This the first in a series of blog posts where I shall document the hyperlocal initiative www.richmond.n0tice.com as a step-by-step process that is intended to be helpful to anyone setting about a similar project – shared experiences and tips most welome.
‘Why?’ really does have to be the very first question for anyone setting up a hyperlocal website or blog. The reasons for getting involved in any community publishing venture vary widely and I’ve come across many over the years – maybe there’s a specific issue that needs addressing locally, perhaps there’s a lack of news provision generally in the area or poor local information? maybe it’s a business opportunity you’ve spotted in these freelance and DIY days?
All valid reasons and ones that it’s important to understand and be able to articulate before setting about any enterprise which could become a passion, a profitable enterprise or a lot of fun on one hand but, if it all goes wrong, a depressing timesink or costly mistake.
I’ve come up with the five questions below to think through the ‘why’ before getting started. There’s no correct answers, it’s as much about the process of answering the questions to help establish the way your hyperlocal proceeds and provide a framework or bare bones of the project.
Producing this basic list can be a vital piece of documentation to return to in the future as things develop and can help stop you getting blown off course.
My answers in connection with my own new venture are in brief below.
Five questions to consider before starting any hyperlocal project
1. Is there a need? This could be a general need ie. nowhere to find what’s going on or a specific need eg. The dog fouling in this town is appalling or why does no-one ever stand for council election?
2. What is the site to be for? Events? news? conversation? photography? It can be all of the above, or a combination, but it’s important to think through the primary aim as there will substantial differences in the decisions taken down the line between, for instance, a site set up to express a sense of place and one investigating local issues or a forum for conversations.
3. What existing provision is there? Relates to point 2 – is there already activity locally and in which aspects? Identify who else covers the patch in terms of blogs and twitter as well as mainstream media in print, broadcast or online. There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel so if there’s some good content out there, understand where to find it.
4. Do you seek to receive any income from it? Again, some of the decisions coming up will be dependent on this answer. Even which platform to use for publishing, as well as business structures and status.
5. What does success look like? Yes, a cheesy management line in some instances, but this will help form the guiding principles for your site and is a vital conversation to have if a group of people is involved. A lot of potential later friction can be avoided by thought and detailing at this pre-launch stage.
My answers in brief
- The need I identify in the town is primarily around the transparency of local decision-making with a secondary one of finding out what’s on. There are already some sources of information (identified in point 3) but nothing specifically aimed at people using digital tools and platforms who are empowered to participate online or via mobiles. I have noticed very few members of the public turning out for meetings on important local issues and local elections are poorly attended. On a parliamentary basis, the constituency must be one of the safest Tory seats in the country, currently held by foreign secretary William Hague.
- The site is for sharing. That’s a simple aspiration but one I know from experience it will be hard to achieve. The last thing I want to prompt is a top down service – this is to be a set of tools to enable people to share the local information important to them. As an engaged local person myself, I’m also keen to participate where I can but, it is not MY site!
- As far as mainstream news provision goes, the town is one of those places that’s on the edge of everyone’s patch – a factor I’ve noticed in quite a lot of other hyperlocals. In print, two regional dailies , The Northern Echo and The Yorkshire Post both have the town in their sights – occasionally. Reductions in staff, budgets, offices etc. have inevitably taken their toll as their readerships have fallen to 38,479* And 37,833* Respectively. Richmondshire has a population in excess of 47,000 and each of those publications includes several large and very newsworthy cities in their patches. The free newspaper, The Yorkshire Advertiser has a distribution of 23,716* but again, has much larger places within its patch and so provides a limited number of stories relating specifically about the town. The excellent weekly paper, The Darlington and Stockton Times fights a good fight and publication is still eagerly awaited by many in the town but even that only serves : 21,829* (down 5.2%) across a large geographical patch. Broadcast-wise, the town falls into the BBC Tees are which has its heart on the industrial towns and cities of Teesside and the forces radio provides a good community serice for those based at nearby Catterick Garrison. TV is again, on the edge of everywhere with residents likely to choose to receive Tyne Tees or Yorkshire regions depending on work or family background. There is another online service, RichmondOnline which provides a good what’s on service in addition to producing a local business directory. (* Newspaper figures from latest ABCs.)
- No. I intend this to be a project for the benefit of the local community and will be doing this as part of my other activities in the hyperlocal publishing sphere so I don’t need it to provide me with an income.
- Success would ultimately look like something that can exist and thrive without me. Although I am very keen to participate in the life of the town (and love doing the sort of local reporting I’ve been involved in for 20+ years now), if the site isn’t valuable enough for people to also want to engage in and contribute, then it won’t have succeeded in the terms I measure it.