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07:19

Hyperlocal voices: the Worst of Perth

Having already interviewed hyperlocal bloggers in the US and the Netherlands, this week’s Hyperlocal Voices profiles an Australian blogger: The Worst of Perth. Launched 3 years ago to criticise a local newspaper, the blog is approaching a million views this year and has the an impact on the local political scene.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

Just me. I have a background in stand-up comedy and photography amongst many things, with a bit of dabbling in graphic design and art too.

I used to work for quite a while in video production, (as well as a few occasions as best boy/lighting assistant in a tax write-off kung fu/zombie movie or two). I currently work for Curtin University and am also a student of Mandarin.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

Heh. Well, amusingly from an online journalism point of view, my very first motivation was to label a senior print journo “Australia’s worst journalist”!

Perth has a single daily newspaper, The West Australian, (circ I think about 250 000 daily) which has in many people’s opinion not been best served by being the monopoly daily provider. The paper and its journalists used to be a frequent target of TWOP, but not so much anymore.

The reason for this is at the heart of what’s happening to journalism around the world. Because The West was the only daily paper, in pre-news blog times, people used to be passionate about its faults.

Now no-one really cares how bad it is, because they can get their real news elsewhere. The paper hasn’t got any better, in fact it’s consistently worse, but the difference now is that nobody really cares that much.

The Worst of Perth is totally different in focus these days, much more about design, public art, and the built environment but some time before starting, I had a particularly bellicose email from a former editor of the paper which included both the phrases “head up your arse” and “ivory tower” over a letter to the editor they wouldn’t print. So you might call the original motivation vengeance, but I was also sick of the only forum you could criticise the paper being their own letters page. Hasn’t blogging changed all that!

The blog claims to be “A showcase of the worst examples of architecture, design, culture and humanity in Perth Western Australia”, but it is often more of a celebration of the city more than anything else, albeit a highly satirical celebration.

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

September 2007. I didn’t know anything about platforms, and I chose WordPress group hosted almost at random, which was both good and bad.

I love that it’s free and they handle all the technicals, but I would like more control over design.

Also, I didn’t know you couldn’t have advertising on WP group hosted. I have had a few offers of sponsorship which I can’t take up because of this, although ads are not really that important to me.

Every time I am just about to decide to switch to self hosted WordPress, I hear someone’s horror story about upgrades and tech problems.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t really read that many before I started. I used to read Crikey, Australia’s major independent online news and some of the political blogs, but that’s all.

Now I read a lot of “future of news” stuff, such as your blog and a lot of design too. new shelton wet/dry (http://www.newshelton.com/wet/dry) has been my favourite site for a long time, and I have been really enjoying The Orwell Diaries lately.

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

Well as I say, originally it was a reaction to a flabby, lazy print outlet, but now the only intersection will be events, where The Worst of Perth is more likely to deal with the ephemera.

Look, The West like most other papers is crammed full of opinion these days, so the difference is less than it should be. I’m never going to do hard news, but hey, neither are they most of the time. It’s just that on The Worst of Perth, I will be funnier than them, and the commenters have an enormous freedom of expression which doesn’t happen in the paper.

I occasionally look through the paper’s and other news sites’ online comment threads and they are most often filled with hatemongering morons. My comment threads are often wild, with libel the only no-no, but even then it is overwhelmingly civilised and amusing.

The demographic is what I really like. Everyone from architects and designers around the world to schoolkids. I was recently very pleased to find that Kieran Long, Architecture critic for the Evening Standard in The UK is a fan.

When something ostensibly hyperlocal can interest a global audience, then I think I’m doing something right.

Expats are an important part of the audience too, and I think that servicing the expat need for home news is an important role that the local blogs can fill far better than the big operators, even if your expat is just in the next city.

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

I decided early on to (almost) never use non original photos and never to aggregate.

The blog is being archived as a historical document by the national/state library. Because I insist on original photos, this has meant an archive of photos of the city’s ephemera already in the thousands.

Part of the job of the hyperlocal is not just about the present, but also of recording or even forming a different local history than would otherwise be saved – don’t you think?

I receive sometimes dozens of photos a day, many specifically taken for the site, of things that would otherwise be forgotten or not recorded. Will someone in the future want to see what Perth’s worst car or letterbox was? Seems likely they will.

An important part of the role of The Worst of Perth is that it is recording things that have disappeared from the city, whether that is a heritage building being demolished or the city’s worst garden wall going.

There are so many different aspects, and I feel that most local focused blogs could value-add a lot more than they do.

The Worst of Perth does all the following: recording ephemera and lost sites for posterity, media criticism, public art/architecture/built environment forums, battling wits with other commenters, straight out satire, notification of events, etc.

A major key moment was when The Worst of Perth started to make a physical difference to the city. Regularly, posts featuring some risible piece of art, culture, planning or neglect can effect a removal of the object within days, even hours.

This can be as trivial as a misspelt sign, but has even gone as far as The Lord Mayor closing one of the main city streets to have a rotting public sculpture removed at vast expense after having seen it featured on the blog and being horrified.

I also run a Twitter feed of “fake news” on the site, @theworstofperth . I initially started the twitter account for TWOP specifically to link back to blog posts. I almost immediately decided to choose a different tack and created an all original satirical news feed not connected with the blog posts at all.

I get more people following the profile link in Twitter back to the blog than I ever got from post linking.

Twitter is another area where hyperlocal blogs could often do more. I never retweet and seldom tweet promote posts, but that is maybe an extreme stance. My advice to hyperlocal blogs would be to forget about promoting every post on Twitter unless the twitterstream can stand on its own. Use it to add a dimension. Create a # for drinkers at the local or people on public transport or what the local graffiti is saying and put that up.

If the stream can stand alone, then throw in the latest post link too. Twitter as an original content medium has huge potential that has not really been tapped by many.

The Worst of Perth has started to become part of the local politics, and I think this will increase. A candidate standing for local council saw a post criticising him, and jumped in taking on (and sometimes besting) many people in the massive 500 plus comments thread.

The way he did it was an interesting example of how it should be handled. Instead of getting angry, he used humour and openness to all but win over a fairly tough crowd.

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

The traffic has been rising steadily for the last 3 years and is still going up. Of the straight WordPress hit stats, it should go close to a million views this year, which is not bad for a design/art/culture blog from a small city.

There are a lot of return viewers, as the comment threads are often highly amusing, and there are a lot of people lurking on the sidelines watching on if there’s a post that runs.

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