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The Lichfield Blog - 'back to the future' of local journalism

Nick Booth | 19:09 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cathedral viewed through globe - Image by Lee Jordan

Do local blogs mean new views of Lichfield? Image by Lee Jordan - http://www.flickr.com/photos/leejordan/

When Ross Hawkes rang the fire service to confirm some details about a fire at The Buck pub, they seemed a little taken aback. "How did you find out so quick?" they asked.

Ross is the editor of The Lichfield Blog. What led him to the story before rivals at better-resourced local newspapers was something which lies at the root of The Lichfield Blog's success: "Somebody else told us."

In less than two years The Lichfield Blog has established a national reputation as one of the best examples of hyperlocal blogging, mixing Ross's nose for news with a web designer's skill in online networks.

But its national reputation is based firmly in local connections.

Ross launched the blog in early 2009 when a police car's sirens wailed past his house and he realised no-one was reporting on his local area any more.

He was quickly joined by local web developer Philip John, who not only built a firm technical base for the site but also established the connections with local users of blogs, Facebook and Twitter that would provide the source of so many of their stories. They would later be joined by photographer Nick Brickett.

Ross credits the building of these connections with "the first journalistic lesson I picked up from The Lichfield Blog. I quickly acknowledged that I wasn't an expert in everything and that other people held the key to the success of The Lichfield Blog. By working with people like Phil I've been able to pull ideas and take suggestions and feedback from non-journalistic sources."

The team has worked that way ever since. While traditional journalists were still relying on press releases and official sources to fill a weekly quota of column inches, Ross and Phil were operating at internet speed, following up on what the hundreds of people in their networks - online and offline - were seeing.

The Lichfield Blog team have also had to be adaptable - Ross, John and Nick might at any moment have to take on each others' duties depending on the demands of the moment.

In such a new medium there's also room to experiment. "I can try random things," explains Ross. "If it doesn't work I don't have a news editor kicking my backside.

"It's allowed me to be experimental and enjoy the career I've got. I like to think I've gone back to the future in terms of how I operate. Yes, it's a new platform and it's new media, but the basic skills are more needed than ever. It's about knowing your patch inside out, it's about attending community meetings and knowing local decision-makers, it's about getting away from deadline- and target-driven writing."

This approach has also inspired others in the area to start blogging, including the nearby Tamworth Blog and Longdon Local.

Alex Mowbray from Longdon Local is particularly enthusiastic about the level of original content on the Lichfield Blog, but says:

"It would be unrealistic to expect them to cover the whole of Lichfield district in depth. Longdon Local aims to fill a gap at the next layer down, and to complement TLB by reporting on everyday activities in village life.

"Longdon is a small village, three miles outside of the city, one of many within the Lichfield city boundaries. While there's rarely news worthy of reporting on a wider scale in these semi-rural areas (and that's the way residents like it!), there's plenty going on in the village, and the site hopes to keep people informed about what's happening in Longdon, such as at the church, pubs, WI etc."

Phil has plans for a broader community media organisation of which The Lichfield Blog would be just one part.

Ross, meanwhile, says he's re-evaluated what he thinks media should be doing. "We try to combine news and info. We try to make advertising affordable to local businesses. We try to do exactly the sort of things local newspapers did once upon a time."

To hear Philip John speak about some of the locations behind The Lichfield Blog's stories, listen below, or hear it on Audioboo.fm.


Listen!

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