Social media changes the local landscape

Two conversations in Manchester this week deepened my understanding of the changes social media is bringing to communication at local level – and the potential for new collaborations between journalists and community activists.
The first chat was with Craig McGinty, who has worked in print and online newspapers, and now helps a wide range of people use free or low-cost online tools. These include a groups of landscape designers and gardeners who have used free Ning social networking software to set up a non-organisation for collective marketing. More on that later.
After an hour or so’s chat about the fast-changing digital landscape, I invited Graig to give me his thoughts on how social media is impacting on newspapers, communities and organisations.
He focussed first on a changing role for local journalists, as papers go out of business in a world where advertising moves online, and people won’t pay for news and information that they can find in other ways.
He envisages freelances setting up advertising-supported blogs to develop news and other services for local residents and businesses, happy to take and share content feeds via RSS (explanation here). These feeds could come – in part – from blogs set up by community activists on the hyperlocal model being promoted by Will Perrin.
They would operate as light-weight content developers and aggregators in a distributed communications environment – a very different model from the centralised online systems attempted by some local papers with mixed success.
Craig’s view is that the loss of local papers may be no great loss in many instances – provided journalists and local enthusiasts can collaborate to fill the gap. The best thing government could do would be to make available the great deal of data and information they hold. This could help fuel the development of local content and conversations.
We also talked about membership organisations, and Craig – like Clay Shirky – believes they face a tough time unless they change the way they operate and offer greater value. Craig writes here about the Landscape Juice Network, where professional gardeners, landscapers and designers have a site created by Philip Voice using free Ning software. It offers a place for members to provide information to trade and public about their services, while sharing a common space in which to solve problems and offer each other help.

I then want on to meet Gary Copitch, who is one of the pioneers of local community networking. He joined Manchester Community Information Network 10 years ago, and is now helping develop People’s Voice Media. They run a Community Reporters programme, social media centres, Internet radio, and are experimenting in a host of different ways in which new social technologies can be used locally for social benefit.
As you can hear, Gary gives a pretty eloquent explanation of what’s possible, and I’m really looking forward to working with him and a team of reporters at the National Digital Inclusion conference at the end of April. We are already talking about how the team can shoot some video on the realities of digital inclusion – or exclusion –  from the streets and homes of Manchester, and the potential of social media.
Tomorrow I’m off to Birmingham to find out for myself about the great things bloggers and other social media enthusiasts are doing there, as Nick Booth explained here.
There may be a lot of buzz in London, but I suspect a lot of the solid, useful application of social technology is happenign elsewhere with too little recognition. Ooops, reminder to self – must meet up with Harringay online. Who else?


  • March 12, 2009 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I like the line about “light-weight content developers and aggregators” – it pretty well sums up what we’ve been doing for the past decade in London’s SE1 area.

    By keeping it really light-weight we’ve outlived plenty of ventures which have started out with a much higher cost base and haven’t been able to put themselves on a sustainable footing.

  • March 12, 2009 - 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Craig really does talk sense. He encouraged me to keep going with my blog when I was ready to chuck in the towel. He’s a top guy!

  • March 12, 2009 - 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Hi there

    Glad to see you’re coming to sunny Brum. You’re right – there’s a hell of a lot of activity going on around here, enough to entice Swedish journalists and the like over to see what it’s all about:

    Is there any possibility you could stay until Sat to join WXWM, Brum’s own alternative to SXSW?

    Hope you enjoy your visit! 🙂

    Many thanks,


  • March 13, 2009 - 9:40 am | Permalink

    James – how could I fail to mention SE1! You are doing amazing work. Do please say a bit more about your experience, thoughts on where things are going … and maybe I can come and do a proper interview?

  • March 13, 2009 - 9:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Linda – I love the way these connections pop up. It looks as if you are really doing what Craig talks about. He told me about your work. What’s it like being a freelance in this new world?

  • March 13, 2009 - 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Linda’s Darwen Reporter site is a very good example of a locally driven news service that can keep people up to date with what’s happening, and also become useful to the local community.

    As newspapers reduce pagination and ask more of their journalists, I think enterprising freelancers could begin to make things work at a post code level.

  • March 13, 2009 - 6:37 pm | Permalink

    David, it’s tough. I write features for a well-known glossy monthly and pay is frozen at what must be rates from ten years ago(or even longer)!

    The attitude is “take or leave it” And if you turn it down there’s plenty of others willing to do it which, of course, keep rates at this level.

    So,launching Darwen Reporter may ultimately lead to more independance and hopefully more brass!

    Cheers for asking.

  • March 13, 2009 - 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Nicky – thanks for the welcome … today’s meeting re-convinced me Brum is the heart of social-community media goodness! Wished I could stay … another time. Meanwhile, so many fine blogs to read.

  • March 14, 2009 - 7:05 pm | Permalink

    david, you’re always just a step ahead. this post made sense -once more. thanks!

  • March 16, 2009 - 9:11 pm | Permalink

    It was many moons passed that Craig convinced me that I should write about what I know about and since that point – although I could have easily given up many times over – I have seen Landscape Juice go from strength to strength.

    Craig really has researched his stuff when it comes to social networking and Internet behaviour and we have spent much time discussing the directions that the future might take.

    What I can tell you is, the long established garden and landscape news sites have not had a choice but to take notice and I am convinced that they really have lost the initiative.

    The opportunities that have been created for me through LJ are many and I am sure that I am very early in the curve.

    The Landscape Juice Network started after I was banned from a similar site because I wanted to link to LJ but it didn’t suit their rules..

    It was the perfect time to put into practise all that we were picking up from the net.

    The result for LJN is that we are thriving where as the site that wanted to keep control is barely active.

    It is a very exciting time for me and I can only see things getting much more interesting.

    Thanks for covering our example David.

    Kind regards

    Phil Voice

  • March 16, 2009 - 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil thanks so much for dropping by and spreading some enthusiasm. What’s very evident is that the DIY efforts of individuals and small groups can challenge and change the role of traditional institutions. What’s even better is being able to make a living from it as well. Congratulations!

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