Ultra-ultra local: for the people, by the people

Restoring an old Devon flour mill to full working order for the first times in decades may not have been headline news, but it was big enough to attract about thirty visitors from the surrounding villages on the day, possibly more.

On a bank holiday visit to my parents, we’d stopped off on the way home as my mother wanted to have a look around. Watching a couple of people videoing the mill got me thinking about local news and those who use it.

Us bright young twentysomethings may be changing they way we get our news, be it online, through communities, Twitter, mobile phones and probably, in the future, some kind of Kindle-like application. What’s to say the bright, somewhat older retired communities won’t be doing something similar, albeit in a more specific way.

Let’s back up for a minute here to collect a few thoughts. Firstly, Britain’s retired and elderly populations are growing and will continue to do so. Secondly, they’ve moved away from the stereotype of your grandmother being unable to turn on a computer. Many are extremely active online, have very set, successful, specific communities and are willing to experiment with new tools.

Thirdly, and this is probably the most important thought, they have a lot more time on their hands than the bright young twentysomethings, who’ll as likely be holding down regular jobs while they evangalise about social media. Even if their job is the evangalise, having a job will still naturally limit time available.

And it’s time, mixed with relevant skills, that should worry the media, local newspapers especially.

If experiences growing up in Devon are anything to go by – and assuming they still hold true – there’ll always be a few people in villages and towns who’ll have the get up and go to organise events, whether it’s coffee mornings or something on a much grander scale. They may be one and the same as the people who write the local newsletters (or, as is becoming more frequent, setting up local news blogs). If they’re not, they’ll probably know them.

Along with many others in the village or town vicinity, they’ll have a strong interest in local affairs. Chances are, they’ll probably be involved in many of them at some stage. There’s plenty going on in their community, and they’re usually at the heart of it. You’ll probably know or have known somebody like this.

But while what’s interesting to the local community and the local media often intertwine, the news values are slightly different and it may not always get the coverage. Neither, in an age of under-resourced newsrooms, will staff necessarily be able to go out and cover these events, let alone video them. The story may not even be deemed video-worthy.

Now, think if you’ve got a few recently-retired tech-savvy hearts of the community. They could build their own website or social platform and keep bits and pieces of news up to date – they don’t have to have been a professional journalist (although this may start occurring more frequently).

Now, let’s head back to the flour mill. Perhaps could have used Qik to stream live for anybody who couldn’t make it. Any video footage could then form part of a local community website. They could even create a further video and a small report and other pieces for the community online and bypassing the local media.

This isn’t to say anything the local media did on it wouldn’t be read or viewed, but it’s an interesting piece of competition that perhaps hasn’t been taken into account. Does it sound too fanciful currently? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Definitely not.

In some respects, services like ITV Local, the proposed new BBC local video plans and some – but definitely not all – local newspaper website offer an upload and interact facility. But – and this is no criticism – they are, by necessity, broad umbrellas, even an an ultra-local level. There are ultra-ultra-local levels – and where there’s a niche, there’s the potential for an online community.

It’ll be interesting to see how traditional media copes with a teched-up, locally aware, online-friendly set of (and apologies for the cliche) silver surfers, who if they don’t exist now, surely aren’t too far away.

Again, unless some of the smaller papers get the resources and adapt to cater for this type of audience they could find themselves undone by a new breed of citizen journalists who have the time, inclination and knowledge of the patch. It’s at once a frightening and exhilarating thought.


7 Responses to “Ultra-ultra local: for the people, by the people”

  1. 1 william perrin September 1, 2008 at 6:22 am

    ultra local is the next big thing. a small team of us run an ultra local website in north london’s kings cross http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com we cover local news, events etc and run or support local campaigns. We have over 500 articles and over 200 uniques a day. we use video occasionally when it adds value and even have a TV station of sorts in http://www.kingscrosstv.org.

    you touch on several good points in this post:

    the news values are very different at a local level – far more human and ‘real’ than trad. industrial era media. the threshold is lower and news doesn’t need to be very current

    you hint at the ‘broad umbrella’ of ‘local’ TV – TV isn’t of course local at all – it is regional, related to how far the radio waves could travel from a transmitter in the 1950s. It has little relationship with natural news areas on the ground. For local communicators and campaigners, TV and radio and even local newspapers are pretty useless – most campaigning is at an ultra local level – more or less LG ward based.

    older people can easily acquire the skills to run a website off a blog platform – if they can use gmail or the BTYahoo product, they can use typepad or wordpress with ease. at the minute it needs a catalyst to help people find the training. i have six volunteers who write for me i only had to train one face to face the rest followed instructions in an email.

    as local papers face a very bleak future, itv mutters about pulling out of ‘local’ news and councils set up their own newspapers the future is bleak for a local democratic voice unless we can unlock the power of ultra local publishing.

    is there a decent debate going on about this anywhere?



  2. 2 Gary Andrews September 1, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Interesting thoughts William. Is there a decent debate going on about this? Yes and no. I’ve seen a lot about the changing nature of news and our consumption of it, but very little on the older generation who’re active in this area.

    The really local papers who should be active in the area you’re into are generally staffed by one journalist and whoever they can get on work experience, and they certainly don’t have the time or resources to do a decent website.

    It’s going to be interesting to see where everything goes from here…

  3. 3 yourlocalweb December 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    We are attempting to address this very issue!

    Your entry reads a little like much of the conversation we have in the office!

    Times are hard at the moment, but our site aimed at local communities, and designed for members of these communities to interact with the site, is growing daily.

    So maybe we will end up supplying the ultra local, for and by the people…

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  1. 1 Ultra local voice « Ultra Local Voice: communities, communicating Trackback on September 3, 2008 at 9:52 pm
  2. 2 Ignore the bungalow extension at your peril « Gary Andrews Trackback on September 22, 2008 at 5:32 pm
  3. 3 Ultra local voice | Talk About Local Trackback on May 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

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August 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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