The theme that emerged from the first session of the Press Gazette Local Heroes conference was the importance of engaging with your community as much as possible in order to be successful in the hyperlocal news arena, and the necessity to go as local as possible.
William Perrin, founder of a very local King's Cross-focused site and Talk About Local, an initiative that trains people to found their own hyperlocal sites. Perrin was inspired to get involved with his community several years ago and when he started attending meetings of local initiatives he realized that there was an overload of information and that it was hard to locate it all. His solution was to start a blog covering news and issues in the mile long by half mile wide area around King's Cross station. The site costs £10 a month to maintain and he and the other writers work as volunteers. Kingscrossenvironment.com hosts more than 900 articles so far, having been founded nearly four years ago.
"We give much denser coverage than the local paper," Perrin said, as the paper has a far wider area to cover. His site works well with the Islington Gazette, however. The advantage of having Perrin's site to cover the very local news means that more gets uncovered and "making things public means they are solved quicker," he noted.
Twelve years ago, James Hatts founded a monthly community publication in SE1 to cover the SE1 postal area in London. A website came later, and this quickly became "more newsy" and encompassed more participation and user involvement, Hatts explained. The LondonSE1 site has more than 4,500 news items, features and reviews, and has had 9,000 event listings over four years. The site's discussion forums have seen 126,000 forum postings and Hatts believes that users feel a "very strong sense of ownership." For the publication's ten year anniversary, a reader wrote a play about its last ten years and got together with a local theatre company to put on the performance.
In terms of making the site pay for itself, Hatts has implemented Google Adsense which he said has made a "phenomenal difference" to ad rates. The site also allows people to make restaurant or hotel bookings and takes commission on these.
Sheila Prophet is the editor for a Neighbour Net-owned site FulhamSW6.com. Neighbour Net was founded in 2000 and has nine local West London-based sites: the first and largest is in Chiswick, W4. Neighbourhood Net takes care of sales and the editors (who incidentally, are all women, are in charge of content.) The ChiswickW4.com site is profitable and makes a six-figure revenue. This site really proved its worth during last year's unusual snow fall, Prophet said, as it provided information that was not gathered together anywhere else: about traffic disruptions and what doctors were saying, for example. "This is where a site like this really comes into its own," she added.
Prophet's site began in 2009. Neighbour Net requires that editors live in the areas they cover, and Prophet said that she has learnt a huge amount more about the area she lives in through working for the site. Finding news is no problem, she said, the news now comes to her. It is very helpful to be part of a group as the editors can provide cover for each other when necessary.
Mike Dickerson runs Community Times, which is a franchise network of local magazines. Community Times thought that there was space in the market for a new product as present community magazines were poorly produced but well edited, by people who were engaged in their communities. "I think that there's a difference in readers' perceptions - when they see something that's well-designed it gives authority to that publication," he said.
Dickerson's company provides distribution, websites, marketing and other support, which he said allows the editors to focus on the "core proposition," which is editorial content. "Relevance is absolutely key," he said. There is no national content, as there is too much competition in this area. "All our readers live in the area and you have to provide local content."
It is extremely important to build up trust, Dickerson stressed, and said that this is essential for editors of CT publications to understand. Everything must be carefully checked and it is essential not to breach readers' trust. He also thinks that having a print magazine is important: "the magazine medium gives people an authoritative voice, and gives weight to the editorial voice."
Jason Mawer of Oxbury Media Services explained how his company provides "the generic content" such as crosswords and recipes, leaving the genuine hyperlocal content and advertising to each publication. His definition of 'hyperlocal' is a five mile radius around a specific point. He suggests sticking to a 60:40 ratio of editorial to advertising in each publication.