SuperMondays Local and Hyperlocal was on Monday 22nd October, at Newcastle University.
It was a rather bleakly drizzly autumn evening but the wet paving reflected the lights and my route through the university was busy and felt friendly with people talking as they came from or went to lectures or seminars, or the student union.
There was a warm welcome in the Research Beehive. The chance to chat over a cup of tea at the beginning of SuperMondays are what make the events particularly enjoyable to attend. The volume of sound increased as more people arrived. The last influx ensured that we had a greater number of women than I have seen so far attend most SuperMondays.
Rick Waghorn was the first speaker after Ross Cooney’s introduction. He talked about the shift in his career as he realised that online news was beginning to take over from printed newspapers, and how after years of being a sports writer on the Norwich-based Evening News, he founded Myfootballwriter.com. Since he needed income from advertising and the then existing solutions did not suit him, Rick founded Addiply, a do-it-yourself, self-servicing digital advertising service that enables hyper-local and niche advertising, with the publisher able to set the level of advertising rate. He told us about the #21VC project, involving The Loddon Eye (hyper-local news service), Addiply, and WiSpire (an initiative to use Norfolk churches to provide high-speed wireless broadband) which has been awarded a grant by NESTA (Ben Olive, ‘Funding awarded to the innovative #21VC project for Loddon and Chedgrave,’ The Loddon Eye, 29th June, 2012).
Stephen Noble of Remember Media Ltd talked about KYEO.tv (Keep Your Eyes Open), “the online home for NARC. magazine and a whole new approach to local journalism.” NARC. is a monthly music and arts publication (printed) for the North East.
He told us that he thinks “technology has broken journalism as much as it has helped…” News has only ever had one income stream: advertising. Although the blame for newspapers struggling is put on the availability of online information, the decline in their readership started in the 1930s and accelerated in the 1970s. Media has become more fragmented. Brands and products have to spend money on people to manage their social media, build websites. They can put things directly on YouTube.Brands no longer need to advertise in newspapers. At the same time as newspapers have declined, people access news more.
Stephen still sees a place for professional journalists in this new media world in which there are citizen journalists, more pictures, more media, more of everything, because there is a need for journalists to distil the news. Media people are trying things but have no definite answers yet.
He thinks that people are still not making the most of the digital medium, and showed an example of an article with a moving image beside the text in an article about Bat For Lashes.*
Lean North East
Justin Souter spoke briefly about Lean North East, with which he’s helping Emma Robinson. They are looking for people to join them and want to be a resource to increase the region’s chance of success.
Ian Wylie had worked for The Guardian for 16 years until he accepted voluntary redundancy in 2009. He said that The Guardian still gets two-thirds of its income from print currently but that he would not be surprised if it changes to being a weekly paper; and would not be suprised to see all the old national newspapers disappear from the newsagents’ shelves in the future.
He thinks that local newspapers are important. All news starts off as local news and is important because:
1) it is essential to democracy;
2) it creates and sustains the community;
3) it is where many journalists begin their careers and learn the ropes.
It is difficult for a community to have cohesion without local news. People still want to know what is happening locally. Advertisers still want to reach local people. Opportunities exist for individual journalists and small-scale ventures.
Ian talked about the hyperlocal that he founded with Newcastle University lecturer David Baines, the JesmondLocal. He explained that it is not seen as a a rival by The Journal and The Chronicle (which are regional newspapers rather than local) since they could not afford to have journalists based in specific neighbourhoods. JesmondLocal gives journalism students the opportunity for practical training over the course of about a year. The students have passed on the journalism skills that they have learned to Jesmond residents through three community bootcamps to date. The bootcamps have attracted a range of potential citizen journalists including retired people, teachers, and some who work for charities. JesmondLocal uses video, radio, and Storify to pull in tweets, in order to give it a more community feel.
Ian talked about the issues of trying to make a hyperlocal service pay enough to be sustainable in the longer term. The JesmondLocal team is exploring different things, such as Turnaround, a project to create a magazine in 48 hours, about the Turner Prize show at and with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. They found that they made a profit through advertising (although gave the profit to charity), and will be collaborating with the Baltic again in December 2012.
JesmondLocal also goes to ward meetings and live-blog them. They are exploring live event journalism. They are also experimenting with journalism as a product or as art and will be doing more print projects.
Ian said that the next generation of journalists must also see themselves as educators. They are considering whether JesmondLocal should be social enterprise, and hope to explore with the city council and Newcastle University some possible funding.
Some of my thoughts on the evening
I am very grateful to SuperMondays for this interesting session, especially to Emma Robinson who did a great job in doing most (or all?) of the organising. Rick, Stephen and Ian gave us a set of very thought-provoking talks.
I have been interested in hyperlocal online blogs or newspapers for a few years and had wondered about whether I could get people interested in one for the East End of Newcastle before I had heard that a real journalist (Ian) was talking to people about setting one up in Jesmond. I thought that it would be a good idea to see how he approached it, although Jesmond has quite a different demographic so what happens there would not necessarily work elsewhere in the city.
The question of how creating quality content online can be sustainable, and how enough income could be raised from it after people have become used to getting so much for free, is a key one. Even ‘free’ resources cost in some way (I just let a domain name registration lapse because I could not afford to renew it – I had intended to create an online resource for culture professionals). I think that we do have to explore different ways about providing high quality information online, whether that information is news or an article about a historical event.
We should all be concerned and thinking about the ethical considerations of almost everyone being able to be a journalist, with mobile phones that can record things and upload them to the Web before anyone has had time to step back and think about the implications and possible ramifications. We need new social conventions regarding such things at least and, ideally, everyone obtaining a portable digital recording device of any kind would have to attend a bootcamp to learn the basics of the ethical and statutory considerations.
It would have been good to have more questions and discussion, but we were running late because so many people wanted to ask questions, and this was an event that would always have left the audience wanting more. No doubt there will be other opportunities for the North East digital community to talk about hyperlocal.
More reading (and viewing and listening)
*http://pitchfork.com/features/cover-story/reader/bat-for-lashes/ – (the browser on the old laptop I was using crashed when trying to access this page).
‘Betarocket Round Table: Hyperlocal’ – excellent piece by John Hill in Betarocket, “startup and tech news from Newcastle and North East England.”