Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – part 3

This is the third part of a series about the development of Hashbrum, the hyperlocal news project that me and some of my colleagues at the MA Online Journalism worked on for the last few months. If you haven’t already, read Part 1 and Part 2.

The HashBrum Stories

We tried to find stories that mattered to Birmingham’s communities. We had two successful running feature stories, one about Birmingham’s swimming pools, and another project still developing about cycling in the city,  too many concert reviews, and a few one time stories using multimedia. Another interesting project was Marathon Guy, but it has been discontinued.

The most promising story for me in the beginning was the Swimming Pools investigation, conducted by Andrew Brightwell. The goal was to assess the state and conditions of the public pools of Birmingham, how they were fit to serve the local communities. It had a lot of multimedia and community potential: i thought about creating a map with Andrew with the location and history of each facility, create a space for the swimmers to have a say, and after the Moseley Road Baths tour, create a multimedia package. It didn’t happen, and it’s a shame the story got lost along the way.

Dan Davies has recently put a great effort in a investigation about the existing conditions for cyclists in Birmingham. If you know cyclists, you know they’re a good crowd to work a story with, and Dan has invested in a lot of video and map mashups, which he has been testing and developing, and that seem to be working quite well for the story.

The odd project, but one that took a lot of my time in production was Marathon Guy, a fun idea by Mikel Plana, that was a mix between a reality online show, a crowdsourced/crowdfunding enterprise, and a journalistic account about the communities of runners in the city. Unfortunately, Mikel is not taking the project further, but i think you can tell from the videos i had some fun with this project.

Other notable items in the HashBrum archive are Caroline Beavon’s liveblogging experiments, and a crowdsourced map, that she put together quite quickly.

And if in perspective it looks like a lot of work, i personally feel that we could have done much more, especially when it comes to interactive and multimedia narratives. Like i said before, HashBrum was supposed to be a canvas for total experimentation but  then we got a lot of pics and text. But the moments i like the best are the ones when we go beyond that, and present information in a more relevant and compelling way. The traditional formats are traditional because they work, but if can break the rules and do something different just for the heck of it, why shouldn’t we?

This is where small hyperlocal websites are taking the lead from traditional media:  they invest in new ways to tell the stories, in a cheap, fast way, without having to wait for slow IT departments to implement a damn widget on the front page, after having to wait for  budget clearance; they rely in the power of the community, that they consider as their peers; they value the stories that mainstream media doesn’t care about, and can’t care about, because of the relevance for their reader’s universe and lack of staff; and they don’t have any problems in confronting the established powers, because the community’s problem are their problems too.

Hyperlocal is here to stay, and if you doubt that, just take a look at the map of hyperlocal websites in the UK, and see what others are doing. There’s a lot to be learned from there. I know I learned a lot from ours.

One thought on “Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – part 3”

  1. We’ve talked about this so obviously I’m in complete agreement. We should be proud of what we turned round in a relatively short time period. You should also take credit for a very whizzy WordPress site which was a joy to work with too.

    We could have taken the multimedia aspect further – I suspect that this will happen more this term but we also need to realise that there needs to be more action planning to work to our strengths collaboratively. We’re a multiskilled bunch and we need to bring out the best in each other.

    I’d also be interested to know what you think about us taking more of an overview of hyperlocal Birmingham. Wasn’t that one of the initial ideas of the site? We see what a larger Birmingham community is talking about and we use our skills to better represent them and develop the debate. This isn’t ‘churnalism’ but enhancement.

    Roll on Semester 2 and “we need to talk” 😉

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