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.