General Election 2015: Learning from hyperlocal sites across the UK

parliament

Last week, I blogged that the General Election seemed to be the moment the regional press came of age online, such was the confidence, ability and familiarity demonstrated by many newsrooms online.

And if a five-year gap between elections creates a good check point for the regional press, the same too can be said for hyperlocal journalism.

There are many reasons why people embark on hyperlocal websites, with many relying on volunteers propelled by a sense of social and community commitment to keep going. Damian Radcliffe, writing on the Online Journalism Blog, made the point that there remains a degree of snobbery in ‘mainstream journalism’ towards hyperlocal journalism. If that is the case (and I suspect there continues to be an element of that), then hopefully this post might help towards conquering that.

Because many hyperlocal websites had a very good general election, and here are 10 ideas for journalists elsewhere to consider:

Tone

As any social media editor will tell you, writing in a conversational style is essential if you want to generate engagement. But writing styles within articles on mainstream media sites have moved little from wherever that publication has its offline roots. To that end, this article on Brixton Buzz oozes personality and a deep understanding of local issues yet feels impartial all the same too.

Humour

This article on Twickerati, a site covering Twickenham, is one of the more amusing pieces I’ve seen written. Amusing, but in no way offensive or snide. Of course, a site which sets itself up to report an area in an off-beat manner, can do this without having to cover everything you would perhaps expect of a more formal news site, but I think it’s still a demonstration of the fact that humour can be added to a conversational style to help give a site a bit more personality.

More than just a round-up

Various sites stood out for the way they offered up multiple stories from both general election and local election counts. Why does this matter? Volume counts to users interested in a subject matter, and that’s where sites such as Lichfield Live led the way. Articles dealing with one issue each, such as Labour insisting they’ve not lost their fight, what one Tory thought was the key to success and a defeated parliamentary candidate talking at length about his pride in defeat all stand up as strong individual lines which would otherwise be lost in the traditional one count, one story approach used by mainstream media.

Inside Croydon provided another such example, which pushes what I’m trying to say even further.

Knowing me, knowing you

A number of sites had interesting approaches to candidate profiles. Bournville Village, for example, opted for a detailed q and a format among candidates, posted in their entirety without comment or context. Alderleyedge.com offered a platform for a speech-style article from candidates while A Little Bit of Stone did both – with the questions focusing on issues relevant to the party being quizzed.

Silence is golden reported

A nice touch from The Richmond Noticeboard which, when trying to put together candidate profiles, didn’t get a response from the Tory candidate, who was standing in place of the departing William Hague. The Richmond Noticeboard published this lack of response, and hey presto, a response appeared soon afterwards. An early warning that this site expects its future MP to be held to account.

Hear my voice…

A number of regional news sites used Audioboom or similar audio tools to record events relating to the elections. Proof that putting in the ground word to speak to every candidate can pay off after the election can be found on The Edinburgh Reporter, which was able to add audioboom interviews with every Westminster election winner in Edinburgh on the night. I like the way it is billed as ‘getting to know’ the new MPs. Another example of cutting beneath the national political story occurring locally to stand out from the crowd.

Create your own data

I love this idea from the Hackney Citizen: Combining the results from two constituencies to give a view of how the entire area voted. I like it because constituencies often confound local community logic, so adding all the votes together to give a view of a whole area is a simple, but clever, idea.

Delving into the facts through multimedia

On The Wight, a hyperlocal site covering the Isle of Wight, had one of the more entertaining election campaigns, with divisions within the Conservative Party and a controversial candidate to boot. In those circumstances, presenting the facts can sometimes get lost in the political narrative. This article stood out for me because of the way the site used various multimedia tools – live streaming video and off-the-shelf graphics from infogr.am to set out exactly what happened, along with straight to the point paragraphs. Facts, rather than commentary.

Reporting others … and sharing your data

I may not necessarily agree with some of what is written in the article, but I did like the way Wrexham.com reported on how other media covered election counts within its area. Not just the traditional media, but other hyperlocal sites and a clever Twitter blogger too. It’s worth reading to the end to see Wrexham.com include itself in the scrutiny, by providing audience data on things such as the live stream it had from a count.

Name that ward

Council wards couldn’t be more obscurely named if council officials across the country had set out to make them impossible to identify – which, I suspect, may sometimes be the case. Maybe it’s easier for hyperlocal sites to cover politics on a ward-by-ward basis more effectively than regional media, but that doesn’t escape the fact that life is increasingly local, and regional brands need to find a way of becoming more local. This idea from SE1 – a London hyperlocal site – of explaining where a council ward is, including a clever Google Map, is a tip worth remembering.

The audioboom recording to a council ward acceptance speech is a nice touch too.

Name that councillor

Giving every local election candidate the chance to pitch for votes might sound like an administrative nightmare, but maybe it’s made a little easier when you have a smaller area to cover. Even so, A Little Bit of Stone’s candidate interviews for the local elections deserve attention from mainstream media organisations.

Remember the comments!

This article on The Hedon Blog gives a quick summary of events involving Hedon Town Council – so the third tier of local politics in some ways, but also the most local. But look at the comments – and the fact people are clearly talking to the author, Ray. This where all journalists should aim to be.

Remembering the quirky

Back in Stone, a guide to polling stations was a quirky article as it focused on the unusual places people are asked to vote in.

3 comments

  1. One extra note for our coverage – we did a blind set of Q&A’s with all Wrexham candidates on video – plus some fun sky sports style vines to promote them infront of a green screen. We also did a written Q&A with another constituency that comes into Wrexham too.

    We also enabled the only video of a hustings, plus the full coverage from the count which included pre-interviews, reaction interviews and some great shots of ballot boxes being ‘run in’.

    Full details of the interviews and hustings are here: http://www.wrexham.com/elections/general-election-2015/wrexham-com-general-election-coverage-2015-93475.html

    The video from the count and live blog is at the following link, including direct links to the relevant points in the several hour video file: http://www.wrexham.com/news/wrexham-com-live-from-the-general-election-count-93751.html

    In terms of local media I would invite people to compare and contrast the coverage against those with much larger resources🙂

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