Hyperlocal blogging as a lifestyle choice
With hyperlocal publishers coming to Cardiff for the Talk About Local Unconference tomorrrow I thought I’d expand on idea which I flouted in the TAL11 Google group.
‘Should hyperlocal blogging have to be a lifestyle choice?’ is a question I’ve been mulling over since someone raised the point at the Demark hyperlocal conference I attended in February.
Bjarne Hansen has been running Bornholm.nu for ten years with much success, He’s making a living off the blog, and he has become somewhat a local news celebrity on the island. When asked by an attendee if he felt like the blog had taken over his life he said ‘yes, most definitely. It’s a lifestyle choice’.
Back at the first ever Talk About Local conference I remember one of the team behind Parwich.org saying he often gets people in his little Derbyshire village stopping him in the street to comment on an article – as opposed to leaving a written comment on the blog. Because some of his readers weren’t in the habit of commenting on posts, their immediate reaction to a story was to bang on his door to talk about the piece or rage about its contents face to face, rather than follow the norm of leaving a considered comment on the blogpost itself.
I encountered a somewhat equally uncomfortable situation when I started running BournvilleVillage.com in August 2009, and I have retold this story a few times to other hyperlocal publishers in the hope sharing the experience will allow others to avoid the issue. So I will recount the story here ahead of tomorrow’s conference.
On the day I launched BournvilleVillage.com some of you might recall we had quite a big story break for the area – gunshots were heard in Bournville – I did a short piece with police and residents’ statements and some pictures – all online before any other publication and we got 400 hits on our launch day (not bad). But the weekend after the piece went live, an unexpected enraged local resident turned up on the doorstep. The individual knew me from primary school, knew where I lived, and was unhappy about the article. I was ordered to take the post down. I tried to reason with the furious individual – and received some pretty hefty threats in return.
I held an impromtu editorial meeting (me, mum, dad, around the kitchen table) – and decided it would be best to take the post down.
As a one-man-band, there was just no point in making enemies in the locality – especially when we had nothing like the security and legal backing you might get at a local newspaper office.
Soon after, I decided I wouldn’t really do much crime reporting in the area, or anything which might have unsavoury repercussions. It was thus written into the BournvilleVillage.com editorial manifesto that the website would bolster pride in the local community and its residents and provide uplifting and celebratory content – yes we may scrutinise local authority decisions – but anything negative about the people who lived here was not part of what BournvilleVillage.com was about.
I recently had a student from Denmark send me an email following the Danish School of Journalism conference. He wants to set up a hyperlocal blog for his hometown where 10,000 people live and there’s a derth of stories, but is struggling to see how he can draw the line between being a local resident and the local reporter. He asks:
“You live the area and write with and about the people. Then how do you write the critical article about your ‘neighbour’?”
This to me is quite a poignant question – I experience it a little in Bournville and to some extent I’ve experienced the ‘local reporter celebrity’ thing in Cardiff – as hyperlocal reporters, how do we negotiate some of the conflicting issues which may arise from living in the small area which we are reporting on?
You become the face of your local news organisation – people hold you solely responsible for its contents. You may find people coming up to you in bars, shops or the street and wanting to talk to you about your website or an article, which is fine. But what about if you find yourself in more threatening or uncomfortable situations – how do you deal with being the reporter, editor, activist, blogger and resident all in one person?
If anyone else is interested in talking over the issues of hyperlocal publishing as a lifetstyle choice then come along to a session we’re having at the Talk About Local unconference tomorrow – or leave a comment on this blogpost.