PEOPLE often ask me where I got the idea for YourThurrock. There were a range of influences (you mean nicked ideas-Ed). Back in 1998, I was sitting in a hotel room in Cairns, Queensland. As I channel surfed, I came across a channel which seemed to consist of a couple of fellas going down Cairns main streets, with a camera and dropping in on pubs. They were funny and it worked. I didn’t want my site based on following drunks around (apart from Tattoo John!) but I thought the idea of a channel on TV dedicated to the town where you live, seemed a good idea.
Of course, the USA has embraced community or networked TV for decades. Again, on countless occasion while travelling in the US, I would tune into channels in New Orleans, Tuscon or New York and would think, “That could work in Thurrock”.
Back home, there was also YourKenttv, part of the Kent Messenger group but they appeared too corporate, e.g: They would run general news item on academy schools but it appeared they didn’t do the true grassroots stuff of school arts showcase etc that we have gone on to do.
Soon after Kent County Council came up with their own Kent Council TV, run by Sir Bob Geldof’s company Ten Alps. It worked well: Then again it should have done. According to an FOI it had start up costs of £1.2 million! The taxpayer called it a vanity project and once the recession bit deep, Kent Council TV was phased out.
So, buoyed also by advice from one of the best local news editors in the business, Neil Speight, we went ahead and launched in Sept 2008.
We are happy with our progress. We hit a peak of 75,000 page views per month recently. That, added to 1,000 views per day on youtube (800,000 in total) illustrates healthy viewing figures.
Our unique selling point as a local on-line newspaper is the amount of stories that are filmed. We have made over 3,000 since September 2008.
We also produce an avalanche of news.In our busiest week, we produced close to 100 news items in seven days. We never close and as many people attest, we are always about and about. We still have much to learn but you can’t fault us for our enthusiasm.
But are we a little old on-line newspaper plodding away or part of a new dawn of local news information?
We have kept an eye on recent government proposals for local TV stations.
We see every opportunity for a Thurrock TV. No, not the ten plasma screens dotted around the borough giving out community information that unfortunately has the sound turned down and no, not a parochial, dated station that ends up looking like Anglia TV circa 1977 but something funky fresh and vital.
It can serve the I-Pad generation but also the needs of those who want to know the basics: Are the buses running?, when are my bins going to be emptied etc. The point of such a station is that it would serve/inform the taxpayer.
Three years ago, the BBC wanted to roll out a video service where they made ten films per day in the county. They thought that was “hyperlocal” not realising that people in Harlow are not the least bit interested in the Stanford Festival and people in Chelmsford are not gripped by the Maldon festival but a “yellow button” service that gives you BBC Chelmsford, BBC Southend, BBC Thurrock and BBC Jaywick using video based news etc could be done and could be done at a fraction of the expense and access would be at the touch of a yellow button on your remote.
What we may have to remember is that there are many towns in the UK that no longer have access to local news.
Indeed since we started two and a half years ago, over 200 local newspapers in the UK have gone. Those that remain have had to make cuts. Indeed, newspaper groups such as Newsquest who own The Thurrock Gazette and The Echo have, according to figures, shed 20% of their editorial staff (journalists) over the last year.
Some towns have no paper. Others have papers that are simply a collection of press releases. Scrutiny is a thing of the past. As one councillor told me:
He said: “We haven’t seen a reporter at a council meeting for well over a year. The only remaining paper won’t pay overtime. Instead, they ring me up, the day after a meeting and ask how it went.”
Thurrock actually bucks a trend as some council meetings for example have reporters from Essex Enquirer, Yellow Advertiser, Thurrock Gazette and YourThurrock.
In many towns however, the new breed are filling in the gaps. Since we started we have also become aware of the growing “hyperlocal” community in the UK. The Lichfield Blog, The East Dulwich Forum, The Ventnor Blog,The Broughton Spurtle, Streatham Pulse and SR to name a few.
SR2 in Sunderland are an interesting case in point where, they have grown so popular that they now work together with the local “established” print paper to provide stories/copy.
Many members of hyperlocal sites meet at regional gatherings or in national social media conferences like the re-wired ones run by www.journalism.co.uk. Many have embraced the world of social media and regularly tweet and facebook (verb?). They are part of journalism students’ vocabulary as the mainstream media.
It is also clear that there is a new breed of journalists who are keen to not only write and report but also learn how to film, edit, run a website or indeed run a local station.
It does seem interesting that the dawn of a new local news age is in the hands of the new coalition government but it may well have “synergy” with the ideas of localism, the big society and developing and retaining skills in the borough. It has the potential to give local people a much greater voice.
Imagine, the world premiere of Ludd and Isis, Grays Athletic games live, council meetings, music events, breaking news such as the Coryton protests or “Frozen Thurrock”. The potential is there. It will come to a borough near you. What you want is that it comes to this borough as well.
Some say that the local voice has been limited to voting once every five years or writing a ranty letter to the local paper. Here there may be a chance to give every taxpayer/constituent a true portal for the people.