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November 15 2010

08:30

Hyperlocal Voices: Hedon Blog (Ray Duffill)

Hyperlocal voices: Hedon Blog

The Hedon Blog covers communities in Hedon, East Yorkshire. Established by Ray Duffill at the beginning of last year, he has since gone on to launch the HU12 site as well. This post is part on the ongoing Hyperlocal Voices series.

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

I set the Hedon Blog up after being made redundant from a career in Community Development.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

The Hedon Blog was set up as a hobby to keep my ‘hand-in’ with new social media tools I’d discovered on the web whilst working in my previous job as a Community Development Manager in Blackpool.

Specifically, I wanted to find out if Hedon had any community and voluntary groups operating in the area. On the surface it seemed that very little community activity was going on in the town. That was my initial impression and a view shared by neighbours and relatives who had lived in the area much longer.

The process of setting up the blog and nurturing its development has enabled me to re-discover my home town. Hedon is no longer just the place I live – it’s a place I’m proud of and love!

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

I set up the blog on WordPress.com. It took me two minutes to set up and think of the highly original “Hedon Blog” title.

The first post was written in February 2009. I pressed ‘publish’ and thought “What next?”. I had no plan and no real objectives or goals to aim towards. This is not a model to follow!

Using my legs, eyes and ears I explored and unearthed the ‘undiscovered country’ of a small but thriving community infrastructure in the town. I reported back on my findings on the blog. And, as the ‘word-of-mouth’ spread, then people began sending me in notices of community events and other activities in the town.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Whilst working in Blackpool I had found about Nick Booth‘s (Podnosh) ‘Social Media Surgeries‘ taking place in Birmingham. Inspired by those, I made an early commitment that I would only use social-media tools that were free, easy to use and share, and that could be easily taught to others.

The internet should be about liberating community news and information. I abide by these ideas with the Hedon Blog. Any community can do what I do – you don’t need shed-loads of dosh in order to obtain an effective online voice. Having financial backing and a friendly geek obviously helps – but they are not essential.

The next major influence was Talk About Local and its first ‘un-conference’ in Stoke. From being an isolated individual I was suddenly part of a major phenomenon that involved people from across the country and the world. We even had a name for what we were doing – hyperlocal!

Adam Westbrook has been the other major influence on the blog’s development. I heard him speak and was inspired by his views on the future of journalism.

Locally, in Hull, digital developer Jon Moss has helped through setting up Hull Digital. Individuals met through this network have offered me enormous encouragement and support.

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

I obtained Adam Westbrook’s e-book on Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites and now run the site as a news gathering operation.

Learning from some of the journalistic methods described in that publication has enabled me to put the blog on a professional footing and achieve a credibility in the eyes of public and private sector organisations (as well as voluntary and community groups) who now regularly supply me with press releases and other material.

In this sense I have ‘borrowed’ from the traditional media those things that can help me promote, inform and help build communities in my town.

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

The Hedon Blog now sits as part of a wider website family under the www.hu12.net banner. This means I can concentrate community news via the Hedon Blog but now have an outlet for more contentious and controversial material – and a means to obtain some advertising income.

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

I have grown a local audience largely by word of mouth. In my fist month of operation I got 213 visits (WordPress stats) but get those figures and more every day now with occasional daily spikes of over 500 – 800 visits.

I never approached this from a business or journalist point of view – but rather as a civic duty or community activity. The downside of this approach is the obvious: a lack of income to re-invest in the project and to pay for its main motivating force: Me!

This activity has brought me great pleasure but has been draining on time and personal resources.

September 29 2010

08:10

Time to talk about legal

As a lone blogger how much legal protection do you have? No more than anyone else, when it comes to libel, contempt of court law and so on, except that people are more likely to pay attention to large media organisations.

But there are many instances where bloggers have lost a lot of time and money over legal disputes. Last week, for example, journalist and blogger Dave Osler finally saw an end to a legal battle that consumed three years of his life, after he was sued for libel by the political activist Johanna Kaschke. Despite being refused the right to appeal the strike-out of the Osler case, she is still planning to appeal another High Court decision that ended her libel claim against Alex Hilton and John Gray.

If all individual bloggers worried about getting into trouble too much, we’d write much less than we do. Even big scary cases aren’t a deterrent: Dave Osler is still blogging. I was personally surprised by the results of my survey of 71 small online publishers this summer. Not that only 27 per cent had been involved in legal disputes (that was about what I expected) but that over half were satisfied with the number of legal resources available.

Personally, the grey areas of law trouble me and I don’t think there could be enough support: I’d like to see more organised structures for legal help, a sort of Citizens Advice Bureau for bloggers, if you like. Informal advice is already spreading via social networks, as lawyers increasingly use Twitter and blogs to join the conversation.

As I reported on my site Meeja Law, one hyperlocal blogger who was accused of breach of copyright asked for legal advice via Twitter: “Two separate media lawyers confirmed (for free) that I’d done nothing wrong. I also contacted [hyperlocal organisation] Talk About Local for advice, and they told me the same.”

Talk About Local has published several media law guides online (eg. this one on defamation) and the organisation’s founder William Perrin offers some frank legal advice ahead of a legal session at last weekend’s London Local Neighbourhoods Online Unconference:

…just about the best legal advice, which very few follow is to set up a 
limited company and keep the website inside that. Then you don’t lose 
your house to a nutter under defamation law….

Another concern of mine is the lack of transparency of courts data, something I’ve discussed at length here. I think bloggers should be able to access more information about cases; at the very least, the Ministry of Justice needs to consider its outmoded contempt of court law that is ill-equipped to deal with the online age.

In the coming months, I’d like to build up the conversation in this area and think about how we might approach some of these issues. If you’d like to be part of this informal online ‘working group’ please consider joining the Help Me Investigate challenge at this link (request membership here), or discussing via the OJB Facebook group.

Judith Townend (@jtownend on Twitter) is a PhD research student at City University London and freelance journalist.

June 03 2010

08:55

Digital Strategy: Why Camden council is moving into hyperlocal websites

Thoughtful piece explaining why Camden Council, with the help of community media and communications project Talk About Local, is planning to launch some hyperlocal websites to give local residents “a voice online” and allow the council to encourage them to speak about issues in their communities, without necessarily controlling that conversation.

Talk About Local founder Will Perrin explains the work TAL is doing with Camden Council far more eloquently in this video. But it’s interesting to consider how such developments might affect the local media landscape, especially with many UK newspaper groups investing in ‘hyperlocal’ networks? Will there be resistance to such plans from local media, as has been the case with council-run newspapers; or is there a space for these websites alongside local news media, which as Perrin suggests will also cover civic issues and news?

Full post at this link…

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