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Live blog: Innovation at a hyperlocal with Joseph Stashko and Andy Halls

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Joseph Stashko and Andy Halls were inspired by Josh Halliday‘s work with the SR2 hyperlocal blog when they started off with a blog called My Preston, and then took over Blog Preston from Ed Walker.

They started out with the general election, live blogging, and got a great deal of acclaim. They then took the blog on.

They reached 10,000 visits a month, were making money from advertising and started experimenting.

Joseph explains how they covered an English Defence League protest which ended up being linked to by numerous news sites, followed the police and reached the EDL’s red list.

They focused on live reporting and Twitter.

Ed started off with a token Facebook page. It has a lot of conversation on it. Lots of people tweet and reshare our stuff.

We knew what looks best on a website and how video works. It’s not like television. It’s a very simple idea. Its  local beat reporting but online, giving it a few bells and whistles to make it look good.

Joseph starts to explain Foursquare. “It sounds a bit lame”.

I started up a Blog Preston page on Foursquare with all our restaurant reviews on it. It didn’t need extra work on our behalf.

It was a great way to bring content elsewhere. There are so many free tools, Soundcloud, Storify, Audioboo:

We try to find ways to use these tools rather than just for their own sake.

Andy was told off for tweeting from a council meeting.

All these councillors were saying ‘what you doing, what you doing’? Because of this hyperlocal bloggers have more rights.

They weren’t allowed to sit in the normal press area.

Carrying out readers’ surveys they found people really like the live coverage. They are also able to cover councils because they’re students they can go to meetings at noon.

They have had issues with the name Blog Preston because of the ‘blog’. Wikipedia moderators said they couldn’t be listed as local media, but people from the area came to their defence and said ‘we like Blog Preston’ we read it more than the local paper.

They hold workshops for people interested in getting their stories out into the world. It’s a funded year-long project.

Adam Oxford asks about readers surveys.

We know our readers are aged 30-40 and find us on Google.

Andy : We may be considered digital natives, but we look at what people are looking for. If it’s organic from search engines, or via Twitter and Facebook. We have more followers than the local paper. The click through rate on Facebook is really good.

We’re almost running the Facebook page as a page in itself. We host the local photography club’s pictures. We add the police blog, Preston North End etc. Bring people from around the area in.

We ask where does the reader get where they want to go? You may not get the traffic but you’ll get a loyal reader. They’ll see us as a good source.

We want to be a local news hub.

Joseph is looking at Data journalism. Finding data from numerous sources, police, council etc. and putting it out in the world for people to look at.

Joseph: Money is difficult. Big example is Lichfield Blog. They get a lot of traffic and have more resources. We have the luxury of being students. The advertising model doesn’t reap many rewards.

People say I should charge for social media advice, but that would make me feel dead inside.

Andy: When we introduced advertising we lost our pictures on the top.

Joseph: University praise us, and we know they could do a great job with a huge legal department of law students, a marketing department and lots of journalism students.

Andy: There are all these journalism students who could be going out to do their best. If you take 10 per cent that could be a bigger staff than many newspapers.

Now Andy has left Joseph to run it on his own.

Andy: Even though we get kudos from it and a CV boost, there are 300 journalists [at the university] who aren’t interested.

Joseph: There are only so many Friends repeats I can watch and the Apprentice has finished, so I do Blog Preston. We do more interesting things. Our classes are not innovative, it’s based on newsrooms from 20 years ago. You need to learn this but at least we’re experimenting a bit.

Kirk Ward asks about battling with the big business machine where you need to battle to get interest in new innovative tools.

You have to have someone who is interested. There are students not interested, just as local papers have someone to do it.

Andy: We’re not strung by having to make money and build an audience. We just enjoy it.

Joseph: Linking is really important. It’s a pay off, do you sacrifice traffic for engagement and loyalty, or do you see the long game and see yourself as a trusted source.

Kirk: You’re a web brand.

Joseph: Yes it doesn’t matter where they end up, but they come to you first.

Andy: Branding is important. I like to think we have achieved that with Blog Preston. A local visitor is as valuable as someone who reads 10 stories.

Greg Hadfield: Do other people at the university show interest in journalism? You’re at the heart of an institution paying £3,000 why not take it over? Use the student body as a resource, you can get between the institution and the audience.

Joseph: Yes, we’re syphoned off, The journalism department is separate. We’re cut off from the programmers and artists. I have to work hard to find them, it’s ridiculous. Some are in different buildings, but there’s no cross departmental contact.

It would be brilliant if a computer science lecturer would come in and teach us HTML.

You don’t need to do a journalism course to be a journalist. Other universities without courses have newspapers. We have a student body of 300 journalists who don’t seem interested in doing what we’re doing.

Andy: Look at student newspapers at Oxford and Cambridge, they have people from all courses writing for the papers. We ran the uni newspaper but it was all journalism students. But again it was the same seven of us doing the same thing.

Joseph: There are cross overs for every university subject. You get journalism students on a cookie cutter, all taught the same thing.

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Written by Sarah Booker Lewis

September 9, 2011 at 9:03 pm

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