It’s been a strange old weekend as a hyperlocal blogger.
I spent Saturday at the excellent UKGovCamp at Microsoft HQ in London, an amazing gathering of central gov / local gov heroes who are all trying to make things better using new technology.But as often happens as a hyperlocal blogger, the world of the blog often intrudes into every other facet of your life, including the day job.
I started getting texts, tweets, emails and Facebook messages at about lunchtime telling me that, apparently, a body had been found on a supermarket car park in the town.To be honest, I was way too busy squeezing every drop out of the event to even consider attempting to post anything on A Little Bit Of Stone. As tempting as it was, I didn’t want to be calling police voicebanks or out-of-hours ambulance service press officers. So I let it go.
Throughout the day, however, and on the train home that night, the communication didn’t stop about the happenings in my home town. As is always the case, the rumour mill was turning wildly – drugs, gangs from a nearby town, big fight at a nearby churchyard etc etc etc
What was most disconcerting and worrying was the fact there was nothing online about what had happened. Nothing on the emergency service websites, nothing on any of the local newspapers’ sites, nothing on the Beeb. A total silence. Which was increasingly being filled by speculation and rumour on Facebook and by word of mouth.
By the Sunday morning, dozens and dozens of people had already been searching on the site using such terms as ‘murder’ and ‘body found’. A call to the ambulance service out-of-hours press officer and a quick call to the police automated newsline gave me enough information to post this at 10.30am this morning. As I type this – almost 12 hours later at 10.15pm – more than 600 people have read that post. There are 14,000 people living in Stone.
What have I learned from this? And why am I feeling so angry?
Firstly, it has made me even more committed to A Little Bit Of Stone and the gap that it can fill in a town like Stone.The police newsline message was posted just after noon on Saturday – why there’s nothing online about the incident apart from my blog just beggars belief. Shrinking workforces at local papers means that incidents like this on a weekend just slip through the net until Monday morning.
A real information and communication vacuum was created this weekend. Information was provided by the emergency services but this was not taken up by the traditional media and their online platforms. And the emergency services’ communications teams were obviously unable to get anything out online to reassure the community here in Stone.
All of this just isn’t good enough.