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Posts Tagged ‘community’

As I looked through my lecture notes this morning, and wondered what my next blog entry would consist of, I saw I had taken note of a particular website.

So, slouched in pjamas and with a coffee in hand, I took a gander, and without wanting to sound like a PR rep, mySociety is unbelievable!

In minutes I had discovered what my local MP has been up to, the sort of FOI requests people near me have made, the problems that need fixing on my street, and even a Cardiff social media cafe I can scope out!

Exploring this site, I realised the importance of Mottershead’s comments. “People are getting fed up of not having things that matter to them in the paper,” he said. “Websites cover things happening in your street. Hyperlocal is about the participation of the author, participation of the audience, passion and linking. ”

Community

Indeed, the projects launched by mySociety embody all these things. PledgeBank is based on the idea “I’ll do something, but only IF other people will too.” Eion, from Cardiff, writes: “I pledge to reduce my carbon footprint by no longer flying between any two points in the UK linked by the national rail network but only if 100 other people concerned by global warming will do the same.” This is a prime example of people working together and building communities – it fully embodies “hyperlocal”.

FixMyStreet enables unprecedented communication, by allowing people to report any problems directly to the council. I now know that people in my area are unhappy about potholes, flytipping and litter from rubbish bags – things I have noticed myself. I can even find out if and when these problems were dealt with.

As a training journalist willing to take a job anywhere in the country, I’m excited by what another of mySociety’s projects has to offer. When Mapumental is up and running I will be able to find accommodation in my price range, the best place to grab a curry, and even the quickest route to my new workplace.

Being a big fan of politics, I’m completely infatuated with TheyWorkForYou.
theworkforyou

Thanks to the site I now know what Jenny Willott has claimed on expenses, that she was discussing  HIV on Wednesday, and that she has received written responses to 135 of her questions to the government in the last year. Never before have I come across a site which compiles all this information in one place.

So how does all this relate to us journos? Well firstly, it provides a treasure trove of stories. I could find a splash by looking into how many Commons meetings my local MP has been absent from, the unsolved problems of flytipping in my area, or a new petition signed by people across Cardiff.

Secondly, it gives me both access to and a line of communication with real people, helping me to understand what they really care about. As Joanna Geary said in her lecture recently, it is crucial that journalists understand what matters to their readers. Chasing glamorous scoops is good journalism, but great journalism comes from being in tune with your readers, and giving them what they want to know. The South Wales Argus got the most hits on its website earlier this year not by writing about murders or scandal, but by putting out detailed coverage of the schools that had closed because of the snow. This proves the point that understanding what your readers need to know is key.
2 of 2: People are the network (duh)

Guardian Cardiff is an excellent example of hyperlocal, and how what that phrase means is changing. Hannah Waldram has built up a community in Cardiff,  and responds to their feedback in an unprecedented way. She invites contributors to write for the site, uses local content as well as her own, and encourages an exciting discussion. Guardian Cardiff is completely in tune with its readers, and involves the participation of both the author and the audience in ways previously unseen. 

We can see that “hyperlocal” has evolved to describe more of an attitude than a place. It is about community, building a network, and encouraging dialogue. For the first time users can genuinely interact with the news around them, and hopefully we can expect to see the proliferation of more great sites like mySociety.

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“Too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is ‘Do we have the story?’ rather than ‘Does anyone want the story?'”

I was surprised to learn this comment was made by Rupert Murdoch. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005, he spoke about the need to be more in tune with the people “we rely on to come back to us each day”, and warned of the “distastrous” consequences of being out of tune with readers’ needs.

Joanna Geary, Community and Web Developer Editor of The Times, echoed this when she came to talk to Cardiff journalism students last week. She spoke about the need to learn what readers are looking for and what they care about, even if the stories are not the ‘glamerous’, front-page splashes journalists so often go for.

Alan and Joanna

Unlike many of the lectures we have heard until now, Geary took the view that while the barriers between journalists and the audience have dropped, things have not panned out as optimistically as people had hoped.

Speaking realistically, Geary reminded students “people are busy! They don’t have the time or privilege to investigate the things that are important to them”. For this reason, the idea of ‘the people’ taking the reigns and writing their own content has not quite taken off. Undoubtedly the audience has become more empowered, by developments like the internet, but there is still a gaping hole where readers’ needs are not being met.

This very much struck a chord with me. As journalists we are so eager to get the biggest, most exciting, most dramatic stories, that we overlook what is most important to our audiences. What we as writers deem to be of great significance might be largely irrelevant to our readers. By the same token, parking problems might not get a journalist’s juices flowing, but may be vitally important to members of the local community.

Geary reminded students that the merits of a story should be judged on whether the readers want and need it, not just the number of visits or comments. Are the readers engaged? Are they getting the information they want? Do they care about what you’re writing about? “What’s important is what our readers want”, she said.

Times Online

It is for this reason collaborative work is often the best, said Geary. Perhaps “the people formerly known as the audience” ought to be replaced with “the community formerly known as the audience”, she said. We need to start listening to what our readers really want, then use our time and resources to give it to them. As Adam Tinworth reminded students some weeks ago, journalists serve their audiences, so understanding their needs is vital.

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