I was left in a peculiar position at the London Neighbourhoods Online Unconference, held at the offices of Ofcom on Saturday. On the very same day that the Stockwell Festival was being staged, plus the Lambeth Archives Open Day, here I was, flying the online flag for Sunny Stockwell, just as I enter single digit days ahead of the Great Escape.
The Unconference itself wasn’t so much Talk About Local, but looking ahead to how #hyperlocals can help one other. I have new personal and professional challenges ahead of me. Meeting up with skilled #hyperlocal enthusiasts, and only good could come out of the collaboration and conversation.
The day itself was positioned perfectly as a move away from debate towards dialogue. I still have some reservations about the merits of an Unconference; essentially there is no agenda – you set it yourself.
Around one hundred or so #hyperlocals assembled early on Saturday morning with a stunning view looking upstream along the Thames from Southwark Bridge. The panoramic proved to be the inspiration, and fifteen minutes later, a shared agenda for workshops was put in place.
I chipped in with the slightly mischievous: Local authorities, local media and #hyperlocals: conflict or collaboration?
This viewpoint obviously depends on precisely where your own #hyperlocal is positioned. Sitting here in Sunny Stockwell right now, and sadly the outlook is one of conflict.
A local authority back peddling to try and gain control of the local agenda, and a local newspaper that seemingly turns a blind eye to the sock puppeting style of the lead attack dog journo towards local blogs. This was a dialogue that I wanted to share with other London bloggers, to find out if Lambeth is unique in putting in place such high levels of suspicion.
The session itself became slightly confused. It appeared to crossover with a pre-planned Q & A with the very good @foodiesarah, who is responsible for the #hyperlocal network of sites at The Guardian.
The local authority element got mislaid, but instead we shared ideas about the relationship between bloggers and BIG (ish) media. It would have been decent if representation was here from BIG (ish) media, but with @SthLondonPress taking seven days to publish print copy online, and even a year to update a blog, (blimey) then I’m sure our family newspaper friends had better things to be doing.
The question was posed: are #hyperlocals the enemy? A spontaneous YES! resonated around the room. This *isn’t* by choice, but with the complete failure of BIG (ish) media around these parts to collaborate with the passionate informal network of local news junkies on the ground, this is often how it feels.
An excellent point was made in that media and life overlap. This is a proposition that BIG (ish) media can’t handle. The old linear model of reporting is still a one-way conversation, and the very pace of #hyperlocal life simply can’t translate to the painful process of publishing news content either offline, or even online by the BIG boys.
The collaboration element to the session proved to be the most contentious. @foodiesarah urged all #hyperlcoals to invoice, whenever BIG (ish) media lift our stories. It’s a fine principle to uphold, but the reality is that most of us can’t be arsed to file an invoice to a faceless organisation, and then wait around for a month for a poxy payment. You simply get on, do your thing and find new stories.
This theme then developed into a debate about what alternative form of payment could be accepted, if this collaboration could ever work. Most in the room favoured online links as a form of currency.
#hyperlocals do whatever it is that they do, not for the dosh, but for the sharing and collaboration, plus the passion for their own #hyperlocal news patch. We have stories to tell that BIG (ish) media are too lazy to look out for. Ultimately it is about getting these stories heard.
The value of a link is priceless in terms of gaining momentum. If BIG (ish) media is going to persist and keep on lifting our copy, the very least they could do is to link back to the original. This raises your ranking within Google, and ultimately allows those #hyperlocal news stories to find a voice that BIG (ish) media ignore.
The second session that I attended was all about Finding an Editorial Voice and How to Run a Campaign. This developed more into a debate about moderation – which was nice. It was very useful though for a possible project in the pipeline post the Great Escape.
My contribution was that I don’t believe that anyone deliberately decides to find an editorial voice, or even put in place a campaign. Put crudely – you just do it. #hyperlocals react to what they see around them. Any campaign, formal or otherwise, is simply what follows next.
I shared my experience regarding the bonkers 5am licence for Kelly’s just off the Clap’ham Road. I didn’t realise that I was caught up in the middle of a campaign until I started to become the central point for emails between local residents, councillors and the local police.
I made the point that the most valued contribution that #hyperlocals can make towards a campaign is simply getting the story out there. This was always my sole intention with the bonkers 5am licence. What followed is that m’blog somehow became the online space in which offline action was co-ordinated.
Making Connections and Linking London was a session led by mattfromlondon and @Londonist. Having demoed Londonist during the lunch break, Matt was interested in hearing how the Londonist network can engage the many London #hyperlocals.
I personally veer away from any collective form of blogging. I feel uncomfortable with the “we think…” editorial style. *I* think, which is all part of the process for me in offering one opinion on a #hyperlocal news patch.
I suggested to Matt that Ken Vs Boris will be key for @Londonist. I came up with the idea of actively recruiting a Ken flag waver and a Boris flag waver. This isn’t going to be an objective contest in which to report from the #hyperlcal hustings. Opinions matter out there. The collective “we” will be weakened compared to the singular “I.”
The final session I attended sounded intriguing: How Does #bigsociety Fit into #hyperlocal?
I offered up the point that you should see the story through to the conclusion. It may be a pain to keep on going back over old ground, but online context (and links) are everything. It has led me to understand the complete process that is still rumbling around the botched @LambethLabour email hack, not to mention the continued Streatham Hub strife. Sadly I won’t be around for the next decade to see the Streatham saga through to an end game.
Safer Neighbourhood Panels were mentioned as an example of how #bigsociety and #lambethcoop are doomed to fail. At best, a dozen people turn up at a SNP each month. This is a meeting that truly empowers the local community – you get to set the targets for your local police for each quarter.
If such apathy takes place at such a key decision making process, then you can see how I fail to get excited about #lambethcoop and the empty rhetoric of Power to the People. We elect (and pay) politicians to make these decisions for us.
And that was just about yer lot. An incredibly demanding day, but an excess of ideas and enthusiasm for me to take away for the next challenge. The Many Voices model worked rather well, and led to some genuine collaboration.
But in a day of shared conversations, co-operation and planning, it was perhaps apt that a singular tweet, tagged with the #lno10 hashtag, probably summed up best the London Neighbourhoods Online Unconference:
“If you want to get something done set up network, slow it down, set up an organisation.”
Many thanks to Networked Neighbourhoods for organising such a worthwhile event. Let’s build upon this optimism.