force News ‘John Lewis Glasgow is trialling a new community initiative that will provide a dedicated community room for use by charities and community organisations.’ Fingers crossed that if this trial works well, it might be rolled out to other John Lewis UK stores.
The Meanwhile Project, which ‘is based on the belief that empty properties spoil town centres…As a programme of work, the Meanwhile Project has been providing practical and financial support for a wide range of meanwhile approaches in towns throughout the country, as well as technical advice, manuals and common tools to help anyone who wants to do something positive in the meanwhile.’ Join the Meanwhile Ning Forum to join in the discussion and receive regular updates.
So Guardian Local is to close, which is sad news. Sarah Hartley and her young team did a marvellous job for their adopted communities. I’m sure it will be a springboard for all of them to even better things. Sarah and her team have been hugely helpful to hyperlocal sites of all sorts, giving confidence and encouragement to marvellous local writers. I particularly like the way they seem to have grown and made much more visible the blog scene in their respective towns. And local websites, forums, nings, blogs all over the country run on a volunteer basis by local people will continue very much as before as the hyperlocal scene continues to thrive. Talk about local has had great fun working with Guardian Local on our wonderful unconferences and we recently gave an (un)award to Hannah Waldram for her great work in Cardiff.
The Guardian Local closure adds to the rich tapestry of hyperlocal experimentation in the UK. Guardian Local showed that you can create a distinctive local voice online that adds to the local news ecology and engages the local blogosphere. I was struck how they found a fresh new voice and bought the national Guardian brand to local meetings and events.
The experiment also illustrated the fundamental tension in hyperlocal news and how do you raise enough money to pay for a full time qualified staffer with (or even without) news organisation overheads. Traditional online advertising at a local level is tough if you don’t have a dedicated sales operation and not highly lucrative even if you do it would seem. Local newspapers and directories like Yell have spent decades tending and nurturing their local ad networks offline and trying as hard as they can online. Without a dedicated local ad sales operation, but carrying the costs of treating its staff decently Guardian Local was always going to rely on subsidy from their charitable parent. The lack of a specialist local ad team suggested by the Guardian’s own Paid Content seems scarcely credible. The Guardian could make a huge contribution to local media if (as a sort of charity) it showed the openness it seeks say from government and opened all the files on the Guardian Local experiment or produced a brain dump and stuck it in Slideshare under a creative commons licence.
Of course the weird transatlantic Charleston being danced by Alan Rusbridger and Ariana Huffington continues. Can the world’s two great left of centre online platforms really be setting up parallel operations in each other’s backyards? It may be that the Guardian is clearing the decks for some sort of tie up with HuffPo – maybe to bring Patch to the UK? [warning: that is wild made up speculation based on no fact]. But Patch resembles more the Northcliffe Local People experiment, hardly an editorial bed fellow for HuffPo, unless Northcliffe spins it out. And comparisons between the UK and USA local media markets are tenuous at best.
There are also knock-on implications for the government’s local TV proposals here. Jeremy Hunt wants local news subject to full fat very high cost TV-stylee regulation. What we see here is the Guardian not being able to fund people doing high quality online news at city level even without the expensive TV regulation & admittedly without trying that hard at ads it seems. It would be fascinating to know what news Jeremy Hunt would want a city TV station to produce that the Guardian in Edinburgh, Leeds and Cardiff did not. At a meeting in Birmingham I did ask Jeremy point blank if he would consider lowering the regulatory burden say to that of newspaper to give people a fighting chance of covering costs But no politician would ever agree to that and he didn’t.