On 15th November I was lucky enough to grab a ten minute chat with Andrew Brightwell of Hasbrum, the new website of ‘Birmingham Hyperlocal News’ created by a group of students on Birmingham City University’s MA Online Journalism course. Hashbrum is a true experiment – the team do not have a clear long-term goal for the website, they just want to test the possibilities of delivering local news online.
The idea is to try and find out a bit more about how local news can be in the future, so we’ve decided to try to cover bits of Birmingham and try to experiment with our coverage by using different forms of media coverage – video and audio as well as writing and we’re just having some fun really…We’re letting it all hang out and see what happens!
These experiments take various forms – for instance, like many local news sites Hasbrum aggregates relevant content from other local websites, but it’s aggregation with a twist rather than just regurgitating the information.
What we’ve discovered is if we use other people’s content in clever, different ways then we’re happy to do it, we’re not just going to aggregate content in the normal way. We’re using maps, for example which is a good way of aggregating content. If you take stories from elsewhere and put them into a map then you’re giving a new twist to it.
However, Hashbrum focuses on generating original content rather than presenting other people’s. In doing this the has team found that, because of their different backgrounds, this content varies in form and feel. Andrew, who worked as a professional local journalist for several years, is more inclined to stick to that facts with his storytelling whilst others with a blogging background inject more opinions to their pieces, which gives the website ‘a real mix’ that highlights the difference between the two types of delivery.
I’m trying to learn how to do things in a more opinion-based way because what you find is if you do just factual stuff people don’t necessarily have a relationship to that….It’s not something that you would necessarily want to respond to.
You can definitely see their personal bias when looking at the news items they choose to focus on. For instance, the site has a feature page about the plight of historical Birmingham swimming pools.
We’ve been quite selective in what we do. Birmingham’s a big place..we’re not trying to cover all of Birmingham, we’re not trying to pretend that we’re a proper sort of news product like the newspapers or even the radio stations. All we’re trying to do is pick out things that have been neglected to some extent…we’re choosing what we do and I guess we’re having an impact on that as well….we’re bringing our own view to it.
Andrew hopes Hashbrum’s readers will start to play a part in directing this focus – steering the site to cover topics they want to learn about. This seems to be the reason the team haven’t fixed upon an overall goal for Hashbrum – they see it going where the audience wants to take it.
I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be….the goal if you like is for other people to tell us what they want. For there to be some kind of relationship between the readership….and us as the creators of content and for those two things…to be equal. So other people start to contribute to what we’re doing and they also direct what we’re doing as well…Our audience can be our editor.
This audience-led environment is a far cry from the one Andrew prepared for in training as a journalist. The new world professional journalists now face was something he’d discussed earlier that day on Rhubarb Radio’s Sunday Local with Birmingham Post Editor Marc Reeves, Peter Fletcher and Michael Grimes. During the show they touched upon the definitions of and differences between journalists and bloggers, and came to the surprising conclusion that it isn’t as important as some might think.
There isn’t really a difference necessarily…There have always been people who have become journalists…people who are interested in what they’re doing who have got some kind of expertise and they’ve been able to use that to become journalists. They haven’t necessarily been trained as journalists but they’ve been able to make that step. Lots of bloggers are doing that. There’s a huge difference between someone who just gets on the internet and sounds off…and other people who are going out and finding news and bringing it to an audience. And that’s where journalism starts and obviously it develops into something else eventually.
Far from being fearful of this new playing field, Andrew sees a role emerging for journalists of gathering the news, footage and content that website managers and bloggers can use for discussion with their audiences.
Maybe we can be part of some new model in the future where there are full-time professionals who are going out to the coalface and bringing in news and then other people are using that for their own blogs or for their own audiences. That relationship could be good for journalists because it might give them a career that they don’t have at the moment…I’m interested in finding out if there can be a relationship between these two worlds that would be mutually beneficial.
It looks like the outcomes of the Hasbrum team’s experiments will be something we can all learn from, not just in terms of innovative online news editorialship and delivery, but the place they find for themselves within that.
You can listen to my full interview with Andrew below: