My notes from the Talk About Local Unconference ’09
Hoards of hyperlocal bloggers descended on Stoke-on-Trent for the Talk About Local un-conference on Saturday 3 October ’09 to share ideas, debate on the future of hyperlocal and discuss common problems with a view to solving them. Sessions ran throughout the day in an informal (hence ‘un-conference’) nature – which meant anyone and everyone who had something to say had their chance to say it.
I’ve collated some of my notes from two of the discussions I went to – and some bits and pieces other people have written up from the event.
Following a session for village bloggers, I got some great practical points about how to make your local blog appeal to readers who perhaps wouldn’t usually migrate towards the web.
Peter Trewhitt who runs Parwich.org shared his hyperlocal testimonial with a small group of bloggers who are also trying to connect with the elderly and internet-unsavvy potential readers who are otherwise not really on the web. Following Peter was the founder of Bishopthorpe.net, Martin Dudley, who was captured by the Social Reporter here:
These are two elemental local village websites – both for no more than about 750 residents each. We found there are a number of things you can do to the site to make it attractive for those in your population of readers who wouldn’t normally get their local news on the web:
- White background, black text
It sounds simple, but many blogs go for stylish designs and forget white space on the page, and big black text will make content easier to read. Many older readers will complain about small text, so make sure you put your readers first and choose a blog theme with easily readable fonts and backgrounds.
- Time and weather
Martin Dudley says putting an analog clock and the local weather on your blog site will mean it is a quick point of reference for people to come back to – not a bad idea.
- Local directories
Bishopthorpe.net started ‘The Purple Pages ‘ – a directory of community groups, local services and businesses, which also allows people to download a form where they can upload their own listing.
- Your Local Ward Councillor and Local interest pages
Bishopthorpe.net managed to get their local councillor, John Galvin, blogging on the site – he has his own news blog, about page and contact page running through the site – they have also done this for the local Parish Council – which means more readers will come through the site to find access to separate groups and authorities working in the area. This might work equally well for your local police officer – which Manjit Singh wanted to get up and running with his new blog at our latest Lozells Social Media Surgery. Both bishopsthorpe.net and parwich.org have pages with local history and local interest. So bishopsthorpe.net has a page with local travel information, as well as nature notes, and parwich.org has a page dedicated to history and news for the Memorial Hall, and the all important pictures page.
- Reporting the positive
Every hyperlocal news blog is different, but along with photos, what’s on and local history, both Peter Trehwitt and Martin Dudley said the most popular local stories were always the positive ones. This may not suit or reflect your area, but focusing on positive community based stories will inspire those in the community to keep up the good work in making it a better place.
Of course, these points won’t apply to everyone, and giving your blog the personal touch is key to reflecting the community. But they may give some ideas for how to make sure your blog is accessible to everyone, and caters for your demographic in the right way.
Later in the unconference, one of the heated debates which took place was how council press officers treat local bloggers.
For example, in Sarah Hartley’s recent article for the Guardian, Stoke Council’s head of PR and communications, Dan Barton, said bloggers were excluded from press briefings and the press table in the council chamber. He said:
Opinion should be encouraged but we do draw a distinction between what is news otherwise we are in danger of de-valuing the role of journalists.
It’s clear one of the issues preventing council’s from including local bloggers in their press invitations is the distinction of who is and who is not considered a journalist. Sarah Hartley explores this further on her personal blog. It is also an issue which popped up on Roy Greenslade’s blogpost this morning. At the conference, those in the debate talked of a possible association, registration or stamp of recognition to make sure council’s could not ignore their presence as a media outlet – a hyperlocal alliance. One blogger, for example, said once they had stated on their website, at the prompting of the council, to adhere to the NUJ code of conduct (which they already did) they were taken seriously. Tony Walley from PitsnPots said “Council’s have no right to discriminate between bloggers and traditional media.”
Caroline Beavon’s post of her notes from the session on relationships with councils points out the risk factor for local councils is the wrong tweet or user-generated comment could mean the press officer loses their job. There were also some examples of councils cooperating with bloggers – such as with The Lichfield Blog – and of course, someone did point out (in a hushed voice) the decline of traditional media outlets means council press offices should embrace blogs as soon-to-be their only way of communicating new information.
See Sarah Hartley’s TweetDoc of the entire Talk About Local Un-conference here.