Making a community newspaper: our story

January 9th, 2014 by Jerome Turner in Hyperlocal | no comments

We’ve talked before about our recent ‘printervention’ co-creation within the hyperlocal media strand of our project. It’s now worth describing what happened in the Cannock part of this work at least – we’ll come back to Tyburn later.

Our work to date in Cannock had noted that Connect Cannock were making attempts to reach out to citizens, and have them participate in their blog/Facebook/Twitter activity, but not always with the success they’d like, or at least it wasn’t evident from those social networks. Citizens, whether a part of their audience or not, are aware of the lack of local news, especially given the removal of the Chase Post newspaper two years ago. So we wanted to (co)create a newspaper version of Connect Cannock, to make their work more visible, and also explore the potential for citizens to participate. Part of that work involved slightly re-engineering a photowalk activity that ConnectCannock already do in the town, to ask questions about local issues. The next step was to create the newspaper.

Creating Content
Connect Cannock had talked about a previous desire to make a newspaper, but I don’t think any of us realised the effort it would take to get it off the ground. The idea of creating a print product is often fetishised in online hyperlocal media, not just for the perception that it will help reach new audiences and engage, but also because it’s very much a ‘product’ – something you can hold (and I was as guilty of that as anyone, when our paper came in the post).

We assumed that various existing Connect Cannock stories could be repurposed for the paper. In the end, there was a lot more new content created than expected. Stories had to be timely, so that they’d still be relevant by our print date. They needed to speak to the area that Connect Cannock cover. They often needed illustration, or clearance of permissions to use various images. Captioning of photos needed to be accurate, as did any quoting. These were all practices that Connect Cannock were used to in their own work, but the print aspect needed to be right from the outset – you can’t edit or tweak a printed page like you can a WordPress blog post. And the act of putting a paper together, to a deadline, forced Connect Cannock in building some new relationships and potential ongoing contributions from the community.

Design and Layout
We used the service to print up the paper, but actually laid it all out in inDesign rather than their online method, for the flexibility that gave us. We started with a five-column grid on each page, and set text on a baseline grid. This helped the pages to hold together, even when several stories appeared in one layout. I consciously looked at local and national papers, as we wanted to ape newspaper norms e.g. font types, terminology, breakout sections, page numbering, an editorial introduction section, contact information, etc. It felt like there was a lot riding on this one opportunity to make Connect Cannock known to a wider Cannock audience, so it had to feel like a trustworthy product, in order to draw people to the site and get them interested in participating.

Butcher in Cannock with paperDistribution
We had considered finding a company to distribute the newspapers, letting them know what kind of sites to target, rather than delivering directly to homes. In the end, we took on this job ourselves, and it proved far more rewarding, and useful as a research activity. We targeted nail bars, cafes, restaurants, chippies, charity shops, newsagents and council sites – those public ‘third spaces’ aside of home and work that Oldenburg identifies as key to community discussion and networking.

We dropped anything between five and twenty newspapers with each location, with no prior warning. We anticipated some places might be reticent to take on a newspaper that they’d never seen before, but with the exception of one shop they all seemed happy enough and interested. It might be too much to assume that they celebrated the idea of a new local paper (especially as we told them this would be a one-off), but there was definitely a sense from people we met in the streets, and the frenzied interest on Facebook, that a new paper like this would be welcome. As such, a second issue hasn’t been entirely ruled out.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see the paper online, you can do so here.



Leave a Reply