It seems like a lifetime ago that I was driving all the way from the office in Ludlow, Shropshire, to the rural village of Clun – one of my patches – to check out the local noticeboards, drink tea with parish councillors and check in, face to face, with my favourite contacts. It was a time consuming expedition, and not always fruitful.
Now, more than a decade later, and local news reporting has been turned on its head, effectively with the death of the patch reporter. There’s now “too much patch per reporter,” says the Birmingham Mail’s Multimedia Editor Paul Bradley. Reporters just can’t drill down enough to get the hyperlocal stories they used to, they just don’t have the contacts or the time to make them.
But there is a solution. Introducing…. hyperlocal bloggers, the residents themselves taking time to report the issues that matter to them. And in the Birmingham Mail’s case, crediting these bloggers for their efforts, reporting their news in a Your Communities supplement in the paper each week and sharing knowledge and resources. In exchange for their citizen journalism, the Mail gives hyperlocal bloggers credit for their efforts and help with their campaigns. Perhaps local authorities won’t listen to the pleas of an Average Joe from Down The Road but it will respond to a prominent regional newspaper with a Reporter Who Won’t Back Down; the two work together. Which begs the question, are PRs trained in dealing with enquiries from citizen journalists? Hmmm.
It’s not like this everywhere though. Some newspapers see hyperlocal bloggers as competition or just lift their stories without offering acknowledgement, fueling discontent. The Birmingham Mail, from the little I saw at a Communities Day at the Mail’s Fort Dunlop offices, it’s working well and the paper was shortlisted for a media innovation award for its efforts. Both ‘sides’ are talking to each other, sharing ideas and solutions.
Talking of sharing – what about if you wanted to start a hyperlocal blog and report on the events and activities in your local area, and campaign around the issues that impact you and your neighbours? Just like Philip John does with Lichfield Live, or Karen Strunks does with Wake Field Park.
If you’re a local organisation or group of residents who want to take local news reporting into your own hands, then Nicky Getgood from Talk About Local – another of the guest speakers at the Mail’s Communities Day – can help. Offering support and guidance, Talk About Local will help small communities get online, introducing them to blogging software, content management systems and social media tools.
Birmingham-based Nicky has already done some work in Milton Keynes she told me, a city often ribbed for its Americanised grid system and lack of community. But with Web 2.0, the citizen journalist and two-way communication via the world wide web, community spirit is alive and kicking, if not in the village halls, church fetes and neighbourhood watch meetings, but online in forums, Facebook groups and hyperlocal blogs.