Hyperlocal Voices: Annemarie Flanagan, Editor of EalingToday.co.uk.

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Cross post from the Online Journalism Blog.

1. Who were the people behind the site?

EalingToday.co.uk has a long history that pre-dates my arrival. It was originally called Lammas.com but the owner of that site went into partnership with Tony Steele and Sean Kelly who are the people behind Neighbour Net. I took over the site in 2009 and Neighbour Net still provide me with technical and back office support. I became its editor because I was passionate about the area I lived in, loved writing about it and it was flexible enough to fit alongside the rest of my freelance writing work.

2. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The most important influence on my work comes from the other sites in the Neighbour Net network like ChiswickW4.com and PutneySW15.com. We share stories and leads plus tips on what people are responding to most.

3. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

I’m a trained journalist and run the website as a local news and information service, much like any other traditional news operation. The only difference being I don’t have an ‘official’ team of reporters.

I regard the whole community as my team and facilitate and edit material – much of which originates from them.Coming from a traditional newsroom background (I’m a former BBC radio and television producer) and working as a freelance journalist I am used to dealing with all sorts of news stories and have legal knowledge and years of journalistic experience to deal with this.

As EalingToday.co.uk is a live website and not constrained to any print run, news can be verified, written and uploaded instantly so breaking stories appear here first.

4. What have been the key moments in the site’s development editorially?

The summer riots in Ealing (August 2011) were a key point in the site’s development. When the story broke tens of thousands of people flocked to Ealing Today to find out the very latest information. Ealing Today became a crucial service both during the incident and for a long time afterwards.

There was a huge amount of news produced by the community following the event – e.g. the clean-up operation, charity fundraising events, traders stories, plus all the political fall-out. The coverage gave the site credibility as a legitimate local news operation.

5. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Traffic has increased massively. My weekly newsletter now has over 5,000 subscribers and we get 20,000 unique visitors a month.

The riots introduced many more people to the site who weren’t aware of it previously. Now when there is any sort of local incident there is a huge spike in traffic. People come to Ealing Today immediately something has happened in the area as they expect to (and will) find out more.

6. What has been your biggest challenge to date?

The increased importance of breaking news makes things harder for smaller news organisations like ours. The riots were one example. In this case social media was used to its best advantage. Having legitimate and trustworthy sources who were witnessing the events unfold first-hand meant I was involved online. I understood immediately the magnitude of what was happening and retweeted the information/witness accounts to Ealing Today followers.This gave a sense of being a part of what was happening.

7. What story, feature or series are you most proud of?

It has to be back to the riot coverage again. There were many comments emailed from the Council and members of the community thanking me for the extensive coverage provided by Ealing Today.

I’m also proud of the relationships I have developed with community groups and charities.

I was very happy to cover the first Ealing Half-Marathon from start to finish last year. I took part myself and produced a series of personal accounts of the trials and tribulations of marathon training for the non-runner which received very positive feedback. The support and coverage we gave last year has meant Ealing Today will be an official media supporter of the 2013 Ealing Half Marathon.

8. What are your plans for the future?

I would like to continue developing the service that is provided. Community engagement is crucial and I am building a small team of reliable locals (some former journalists) who can help on the ground when breaking news happens. I want more people to be aware of Ealing Today and to contribute. Stuart who does sales for the site has been really successful in getting revenue to grow along with traffic so we are confident of more resources being available in the future.

The site exists for the community and the more people involved the better.

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