Nigel Barlow is a freelance journalist specialising in media,politics,business and economics. and travel. He is co founder of Inside the M60, hyperlocal newsite for Manchester he blogs here and tweets here
When we first launched Inside the M60 last April, we identified a gap in the market in Manchester caused mainly by the gradual withdrawal of the regional media from the very communities that they once served. However, we also recognised that the agenda was changing.
People are always interested in what’s happening in their city but it seemed clear they were about to become more so. A new government committed to making accelerated spending cuts was on the way. There was talk of localism, elected mayors and police commissioners. We were proved correct. Manchester City Council is to lose more than 20 per cent of its budget and 2,000 jobs are currently under threat. Major cutbacks to the police and the fire service are being put in place and grants to community groups are rapidly vanishing.
We have been at the forefront of the debate, attending council meetings from which we have live-tweeted, talked both officially and off the record to council members and other representatives. There has been a noticeable shift in the city. People are now more aware and becoming more engaged with what is going on. We hope that we have played a small part in it.
We have also had some lucky breaks. Last autumn, a gas explosion on a housing estate in Irlam saw the national media descend on the Salford suburb. We were there early having been tipped off within moments on Twitter. We live-tweeted updates by the minute to keep readers informed of the unfolding disaster and how it would affect the wider community as roads were closed off during the peak commuting period. We also had a reporter live at the scene. Our page hits and Twitter followers soared that day.
Last week, we broke an exclusive local story. Over Christmas, we ran a story on the sudden death of a Manchester doctor who had died suddenly. He had served a deprived community for many years. One of his patients saw the story and got in touch with us last week to alert us to the fact that the surgery was going to close. Soon we had a great story about how the local primary health trust was taking the decision without proper consultation and how the patients were being forced to walk half a mile to another surgery.
Last weekend, we were again live on the spot tweeting coverage of an anti-cuts demonstration by students and trade unionists. Some students formed a breakaway march and ran through the city centre, holding impromptu protests against big chain stores that have been reported as not paying their taxes. We ran with them all the way, reporting on the police kettling groups of angry students and witnessing many arrests. Again, we were praised for our on-the-spot coverage and saw our readership rise dramatically again.
It’s not just bad news though in Manchester. We have covered the FC cup runs of non-league FC United and Droylsden, the former a great community story for us as this fans-owned club will be moving to a new ground in East Manchester in two years’ time and is creating many community projects around the game itself.
Of course, the big question for sites like ours is how do we make them sustainable and viable for the future? The kinds of business models hyperlocals are using or exploring are many and varied.
Our ambition is to grow and provide a better and more comprehensive news service. In order to do that, we believe that enterprises like ours are not going to survive on just one revenue stream. To grow we have to diversify, just like any other business and spread the risk. Maybe this is a lesson that the more established media players could learn from.
Click on the banner for more Hyperlocal Week content
- Richard Jones: Covering local elections Richard Jones is the editor of Saddleworth News – a...
- Adam Westbrook: The virtue of video in hyperlocal Adam Westbrook is a freelance journalist, he lectures at Kingston...
- Lamposts and shop windows is where you find news Being a reporter isn’t just about writing flowing prose. It’s...
- How to make the most out of the Wannabe Hacks birthday meetup As you may not know, Wannabe Hacks had its first...
- The worrying trend of ego in young journalists Paul Bradshaw, in his inaugural lecture at City University London,...
After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look