Hyperlocal Voices: Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson, Blog Preston

Archive interview first published July 2, 2012 for Online Journalism Blog.

For the third in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head North to the city of Preston in Lancashire, UK. Damian Radcliffe spoke to Blog Preston‘s Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson about some of the lessons they have learned over the last three and a half years.

1.  Who were the people behind the blog?

Ed: There’s me, Ed, who used to live in Preston but now lives in London – studied and lived in Preston for five years. Plus Ryan Owen Gibson who is Preston born and bred, he’s co-editor. James Duffell a local web developer and designer is the technical brains behind the site. We’ve recently said goodbye to co-editor Joseph Stashko who was studying at the University of Central Lancashire but will be departing Preston soon after joining Blog Preston in April 2010. We also had co-editor Andy Halls on board from April 2010 to May 2011 before he joined The Sun. We also have some excellent guest contributors including Holly Sutton, Paul Swarbrick, Lisa McManus Paul Melling and many others!

2.  What made you decide to set up the blog?

It was a cold January afternoon in 2009, the Preston Citizen (weekly free newspaper for the city) had recently shut down and there was a chance to create something new.

3.  When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

Ed: Sunday 11th January 2009, started out as a wordpress.com blog to test the water and after a couple of months I recruited the help of James Duffell and he made an ace site and helped me move it to a proper domain. Just started posting local news and events, and build it up from there – lots of Freedom of Information requests, local photos, events coverage and nostalgia.

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

Ed: I saw the St Albans Blog, and thought, hey, this could happen here.

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

Ryan: I don’t think Blog Preston can compete with a traditional news operation, and I don’t think we would want to. What makes a hyperlocal blog such as ours so great is that we have the freedom, both editorially and strategically, to change our course very quickly. This means we that can adapt to our readership much faster than a traditional news operation can. I also like to think we listen to our readers more, and we try to engage with them through social media channels and on the blog itself.

6.  What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Ed: May 2010 – we covered the general election and we’ll touch on why that was so important. July 2009 was a big moment, we moved to a hosted solution with a proper domain and really started to accelerate the amount of content going on the site. 2011 was big as we teamed up with NESTA to train community reporters and we recruited a lot of guest contributors, plus Ryan came onboard and has really excelled at live event coverage.

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

Ed: We now average around 10,000 unique visitors a month, with 24,000 page impressions. In October 2010 the site was averaging 10,000 page impressions a month and 4,000 unique visitors.

8.  What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Ed: Just keeping the momentum going, it’s easy to set a site up but when you move away from an area it’s a tough decision, do you shut the site or down to try to keep it going? Fortuntely there’s a great team of people who have stuck their hand up and got involved, and well, we’re still producing great community news for Preston.

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

Ryan: Blog Preston has been lucky enough to break a number of stories that weren’t being picked up by the mainstream media at the time, such as an announcement that the BBC would be coming to Preston to film a series of short dramas, dubbed the Preston Passion, as part of its Easter output.

…I think the live coverage of the May 2010 electionsreally defines what we are about. The mechanics of that series was very simple – it was just a team of guys with a laptop and a mobile phone each, but the level of coverage they managed to achieve went above and beyond what any of the other news operations were doing at the time.

We were the first to interview Preston MP Mark Hendrick after his re-election.

Perhaps this was the moment that people began to take us seriously.

10. What are your plans for the future?

Ryan: 2012 is very important for Preston due to its unique significance as a Guild year, which is only celebrated once every twenty years. So editorially, we are being kept busy covering local events and breaking new stories.

We are also working closely with a number of organisations to collaborate and increase our readership through joint ventures. We are in talks with lots of important people, which is exciting. Our main aim going forward is to grow the editorial team, to put us in a position where we can call on some of the best local writers and reporters to deliver the best content for Blog Preston readers.

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