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August 16 2012

08:27

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London - the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Everyone in London! We’re a very open site, involving our readers in the creation of many articles, especially the imagery. But more prosaically, we have an editorial team of 5 or 6 people, plus another 20 or so regular contributors. I act as the main content editor for the site.

We’re more than a website, though, with a weekly podcast (Londonist Out Loud, ably presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf), a separate Facebook presence, a daily e-newsletter, 80,000 Twitter followers, the largest FourSquare following in London (I think), a Flickr pool with 200,000 images, several e-books, occasional exhibitions and live events every few weeks. The web site is just one facet of what we do.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

I actually inherited it off someone else, but it was originally set up as a London equivalent of certain sites in the US like Gothamist and Chicagoist, which were riding the early blogging wave, providing news and event tips for citizens. There was nothing quite like it in London, so my predecessor wanted to jump into the gap and have some fun.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

It dates back to 2004, when it was originally called the Big Smoker. Before too long, it joined the Gothamist network, changing its name to Londonist.

We now operate independently of that network, but retain the name. It was originally set up in Movable Type publishing platform, but we moved to WordPress a couple of years ago.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Obviously, the Gothamist sites originally. But we’re now more influenced by the wonderful ecosystem of London blogs out there, all offering their own take on life in the capital.

The best include Diamond Geezer (an incisive and often acerbic look at London), Ian Visits (a mix of unusual site visits and geeky observation) and Spitalfields Life (a daily interview with a local character). These are just three of the dozens of excellent London sites in my RSS reader.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Complementary rather than competitors. We cover three or four news stories a day, sometimes journalistically, but our forte in this area is more in commentary, features and reader involvement around the news.

And news is just a small part of what we do — most of the site is event recommendation, unusual historical insights, street art, food and drink, theatre reviews and the like. As an example of our diversity, a few months back we ran a 3,000-word essay on the construction of Hammersmith flyover by an engineering PhD candidate, and the very next item was about a beauty pageant for chubby people in Vauxhall.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I think most of these would be technologically driven. For example, when Google mapping became possible, our free wifi hotspots and V2 rocket maps greatly increased site traffic.

Once Twitter reached critical mass we were able to reach out to tens of thousands of people, both for sourcing information for articles and pushing our finished content.

The other big thing was turning the site into a business a couple of years ago, so we were able to bring a little bit of money in to reinvest in the site. The extra editorial time the money pays for means our output is now bigger and better.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We’re now seeing about 1.4 million page views a month. It’s pretty much doubling year on year.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Transforming from an amateur site into a business.

We started taking different types of advertising, including advertorial content, and had to make sure we didn’t alienate our readers. It was a tricky tightrope, but I’d hope we’ve done a fairly good job of selecting paid-for content only if it’s of interest to a meaningful portion of our readers, and then making sure we’re open and clear about what is sponsored content and what is editorially driven.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of? 

I’m rather enjoying our A-Z pubcrawl at the moment, and not just because of the booze.

Basically, we pick an area of town each month beginning with the next letter of the alphabet (so, Angel, Brixton, City, Dalston, etc.). We then ask our readers to nominate their favourite pubs and bars in the area, via Twitter, Facebook or comments.

We then build a Google map of all the suggestions and arrange a pub crawl around the top 4.

Everyone’s a winner because (a) we get a Google-friendly article called, for example, ‘What’s the best pub in Farringdon?‘, with a map of all the suggestions; (b) we get the chance to use our strong social media channels to involve a large number of people – hundreds of votes every time; (c) the chance to meet some of our readers, who are invited along on the pub crawl, and who get a Londonistbooze badge as a memento; (d) a really fun night out round some very good pubs.

The next part (G for Greenwich) will be announced in early September.

10. What are your plans for the future?

We’re playing around with ebooks at the moment, as a way to sustain the business directly through content. We’ve published a book of London pub crawls (spotting a theme here?), and a history of the London Olympics by noted London author David Long. Our next ebook will be a collection of quiz questions about the capital, drawn from the numerous pub quizzes we’ve ran over the years.

Basically, we’re looking to be the best organisation for finding out about London in any and every medium we can get our hands on.

08:27

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London - the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Everyone in London! We’re a very open site, involving our readers in the creation of many articles, especially the imagery. But more prosaically, we have an editorial team of 5 or 6 people, plus another 20 or so regular contributors. I act as the main content editor for the site.

We’re more than a website, though, with a weekly podcast (Londonist Out Loud, ably presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf), a separate Facebook presence, a daily e-newsletter, 80,000 Twitter followers, the largest FourSquare following in London (I think), a Flickr pool with 200,000 images, several e-books, occasional exhibitions and live events every few weeks. The web site is just one facet of what we do.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

I actually inherited it off someone else, but it was originally set up as a London equivalent of certain sites in the US like Gothamist and Chicagoist, which were riding the early blogging wave, providing news and event tips for citizens. There was nothing quite like it in London, so my predecessor wanted to jump into the gap and have some fun.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

It dates back to 2004, when it was originally called the Big Smoker. Before too long, it joined the Gothamist network, changing its name to Londonist.

We now operate independently of that network, but retain the name. It was originally set up in Movable Type publishing platform, but we moved to WordPress a couple of years ago.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Obviously, the Gothamist sites originally. But we’re now more influenced by the wonderful ecosystem of London blogs out there, all offering their own take on life in the capital.

The best include Diamond Geezer (an incisive and often acerbic look at London), Ian Visits (a mix of unusual site visits and geeky observation) and Spitalfields Life (a daily interview with a local character). These are just three of the dozens of excellent London sites in my RSS reader.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Complementary rather than competitors. We cover three or four news stories a day, sometimes journalistically, but our forte in this area is more in commentary, features and reader involvement around the news.

And news is just a small part of what we do — most of the site is event recommendation, unusual historical insights, street art, food and drink, theatre reviews and the like. As an example of our diversity, a few months back we ran a 3,000-word essay on the construction of Hammersmith flyover by an engineering PhD candidate, and the very next item was about a beauty pageant for chubby people in Vauxhall.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I think most of these would be technologically driven. For example, when Google mapping became possible, our free wifi hotspots and V2 rocket maps greatly increased site traffic.

Once Twitter reached critical mass we were able to reach out to tens of thousands of people, both for sourcing information for articles and pushing our finished content.

The other big thing was turning the site into a business a couple of years ago, so we were able to bring a little bit of money in to reinvest in the site. The extra editorial time the money pays for means our output is now bigger and better.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We’re now seeing about 1.4 million page views a month. It’s pretty much doubling year on year.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Transforming from an amateur site into a business.

We started taking different types of advertising, including advertorial content, and had to make sure we didn’t alienate our readers. It was a tricky tightrope, but I’d hope we’ve done a fairly good job of selecting paid-for content only if it’s of interest to a meaningful portion of our readers, and then making sure we’re open and clear about what is sponsored content and what is editorially driven.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of? 

I’m rather enjoying our A-Z pubcrawl at the moment, and not just because of the booze.

Basically, we pick an area of town each month beginning with the next letter of the alphabet (so, Angel, Brixton, City, Dalston, etc.). We then ask our readers to nominate their favourite pubs and bars in the area, via Twitter, Facebook or comments.

We then build a Google map of all the suggestions and arrange a pub crawl around the top 4.

Everyone’s a winner because (a) we get a Google-friendly article called, for example, ‘What’s the best pub in Farringdon?‘, with a map of all the suggestions; (b) we get the chance to use our strong social media channels to involve a large number of people – hundreds of votes every time; (c) the chance to meet some of our readers, who are invited along on the pub crawl, and who get a Londonistbooze badge as a memento; (d) a really fun night out round some very good pubs.

The next part (G for Greenwich) will be announced in early September.

10. What are your plans for the future?

We’re playing around with ebooks at the moment, as a way to sustain the business directly through content. We’ve published a book of London pub crawls (spotting a theme here?), and a history of the London Olympics by noted London author David Long. Our next ebook will be a collection of quiz questions about the capital, drawn from the numerous pub quizzes we’ve ran over the years.

Basically, we’re looking to be the best organisation for finding out about London in any and every medium we can get our hands on.

March 14 2011

07:46

Hyperlocal Voices: Darryl Chamberlain, 853 Blog

853 blog

Having worked for the BBC News Entertainment website for a decade, Darryl Chamberlain took voluntary redundancy and set up the widely successful 853 Blog. As part of the Hyperlocal Voices series he shares some of the secrets of his success.

1) Who where the people behind the blog, and what where their backgrounds?

853’s all mine. My background’s actually in showbiz news. I worked for the BBC News website’s entertainment desk for a decade in a variety of roles – mainly sub-editing and being the daily editor, but also reporting and feature writing.

I took voluntary redundancy and a career break in 2009 – standing in a council election in May 2010, and doing odd bits of freelance work. While standing in an election will probably leave me hopelessly biased in many eyes, it helped introduce me to local issues which simply weren’t being touched, and potential contacts of all political hues. After my glorious defeat, I realised I could do a bit more for my local area by sticking to what I was good at – finding things out and writing about them.

I have lived in the Greenwich area all my life, and it’s an under-reported patch, so here was my chance to do something about it. 853’s helped me keep my hand in the trade, too, which has been a nice spin-off.

More recently, I’ve set up a truly hyperlocal blog, the Charlton Champion , for the area where I live . I’m hoping to get more people involved in it, though, so it develops a different voice and its own distinctive identity. I’ve a few other people on board, but it’s very early days.

I’m also involved in a new project, The Scoop, about London news and politics.

2) When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I’d blogged under a pseudonym on a couple of other sites for about five years – the usual “have a go at everyone/everything” stuff – before my impending redundancy convinced me I should try something under my own name.

I set 853 up in October 2008, using a basic WordPress template. Originally, it was going to be a showcase for my writing – I had all kinds of plans to go travelling. But the travel stuff only ended up being a small part of what the site became. Maybe I’ll pack my bags again one day and add a bit more travel.

3) What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

I’ve always thought a blog should tell you something you don’t know, instead of parroting the same old stuff. So I’ve always been in awe of Diamond Geezer , who’s looking at London’s lesser-known aspects for nearly nine years now.

Jason Cobb’s Onionbagblog was a huge influence – like me, he never set out to scrutinise his local council, but found himself doing it when nobody else was. I’m sure the leadership of Lambeth Council are breathing a sigh of relief now he’s chronicling life on the Essex coast instead.

Adam Bienkov has shown the benefits of persistence and building up good contacts in his chronicle of life at City Hall, while Brockley Central has become the model for just about anybody wanting to set up a hyperlocal blog.

My fellow Greenwich blogger The Greenwich Phantom has a distinctive take on local life which means we don’t tread on each other’s toes, Greenwich.co.uk has shown there is a demand for local news and information, while Transpontine is essential reading if you’re interested in south-east London’s music, culture and history. London SE1 is a fantastic news source which puts the big operators to shame, while Chislehurst News is a newcomer to the SE London scene which is well worth a look.

There’s a loose network of bloggers in south-east London and beyond which has been a great source of inspiration and support.

4) How did- and do you- see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

In south-east London, the hyperlocal blogs are partly filling a gap that’s come about because of market failure. The Greenwich area’s been largely abandoned by the big operators, leaving a couple of freesheets whose editorial is shared with neighbouring Lewisham.

The two boroughs are fairly similar socially but wildly different politically, despite both being Labour areas, and that’s where they hit problems. Combined, those freesheets are struggling to serve an area with the same population of Liverpool against a lack of interest from their proprietors – Tindle’s Mercury has great reporters but is horribly under-resourced and doesn’t even have a proper website, while Newsquest’s News Shopper is based far out in the suburbs and really doesn’t understand the area.

That said, I’d rather 853 complemented rather than competed with them – so when I deal with news I’m concentrating on council-related matters because that’s what’s getting neglected. But it still contains lots of opinion on other issues and anything else that takes my fancy.

5) What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

The turning point was going to a Greenwich Council meeting in July 2009 and watching a member of the public hectored by the mayor because he was having trouble asking a question about a housing development that affected him. It was horrifying to watch but here were no reporters there to see this – the entire meeting went unreported beyond my site.

Greenwich.co.uk’s Rob Powell asked me to cover a few meetings for him after this, and I’ve continued doing this on 853. A lot of the blog’s opinionated, but on council issues the facts usually speak for themselves.

More recently, revealing the closures of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and the council pulling its funding from fireworks on Blackheath – claiming cuts-induced poverty despite blowing £30,000 on a mayor-making ceremony have been important moments for the blog.

Following the ongoing story of the cuts is going to become more important as time goes on – 853 was the first place to report on the initial swathe of Greenwich’s cuts and the Charlton Champion’s revealed the threat to a local petting zoo.

Covering the problems of the Southeastern train company whose press office refuses to deal with blogs – has been a boost for traffic; again, it’s an issue that’s often poorly covered elsewhere.

My background on the BBC News website’s served me well – I get frustrated if I’m not first to a story!

6) What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Traffic has doubled over the past year or so – it tends to go up in spurts with big stories.

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