Hyperlocal Voices Revisited: Ray Duffill, Hedon Blog

Cross-post, originally published on Online Journalism Blog.

Ray Duffill originally took part in our Hyperlocal Voices series in November 2010. Still going strong three years later, Damian Radcliffe took the opportunity to see what’s changed during that time in this particular patch of East Yorkshire. (Photo credit: Neil Holmes via Flickr)

1. What’s been the biggest change to the site in the last 3 years?

The Hedon Blog has had an annual facelift and theme change each year of its existence, but the last theme change concentrated on highlighting news content (with more photos and visual impact), rather than being just about listing links to useful information.

So the latest theme has only one side bar, more featured images and a featured news slider.

The biggest change is the success of the blog’s adopted parent site HU12 Online which has allowed us to develop a news service for the villages surrounding the town of Hedon.

Comments are a lot more visible on the blog too, reflecting a general increase in those during the year.

2. What sort of traffic do you now get and how has that changed?

Whilst not taking them too seriously, the blog has passed certain milestones this year i.e. half a million views, first time with over 2,500 views in one day (satisfying because in our first month of existence in Feb 2009 the blog got just 251 views), and the biggest hits to date on a particular article with over 4,000 on Hedon – Scene of Bomb Scare.

For two months of this year views went over 25,000.

However, I don’t take WordPress.com statistics too seriously, and still measure my own success by how much articles and issues are being talked about in the locality, on the blog, and on the site’s social media networks.

3. Have you seen any changes in the way that audiences interact with you?

Audience interaction has changed over the last two years – for a period the ‘success’ of the blog’s Facebook Page seemed to lead to less comments on the blog itself; an article on the blog is posted to Facebook and the discussions around it took place there rather than on the blog, probably because people felt more comfortable on Facebook.

However, in recent months this trend seems to be reversing, with a deeper and broader discussion on issues taking place on the blog – perhaps more people now feel that the blog is a safe and comfortable place to engage?

The ‘official’ audience has how increased too – I get more press releases sent to me from public, private and voluntary sector groups by e-mail, than I get sent by local community groups and activists.

Most of the input to the blog in the early days used to come from the people I bumped into and the posters I discovered while on my ‘Blog Beat’ – now it’s a myriad of sources including e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

However, I continue to do the daily (mostly) blog beat of my patch and am still discovering new issues, stories and contacts that way.

4. How would you describe your relationship with the traditional media in the area?

I have developed a very close association with the Holderness Gazette weekly newspaper and from November 2012 have become their Hedon correspondent.

I submit material and photographs on a weekly basis and receive payment for these plus a retainer for providing the service.

I have a relationship informally agreed with the local Hull Daily Mail that involves them using blog material as filler items in their publication.

The payback for blog readers is that they know that by sending stuff to the blog it is quite likely to appear in the Gazette, but will also be picked up by the Mail.

It is clear that local media pick up lots of items via the blog and then run with them to create their own news stories.

I do not consider other media as competitive or threatening in any way.

5. What new blogs, bloggers or websites have you seen which you think are doing this stuff well?

The site I admire locally is HU17.net, all about Beverley. Paul Smith is a wonderful photographer and website designer. He also seems to have cracked the issue of income generation! From a local media point of view, Paul is ‘Mr Beverley’!

I also like ‘On the Wight‘ Isle of Wight News – I’ve had the added advantage of being able to follow their development story through the annual Talk About Local Unconference events.

Talk About Local are a gateway to lots of hyperlocal websites that genuinely excite and inspire me, although making time to network with other groups proves difficult.

6. What story, feature or series are you most proud of over the past couple of years?

In June this year Hedon experienced a bomb scare. I was the first media outlet on the scene, and whilst I couldn’t blog about it instantly (lack of kit), I could tweet the images of the police cordon and interview the locals helping out on the scene and photograph the events as they unfolded – almost felt like a journalist for a moment or two!

The events which really built the Hedon Blog audience however, and probably helped turn it from a by-stander website, into an influential one, was the ‘Hedon Pong’ campaign of 2011.

In short this involved the blog taking part in a community campaign against a smelly sewage works in the vicinity of the town.

The website hosted the campaign petition and published a ‘wall of shame’ highlighting people’s reactions to the foul odours polluting the local area. It covered the campaign story from beginning to end.

The campaign was successful leading to the water company concerned investing heavily into odour control (£3.5m), and also providing a £50,000 community grants fund by way of compensation. As a result of this campaign the Hedon Blog was much more widely known and respected.

7. What is currently your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge facing the Hedon Blog is simple survival.

The website was managed on pure passion and fresh air in its first three years – in the last 18 months I’ve survived on the pulling together of some meagre resources generated through advertising, fees for stories and photos sold, and working tax credits.

The challenge was and remains the garnering together of enough resources and people to be able to – not only continue, but – do much more.

8. What are your plans for the future?

A longstanding aim is to create a ‘Hedon Local News Hub’ that can formally recognise and support local news-gathering and news-sharing, and offer training and resources to those interested in becoming ‘beat bloggers’ or citizen-journalists – with the overall aim of creating a really positive press all about the town and its surrounding villages.

A step towards all of this will be creating a ‘Friends of….’ group with a constitution that is geared towards and able to access grant funding.

9. What one thing would most help you to move successfully to the next phase of the site’s development?

The ‘employment’ of a salesperson who understands hyperlocal and can sell advertising space on HU12 Online just might be that ‘one big thing’!

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