When hyperlocal met the BBC

Hyperlocal bloggers meet the BBC at The Mailbox in Birmingham

I went along to the meet-up at the BBC’s West Midlands HQ in The Mailbox, Birmingham, last night.

Organised by Nick Booth from Podnosh, who’s been doing a lot of work with helping the Beeb to engage with hyperlocal websites, it was a chance for bloggers to chat to producers, reporters and managers from the BBC.

It shows how far the hyperlocal movement has come – and how much the BBC wants to engage – that such an event has come about. So a big thank you to Nick for making this happen. It also says great things about the hyperlocal community here in the West Midlands.

The event followed the unconference format, with people suggesting topics or areas they wanted to discuss. There was a pretty wide range of stuff. I suggested a chat about how the BBC could credit hyperlocal sites if they used their stories – and it turned into a really interesting debate.

I’d been pretty miffed a few days before the meet-up about one of my stories on A Little Bit of Stone being picked up by a BBC Radio Stoke reporter. I felt they should at least have let me know they’d done this or acknowledged my site in some way (more of which later).

The producer of The Politics Show (sorry, I can’t remember his name) made the point that hyperlocal bloggers are now the layer of local, on-the-ground reporters that the traditional media used to have.

I think this is certainly the case. But if that’s so, and the BBC and local newspapers are using this layer of reporting to bolster and add to their coverage, or simply to monitor what’s going on in their patch, there has to be some form of recognition and credit. Doesn’t there? Hyperlocals are doing great things in their communities. But if all they are to the traditional media is a big pond in which they can dip, that doesn’t seem right.

He asked where the chain of credit should end. If, for instance, a reporter picked up on an interesting story or topic from the Telegraph, should that be credited in their story? It’s an interesting point. My response was that different rules should apply to those volunteers who spend their own time reporting local news.

The point was also made about when a hyperlocal site becomes ‘competition’. The Politics Show producer positively bristled when talking about Pits n Pots and Six Towns Radio in Stoke-on-Trent, which has attracted a huge audience with its no-nonsense coverage of local issues in a very challenging political environment (it was a shame that Mike Rawlins from Pits n Pots was sat at another table having a different debate. I hope they managed to have a chat!).

The traditional journalist’s instinct is always about exclusives and beating the competition – and rightly so. But when hyperlocals get a bit too big for their boots, I don’t think the BBC – or any traditional media – will be too keen on crediting or acknowledging them.

Laura Ellis, the head of new media for the English regions, said that BBC reporters who used hyperlocal stories as the basis for their own reports should be acknowledging this. She made the great point that reporters could perhaps make a comment on the original story on the hyperlocal site.

I think this is a really good point. As a matter of courtesy, a reporter – in my opinion – should get in touch if they’re using one of my stories. The local newspapers in my area are pretty good at this. David Elks at The Sentinel always lets me know if he’s passed something on to the newsdesk. Another weekly paper has used my photographs, but always with a credit. My experience of local BBC reporters is that it doesn’t happen.

The point was made several times that it’s all about relationships. But it’s hardly a good start to a relationship if a local BBC reporter takes a story from my site with no contact, no acknowledgement and no courtesy.

I hope this will change. And I’ll certainly be trying to meet up with the local BBC reporter in my area to build more of a relationship. Someone from Shropshire Live (I really am rubbish at remembering names) talked about the great relationship they have with BBC Shropshire. He knows many of the reporters and producers from his time in local radio and the relationship sounded incredibly productive.

Philip John from The Lichfield Blog also spoke about the Birmingham Mail’s reciprocal arrangement with hyperlocal blogs, a model that the BBC could do well to explore and replicate.

So, were there any breakthroughs or positives in the debate? It was pretty clear that this is the start of the conversation but it was very pleasing that the BBC in the West Midlands is reaching out and engaging.

Laura Ellis suggested that the BBC, when covering a story online, could approach hyperlocal bloggers in the area – especially if it’s a big story – to add another level of local detail and coverage. It was acknowledged that hyperlocal sites have a tremendous amount of engagement with their communities, a two-way dialogue that traditional media just can’t reach any more. It will be interesting to see if this idea develops.

Another suggestion from Laura was the BBC’s links to external news providers. BBC online for the regions is now part of the news operation and all the regional sites, like Stoke & Staffordshire, have links to other media in the area – surely hyperlocal sites could and should be listed here?

Hyperlocals should be approaching the regional sites and asking to be included. There’s a contact email address at the top of each list. I mailed last week to see if A Little Bit of Stone could be included – still waiting to hear back.

Another new feature of the new regional news site is this…

… an aggregator of local stories from other sources, using Moreover. It sounds like the Beeb are having a few problems with this, mainly because of advertisements slipping through, but it’s another way that hyperlocals could be included in the BBC news machine.

So, all in all, a fascinating, thought-provoking and much-needed discussion. Lessons were learned on both sides. Let’s see what happens next…


10 responses to “When hyperlocal met the BBC

  1. Excellent points and an excellent post.

    Had the uniquely depressing experience last week of listening to a senior newspaper executive from The Scotsman dismiss hyperlocal sites and blogs out of hand.

    What they fail to realise – and that others clearly do – is that such sites are part of the news landscape. The motivation may not be financial. But in the old days it was never financial for local newspaper contributors to type out their WI meeting notes and send them in.

    It’s just those people that are now turning to digital. But they could become a virtual contributor if newspapers are prepared to acknowledge where their sources come from.

    But often newspapers just won’t…

    • Thanks Dan! I remember your tweets from that event – unbelievable. You’re spot on that hyperlocals are now part of the media landscape. It’s in inescapable fact. Credit to the BBC in the West Midlands (and to Nick Booth) for addressing this fact and seeing how we should be bouncing off each other. As I say, it’s the start of a pretty big conversation

  2. Thanks Jamie, a really interesting report.
    The proof of the pudding will be in the eating – i.e. what happens on the ground and I haven’t seen much evidence of goodwill in North Staffordshire so far!
    The BBC should look on hyperlocal radio, such as 6towns, as a training ground. People like Matt Tilt who are broadcasting while on a unoversity journalism course are learning the fundamentals at 6 towns and could be the BBC presenters of the future.
    As an old hack, I really appreciate what hyperlocal sites are doing – the exact same job as grass roots weekly newspapers performed before cutbacks.

    • Hello you old hack you!! You make a really good point about the BBC using hyperlocal activity as a possible training ground. I know we’ve spoken about this before. Has Matt got in touch with Radio Stoke???

  3. You’ve made some good points, my biggest gripe about the local paper is their lack of acknowledgement when it comes to using our content. We never fail to attribute them if we’ve used their stories but it is never reciprocated . we’re not competition for them, out remits are completely different yet they refuse to acknowledge our existence.

    It’s a shame I missed this meet up but in true hyperlocal volunteer style I was otherwise engaged – at my son’s parents evening!

  4. Bang on. I’m fed up of the coincidences between my content appearing one evening, and the same subject covered next day in the local paper. Happened last night – I covered the planning app for a closed pub’s redevelopment, next evening front page local paper, with no added content. Coincidence? I think not.
    Only one of the journalists I’ve had contact with from the paper has ever treated me or the online local community with respect, and credited our input.
    One journo even commented on my blog in the early days that I should be grateful, as if it were my dearest wish to be ripped off by employees doing their job on the cheap.
    It wouldn’t be so bad if these professionals – after all, they’re paid for what they do, I’m not – bothered to get their facts straight. They don’t. A good example was the branding of my sleepy, suburban town ‘Gun capital of the West Midlands’ because a staffer couldn’t understand the stats on a FOI request she’d made. No apology was forthcoming, even when the ludicrous assertion was blown out of the water.

    In the end, like all of us, I’m just stringing stuff together for my community. I don’t want anything in return, but if other stuff finds my stuff usefull, just link back. I always credit the sources I use, and drive them traffic.

    Rant over


  5. Gak! Proofreading. I meant ‘but if other outlets find my stuff useful’…

  6. Pingback: BBC local news - time for something completely different? A co-operative model? | Talk About Local

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