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UK local market an “ecosystem of varying motivations”

At AOP’s forum on 9 December, Guardian Local Launch Editor Sarah Hartley outlined the latest big shifts in this space: while the US has seen acquisitions of startups aggregating news and data to create ‘microlocal’ sites, the UK remains a patchwork “ecosystem of varying motivations”, presenting real opportunities around forging new partnerships.

From grassroots public interest tools like Help me investigate or hyperlocal community sites such as The Litchfield Blog, to AND’s local ‘People’ conversation sites , and GMG’s own embryonic ‘beatblogger’ projects for selected UK cities, the wildly varying motivations in this space spell greater opportunity for collaboration, instead of competition.

For the benefit of those whose motivations included making money online, Birmingham City Uni Senior Lecturer (and publisher of the Online Journalism Blog) Paul Bradshaw gave a neat summary of the most promising areas to look at:

  • ‘What’s the package you’re selling?’ he asked. “People never paid for news, they paid for newspapers” he said, implying that monetisation lies in the continued development of online services and products
  • For instance, ‘Birmingham, it’s not shit’ makes money through selling branded products. He also cited Manhattan Media, already making 20% of its revenues from spin-off events
  • With users spending more and more time online on community sites – in hyperlocal’s favour, he said, is the fact that membership of a community is already part of the package – “it’s not just content”

Digital MD for Newsquest Roger Green gave insight into the nuts and bolts of running such community sites: “it’s a channel that needs to be worked hard”, as it tries to involve people more and more. Green urged publishers to “adapt in appropriate ways - if it’s not sustainable, don’t bother” and to delve even further into “community correspondence”. He singled out the efforts of Brighton Argus Online Editor Jo Wadsworth, using Twitter to engage with her community of readers, rather than simply using it as a broadcast channel.

Panel Debate

Joining the panel, Johnston Press Digital Stategy Director Lori Cunningham was brought straight to the subject of JP’s paywall experiment – faced by a multiplicity of solutions, and routes to market, she explained: “the quickest way to understand that dynamic is to get out there, and ask ‘is there value in that?’”

James Thornett, Executive Product Manager, Local and Location Services, BBC explained that the broadcaster is committed to making the local ecosystem work, whilst it “tries to deliver what the UK wants”.

Just as the BBC may be looking to instill a more robust policy around crediting stories and linking out to local publishers, David Higgerson, Trinity Mirror’s Head of Multimedia, explained that building partnerships with smaller publishers and community sites needs further development, for the benefit of both sides: “the power lies somewhere in the middle”.

Listen to Patrick Smith's interview with David Higgerson

Read PaidContent:UK's coverage of the event.

'<-----' image by Whatknot

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