Sarah Hartley

Archive for the ‘Hyperlocal’ Category

My week – #Tal13, art, hyperlocal, council filming and factories

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The big news for me this week was being able to finally announce the date and venue for the next Talk About Local unconference.

This year’s event in Middlesbrough in September marks the start of a new initiative Talk About Local is running across Teesside over the next few months as well as being the annual touchpoint for all things hyperlocal. It’s always a lot of fun as well as being inspiring. I can’t wait.

Full details and booking link here.

Arts-meets-hyperloacl was also the order of the day for a contribution to the Culture Hive website.

If you haven’t come across this before it’s “a new, free resource to help you discover and share best practice in cultural marketing.”

I’ve contributed a guide which should soon be published in the toolkit there giving some advice and case studies showing how hyperlocal sites work alongside arts organisations or artists. Link to follow.

With councils on their summer break from meeting cycles there hasn’t been much to update on the issue of filming public meetings. I don’t expect there will be much to report until September now but this week I was able to share some of the lessons learned from working on this campaign to date with readers of the Comm2point0 site.

The site is a great resource for communications professionals run by Darren Caveney and Dan Slee who are a couple of communications professionals with more than 30 years combined experience who have planned, shaped and delivered communications for a range of businesses and organisations across the public and private sector.

And finally, I’ve been enjoying helping William build up this map of factory fortnight memories. The project will remain open so if you’ve got a story to share about the traditional holiday for many towns and cities, please do get in touch.

and then of course there’s the food blogging……..

Written by sarahhartley

August 11th, 2013 at 6:50 pm

My week – councils on camera and foodies on apps

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Yes, it’s been another week where the right to film council meetings has dominated my blogging activity.

It’s time now to consider the different styles of filming that I could adopt. I’m thinking of mostly streaming live from start to finish with a back up recording in case of wi-fi issues.

However it ends up happening, it’s unlikely I’ll manage to get quite the drama and tension into the moment as this fine piece of work. Eat your heart out Tarantino! h/t West Hampstead Life for spotting that gem.

Updates this week (captured on the map below) included a video interview for InformationDaily.com, a successful vote at Richmondshire District and the launch of a Facebook campaign by Welsh campaigners looking for their administrations to adopt similar measures to England.

It’s tech start-up, it’s hyperlocal, it’s so-lo-mo, it’s food and it’s in the north.

The arrival of Zomato in Manchester proved to be a bit of a worlds collide dilemma for me on where exactly to blog about it.

I plumbed for the foodiesarah.com site in the end – read about that here.

Written by sarahhartley

July 28th, 2013 at 10:14 am

Making of a hyperlocal part six: Measuring your audience – analytics

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How to measure, or even IF to measure, what happens on a local website or blog is a much discussed topic among my colleagues at Talk About Local.

Is there any point in analysing the audience behaviours on a website which, by its very nature, is aimed at a very tight-knit group of people? What is the value of having a grip on traffic figures in the case of sites with no ambition to sell advertising or other commercial services?

While I come from a mainstream publishing background where the stats are vitally important in assessing the success and viability of any online initiative, it’s interesting to consider how valuable it is to apply those measures to a community site or neighbourhood blog. Many community publishers operate on the basis of serving a ‘self-fulfilling audience’ i.e. it will grow to a size that is of interest to those who find it useful/existing/interesting etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are hyperlocals that are mature in their local markets and looking to be taken seriously by advertisers and it’s widely recognised that there’s a lack of research into audience levels, industry standards and benchmarking in this area – something Nesta’s Destination Local programme is attempting to address.

Personally, I find it useful to analyse the traffic – not simply as a numbers game, but more to spot trends and garner some extra information on what it is users of the site are most interested in so that it can inform the amount of time I spend on one topic above another. Time being my biggest constraint for my hyperlocal publishing activity so, the list below are the measures I use via Google analytics.

I then publish the main findings on the site each month to keep users and contributors up-to-date. Here’s an example of the last one of those updates.

There’s more detail about how to read the analytics on the Google site which is well worth spending some time with so I’ve included links to the relevant pages below.

Basic
Pages/visit
Page views
Bounce rate
Average time on site
New visits 

To drill down – I find these useful as a content creator to respond in terms of both subjects and formats
Top content
Traffic sources
Devices used
Country

Social metrics
I’d add these to assess some level of engagement:
Comments to blogs post
Twitter followers
Twitter RTs
Facebook likes/members
In putting this together I wondered if Google Plus should be in here now?

With place-based blogs/sites I personally think counting downstream traffic ie. the place the person clicks onto next is valuable as being able to refer a user onto a local source of information eg. the church services or the chemist rota is a valuable activity in its own right that eventually leads the site to be the first go-to destination and therefore long-term loyalty. This is contrary to any web product builder/editor’s instinct as keeping people on your own site (measured by low bounce rate) is a common measure of success as an industry.

* What do you find the most important measure for your website or blog? Any input on how analytics have helped your hyperlocal very welcome here via the comments below.

Written by sarahhartley

June 10th, 2013 at 9:11 am

Making of a hyperlocal part five: Community involvement

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Pic: Nial Kennedy on Flickr

Involving the local community in your publishing is not just something that’s nice to have, it’s essential if your site is to survive and will will help keep your content relevant.

Many people find it a daunting prospect and it’s probably the number one issue raised during workshops on community publishing – how can people be persuaded to join in?

There’s no getting round the fact that it is hard work – and takes a lot of listening skills – which is why I asked some of those who have proven success in this area to share their advice with you below.

In addition I would add that it is important to be clear about what you are expecting from the users. For example, if you’re looking for pictures of an event, spell out what sort of pictures you’d like to see – and what won’t be acceptable.

There’s nothing worse for a user to enthusiastically provide content which doesn’t get published and then for them to have no idea why it was deemed fit to use. They won’t be so helpful a second time!

So my top tip would be to spend time ensuring the call to action is clear as well as letting people know what will happen – are only ‘the best’ submissions going to be used or will allcomers get mentioned? What’s the criteria for publication? Any restrictions? What about copyright? Payment? Why should a user send you anything? What’s in it for them?

Be upfront about the process and it will help build trust between your users and the publication but most of all – be encouraging, not all those who want to take part will have had any experience and it could be a big step for them to put a piece of work up for public scrutiny and your expert opinion.

Here’s those other top tips from people with know-how in how to get started:

Stuart Golden, managing director of the One&Other magazine and website in York:

Our motto has always been: Share your idea; Involve others; Celebrate often. Beyond that, the most valuable advice I could offer would be to never position yourself as a blogger as that limits your potential in the market.

Without doubt, the thing we’ve found most difficult is finding digital partners that share our vision and ambition, rather than viewing us as just another pay cheque. Thankfully, we found the right people in the end!

Emma Bearman of the influential The CultureVulture blog in the north of England:

Starting out?
Just Do it, set up a blog, audioboo, twitter etc, ask for help
Use it as your license to indulge your inquisitive curious mind
If you can’t be the source, be the resource. By which I mean if you aren’t brilliant at writing/editing etc then shine a light on others, curate, connect, be generous
Be in and part of the conversation
Make connections with the local university journalism course heads and tutors that really get it
Be guided by your moral compass
Love what you do. No point if it ceases to interest or delight you. Don’t let your blog be a monkey on your back
Be open, kind and compassionate. (those are my own mantra)
See the bigger picture
Take time to check your facts, don’t be a kneejerker
Try to leave your ego at the door

Hannah Waldram who started out with a hyperlocal in Birmingham and now works for The Guardian’s community team:

If you’re a one man band don’t try and do everything – spend time thinking about what you want your community blog to do and only create content which you can justify is in line with the spirit and goals of your endeavours

Sean Brady who publishes the Formby First blog and noticeboard offers:

Integrate a n0tice board into your site or blog.
Publish details of specifically local events.
Develop a Twitter account for ‘instant’  streams of short stories, comments,  relevant local links.
Include a Twitter widget in your site. Grow your followers.
Use twitter searches to find local stories, retweet them.
My analytics shows a clear relationship between tweets and page views.

And finally, John Baron of the South Leeds Life blog:

My tip would be to engage in the real world, be seen on your patch, run public meetings and discussions. Show you’re a real person, not just a twitter avatar.

Any other tips to share? Please do feel free to pass on your experiences via the comments below.

Written by sarahhartley

January 15th, 2013 at 7:00 am

Making of a hyperlocal part four: Competitors

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This is a tricky area and I don’t claim to have all the answers but I have seen a variety of different approaches on dealing with ‘competing’ local services. Even the idea of ‘competition’ in the hyperlocal space can be problematic as many publishers don’t feel they are competing with other existing services but instead come from a starting point of providing something new, missing or complimentary to what was previously on offer.

In the case of the fledgling hyperlocal I’m initiating, that’s certainly my standpoint and I hadn’t expected to be considering this issue so early in the process however, the reaction from a local commercially run website pointed up something different so it’s become something that needed to be addressed.

In fact that’s possibly the first thing to note, even if you’re not running the hyperlocal as a commercial enterprise, it may be considered as competition by those who do seek to make money from local publishing, one of the reasons why there’s sometimes friction between local newspapers and community websites and blogs. Established operators may feel they ‘own’ the local space.

The thinking which underlies that approach often doesn’t take into account the very different way people consume news and information online and via mobile but it is a view still present in some quarters and so may reveal itself as an issue quite early in the life of your hyperlocal.

So what’s the best strategy? Here’s five different approaches to consider:

1. Publish a manifesto
Lay out your stall online. What the site is doing, what it stands for, why you’re doing it etc. This can be around the editorial tone and content but also be extended to any commercial dealings. Greater transparency with everything from traffic figures to ad revenues can help explain the role you see the site fulfilling.This one from the US site The Rapidian is an effective and concise example.

2. Contact possible competitors
Basically the same as the above but on a one-to-one basis.
Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it etc. I’d love to be able to relay experience of this in action but sadly, so far at least, this approach has been without success for several projects I’ve initiated. If you’ve different experience, please do feel free to add to this post via the comments below.

3. Find areas to collaborate
Maybe you have great photography but the other site has the resources to do in-depth reporting – together you could create great slideshows. Or maybe you could provide a feed of information which, properly attributed, could be used in the local community sections?
Taking some time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each proposition could lead to a fruitful collaboration whether on an ongoing basis or a one-off project.
A good example of this in action can be seen in the work Trinity Mirror has done in Birmingham which laid the groundwork for hyperlocal content sharing. (Disclosure: I am connected with, Talk About Local, the company involved in the initiative).

4. Give link love
If you genuinely don’t compete, then this will be a simple but effective step you can take that gives your users the benefit of all the content available locally while taking some of the sting out of any fraught relationships. Linking to stories being carried elsewhere builds your repository of information and can help users understand the difference between your offering and that of your competitor. If the content isn’t suitable on a day-to-day basis, consider a fixed link in the blog roll, ad space or similar to point up the existence of other provision.

5. Go it alone
Not much of a strategy but this maybe what you end up with so be prepared. It maybe you discover there’s no appetite for collaboration and your ‘competitors’ would rather behave as if you didn’t exist. If that happens then – keep calm and carry on as the much overused expression goes – your users are actually unlikely to care one way or the other and you’ve undoubtedly enough to be getting on with.

* Do you have experience in this area which could help people starting out? Please feel free to add to this post via the comments below.

Written by sarahhartley

December 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Making a hyperlocal part three – contacts

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Contacts – in the end, they’re all there is. If Mae West had been a journalist, rather than saying ‘keeping a diary will keep you in the end’, I like to think she might have instead spoken about keeping a contacts book with the same reverence.

Any time spent on creating and building contacts is never wasted, which is why I’ve included it so early in the process. It also won’t stop here, this post is simply a process to get started.

So where to start?

Setting up a website or blog from scratch is just like starting a new beat as a reporter. You’re looking for contacts who know everything that’s going on in their field. Well-placed people. Some of those will be people who are paid to communicate with the public eg. Press and PR but many will be people who hold a position of authority, or have volunteered for a role and who don’t necessarily know about public participation. Your contact with them will need to be handled slightly differently to explain clearly the context of what you are trying to set up.

Begin by listing any personal contacts you have as these will always be the strongest ties – family and friends. Then start with the main institutions in your town. Here’s a fairly typical list I’ve started for my town:

Mayor and councillors
Council press office
Police, fire and ambulance press offices.
School principles and heads of governors
Existing bloggers/tweeters
Leisure facilities – cinema, theatre, operatic society, sports centre
Museums – Green Howard’s , Richmondshire
Neighbourhood policing panels
Town council clerk
Church representatives
Trading groups
Local MP’s constituency office
Existing campaign groups – Friends of Richmond CCTV
Civic Society
Allotments organisation

Having identified some of the local structures, time to put some research into finding the people behind the organisations and starting to build that contacts book.

Back in the day this meant a succession of well-guarded index tabbed notebooks – these days it means a database.

Taking the time to set up a spreadsheet right at the start of the process means an invaluable resource that can be easily updated as you progress. If there’s a group of you working on a project, it also makes it easy to share resources too. One word of caution on that – do ensure you understand the implications of the Data Protection Act when dealing with any data which isn’t in the public domain.

Using excel, googledocs or similar, layout your new contents database with column headings something like this.
Organisation. Name. Email. Phone. Notes. First contacted. Response.

If there’s a group of you doing this, you’ll need a column for who is to make the 1st contact too.

The heading ‘notes’ is for anything useful to know about contacting the person eg.’ Don’t call on Thursdays as child-minding’ or ‘strict vegetarian’ if you’re likely to be arranging a venue to meet.

The column first contacted is for recording a date so you can easily set a date for follow up conversations to track without bombarding someone with annoying repeat information.

All set – time to hit the phones and introduce yourself. Far better in person or over the phone as these are people you need to build relationships with.

If you do find a need to email to many people, just remember not to reveal people’s email addresses to everyone else in the list (without their prior permission). Use the BCC field of email to keep those addresses private.

The next instalment in this series will be some ways to approach ‘competitors’.

Written by sarahhartley

November 8th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

n0tice: Three tools for journalists

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A project I’ve been working on for the past nine months is being launched to world today –  n0tice.com has come out of it’s invite-only phase .

This ‘baby’ carries with it the usual  hopes and fears of early-days initiatives so I’m expecting to be watching over these first steps with that strange post-launch mixture of anxiety, pride, excitement and over-protectiveness before everything becomes established.

The official announcement can be read here and the thinking behind this social-local-mobile platform is explained far better than I can by founder Matt McAlister here.

But I thought I’d use my blog to highlight some of the features which can help journalists going about their work. There’s plenty of other things going on in there eg. revenue share on ads, community noticeboards, self-serve events listings etc. (more details on those at the n0tice blog), but here I’ll just pull out three useful tools for journalists and bloggers who might be new to it.

 1. Liveblogging

Each report, or news posting, has the ability to add updates as and when required making liveblogging easier – or even simply taking notes at a live event. Updates can be a mixture of media eg. pictures, tweets, videos etc. so it’s possible to create a liveblog which is a mixture of content from a variety of sources and intersperse with direct reporting. In this way n0tice can be used a bit like storify to curate others’ activity. Adding the other media doesn’t require any embed coding, simply the URL so, in the case of tweets, just the timestamp detail is enough to include the full tweet in it’s attributable context. Same drill for youtube, flickr etc. – there’s no need to rummage around for the embed code.

2. Collborative story gathering

Because the updates can be made by any user, not just the report’s originator, there’s a great potential for collaboration here. This could stem from simply being in the same place. n0tice works around proximity to place so, even if you do not know other notice users, this location based aspect means you can easily discover who is nearby. Imagine a scenario where a major event is happening eg. a protest. The first person at the scene may have simply reported that fact however, others in the area can quickly add pictures, video, tweets or whatever to quickly build up the story.

Away from live events, the platform makes crowdsourcing from multiple locations around the world easy too. Having a noticeboard for a project with it’s own URL means that contributors can easily post their items from wherever they are. The Guardian Music noticeboard is a good example of this approach, taking submitted reviews from across the UK, but it could also be used to gather evidence for investigative work too.

 3. Mobile reporting

There is already a mobile site for quick reporting which is built in html5 and so will be compatible with any phones. It’s a pared down version of the complete site and makes it easy to post a report from a location without having to worry about all the additional features until you get back to base. In the next few weeks we will also launch an iPhone app which will bring a whole new experience to the mobile reporting – watch this space!

Written by sarahhartley

March 20th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Five take-aways from the #solomoDEN event

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Data visualisation of New York's 311 service showing city's concerns by the hour

The #solomoDEN event in Salford Quays was an opportunity to hear about projects, research and initiatives in the area of social-local-mobile journalism.

I attended to talk about a GMG project I’m involved with called n0tice.com which has these ideas at its heart to produce an online/mobile noticeboard (and if anyone would like an invite please drop your email here or via the comments below).

Here’s my pick of the other talks;

1. World Newsmedia Innovation Study.
There’s a lot of information in these 130 pages, 100 data sets compiled by 500 respondents in 11 languages. The aspect that caught my eye was the plans that news organisations have around developing new businesses and this mysterious finding: “While mobile phones, e-readers and social media remain the top propescts in 2011, responses show that managers are generally less enthusiastic about these opportunities than in 2010.” The full report is being being available to download at the website.

2. Help me Investigate networks.
The collaborative website that helps people investigate issues of shared concern has recently refined the proposition into various strands including health, welfare and education.

Help Me Investigate: Networks

Currently Paul is calling on interested bloggers to get involved in a Help Me Investigate health project looking at some of the data on GP surgeries’ patient list numbers. More on that here: http://helpmeinvestigate.com/health/

3. Sky in Tyne and Wear.
It was fascinating to hear from Simon Bucks about the video journalism experiment going on in the north east. The unease from local newspaper editors in the room was palpable as he described how a team of 13 journalists including nine dedicated video journalists were starting work in a patch chosen for its sporting enthusiasim and clear sense of self-identity.

As well as the original content that large team is producing, the broadcaster is also encouraging submitted video and self-serve events listings in the locality. One to watch.

4. Launch of Media and Digital Enterprise (Made).
The UK Winner of last year’s Google IPI award for news innovation was officially launched in a low key event at the end of the main sessions. Any budding news entrepreneur looking to develop a business involving data journalism should find this music to their ears – mentoring, software and support on offer. Simply add your details to the form before March 31 [Disclosure: I am involved in delivering some of the training support].

5. Open data cities 
A typically barnstorming finale from Greg Hadfield inspired the audience into thinking about data and the role of local journalists in not just acquiring data for stories but being the facilitators for city-level conversations. A whole new way of interacting with the citizens formally known as readers.

It was not just a great talk, it was a rallying cry to those of us who value data journalism to think about how we can collaborate to make such things happen. Anyone?

* There’s also more information at this live blog by Daniel Bentley  and this blog post from Caroline Beavon. Feel free to drop any other links to coverage in the comments below.

Keep the free in Freedom of Information

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The Justice Select Committee will hold its first evidence session in the post-legislative scrutiny of FOIA inquiry on Tuesday 21 February.

Along with a great many other journalists, I’ve put forward some thoughts including why the idea of widening  charges for FOI requests would be an unpalatable solution to the problem of cutting the costs of administering the system.

While there’s no doubt that some FOI requests are time-consuming and therefore costly to supply, applying more fees to the process as a matter of course would, in my view, disproportionately impact on freelancers and independent publishers eg. community websites and hyperlocals.

Without the might of a news organisation behind them, even a tiny fee could be enough to deter a hard-pressed community website editor
and result in important local issues being unreported – especially in areas already suffering from lack of accountability through regional news cuts/closures.
Financial Times editor Lionel Barber warns that a cost limit could also result in having no information released at all if charges were applied to redacting of sensitive information:

“At present, cost limits only apply to the expense of locating and extracting information, but not redaction or other costs. These expenses must not be rolled within the cost ceilings. Allowing officials to count such costs towards the limit would encourage them to consider exemptions or redact heavily in order to waste time, and thereby hit the cost limit without releasing any information.”

If the system needs to be less costly, let’s look at other ways to achieve that. For example, greater transparency in what information has previously been released.

If there was proper transparency it would surely save time and therefore money as well as making the whole system more manageable and useful to the public.

In the spirit of that, I make all my FoI requests public via whatdotheyknow (view them here) and on this blog to save others’ time and the public purse some pennies.

As of January, there were 100,000 such requests in the public archive . If this, or something similar, became standard practice would the overall number of requests (and therefore costs) would be reduced without any reduction in the amount of information being made public?

* There’s also a wealth of journalists’ submissions on this at journalism.co.uk which include reports of lack of assistance from authorities, delaying tactics and extending the scope of the act.

Written by sarahhartley

February 19th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

A mini series of hyperlocal success case studies

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Last updated: Jan 17

One of the great things about working with Talk About Local is meeting so many enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate people who run hyperlocal websites and blogs.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some of those stories on the TAL blog and I’ll link to them here as well.

The first one I published today looks at the work of Annette Albert in the W14 postcode area of London. She reports from and campaigns for that area tirelessly but doesn’t consider what she does to be journalism.

2. Creating a village in Caldmore – how the Caldmore Village Festival team re-invented an area of Walsall.

3. Trumpeting the success of The Crickdale Bugle - some of the daily dilemmas faced by a one-man band publisher in Wiltshire.

4. Creating a living archive in Wolverton – the challenges for volunteers in sorting, understanding, digitising and archiving donated community material.

5. Shining a light on the democratic process in Kington – how a dispute over Christmas lights ended up shaping the make-up of a council.

Written by sarahhartley

January 3rd, 2012 at 5:33 pm