Ask Five: Hyperlocal blogger James Clarke of WV11.co.uk

April 26th, 2013 by Jerome Turner in Ask Five Hyperlocal | no comments

James ClarkeHere is the start of a new series of posts featuring interviews with ‘creative citizens’. Each consists of five questions, and ends with the interviewee’s nomination for the next interview and five questions to ask them, hopefully continuing in a chain reaction. To get the ball rolling, I’ve sent my initial questions to James Clarke of hyperlocal blog WV11.co.uk. He’s someone I know personally as I live in his catchment area of Wednesfield, and have sometimes contributed to the site myself, but I also guessed rightly that he would be forthright in answering our questions.

1. Can you tell us a little about what you do, your website WV11.co.uk?

WV11 was set up in July 2009 by myself and my girlfriend Steph. It’s a website which covers news and events in the area of Wednesfield, Wolverhampton (WV11 is our postcode). We focus on anything of community interest and started the site to promote the things going on in the local area that don’t get covered in larger, traditional media, such as the local newspaper. We also wanted to do something to reflect the great sense of community there is in the area.

We have a WordPress website, a very popular Facebook page (with almost 5,000 likes) and use other social media sites such as Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Foursquare etc. to share local news and events.

2. What advice would you give someone who was thinking of starting a hyperlocal news site?

Firstly, make local links and become active within your community. I think this is the key to not only a successful hyperlocal site (I measure ‘success’ by people visiting the site and ultimately becoming more informed / involved in their community), but also the key to making it sustainable (and enjoyable!).

Getting started can be hard work and keeping things going is even harder, but the more local links you build with community groups, Councillors, Police officers, community development staff etc. then the more you will find people come to you with content – this saves hours trying to find things out.

By getting involved with community / voluntary groups you can also build links with the people who take part in these (and who are usually pretty well informed on what is happening locally) and you can build trust – if people know and trust you as the person/people behind the website, they are more likely to trust the content you are posting and send you stories / events etc.

Secondly, don’t try and make a living doing this! Making money from hyperlocal is very hard at the moment and I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone try and make a living doing this. So be prepared for lots of late nights, writing and scheduling posts around your day job (if you have one). And don’t worry if for the first 18 months it seems like no one is reading / commenting – this will come with time.

Sure, you can stick ads on the site and this might lead to enough money to cover your hosting costs and domain renewal fees, but unless you’ve got hours to spend trying to sell ads and then manage advertisers, making money is very hard.

Thirdly, use the internet to find things to cover. Set up Google Alerts, Twitter searches, use an RSS Reader, sign up to email newsletters, planning alerts etc….anything and everything local. The more sources you have info coming IN from, the easier it is to get content OUT.

Finally, Go Social! Our WordPress site is great for hosting our content – it’s easy to update and searchable by anyone, but 99% of engagement with local people takes place on our Facebook page and Twitter – we get way more comments, likes and tips on news & events here then through the website itself. (Although email is also a popular way of contacting us).

3. If you weren’t doing the WV11.co.uk site what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’m not sure…I have a full time job, play in a band and take part in several voluntary groups, so it’s not as if I’d be bored! I’d like to think that I’d be involved in volunteering, but to be honest most of the groups I’m involved in have come about because due to links I’ve made whilst running the website – they’ve become entwined. If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably spend more time at the pub, so perhaps hyperlocal has health benefits?!

4. Do you think as a result of running this site that you’ve changed as a person? If so, how?

Yes. As I mentioned, I’ve become a lot more involved in my local community and a lot more interested in local issues. I’ve also met some really great people (and some not so great!) from different walks of life that I’d not have met if I didn’t run the website. How many people can count an 84 year old iPad wielding lady as one of their good friends? I think this has made me more appreciative of the upbringing I had (and my subsequent outlook on life) and I’ve become more considerate and empathetic.

I’m also more informed, not only about what’s happening locally, but about how local government works. I’ve learned a lot from many different people – a lot of which would never have happened had I been doing something else.

5. What do you understand by the term ‘creativecitizen’? Are you one?

I see a creative citizen as someone who does something, in fact anything, vaguely creative in their community. This could be someone writing for a hyperlocal site, or someone running a neighbourhood watch group. It’s not someone that is creating something specific such as type of media, but someone who is actively putting something into their community because they want to, not because they’re being paid to. I prefer the term ‘active citizen’. I definitely consider myself to be one of those.

And finally, given that our site is about ‘Media, Community and the Creative Citizen’, who do you think we should talk to next, and what 5 questions have you got for them?

I think you should talk to Brownhills Bob, as he’s a solo blogger, blogging about the issues he has interest in / problems with. He’s a one man band and fiercely independent, plus he’s deliberately anonymous, unlike most ‘hyperlocal’ bloggers….I’m not sure he’d even consider himself one of those. He’s definitely a creative citizen though.

Here are my questions, sorry there’s only four!

1. Does he consider himself a hyperlocal blogger / creative citizen?

2. Why does he choose to blog anonymously and does he feel the tone of his blog would be different if people knew who he was?

3. Does he think readers like the fact he’s one person and writing opinion pieces, as opposed to say a blog written by a group of people and from a more unbiased / less opinionated angle?

4. Do you think the future of local history is individuals documenting the places they live online, as opposed to more traditional methods such as local history centres etc.?

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