ConnectCannock, the hyperlocal news site that I created for Cannock, Staffordshire, is well over a year old now (according to the whois info – although the twitter account has been going for a little longer).
A number of people have written their own reflections on their own sites, and how their experiences have shaped the processes they’re now going through. So, in the spirit of imitation being the best form of flattery, I’ve taken their idea and blogged about it.
ConnectCannock started out as a twitter account, which then turned into a website (mainly because I already had hosting which was doing very little, and I had the technical knowledge for the configuration of WordPress not to be a big deal).
The twitter account was easy. I saw other people in surrounding areas making hyperlocal sites, checked that nobody was already doing the same for Cannock, and just went ahead without really thinking about it or planning what I was actually going to do once I had an account (you’ll notice a running theme emerging here).
The website proved more of a challenge; not because I had any difficulties with the technical side, but more because I really didn’t know what should be happening with the site. The site got installed, I played around with a million wordpress themes, not really happy with any of them.. and after weeks of indecisive theme switching, I realised all these things were malleable – I could change anything I wanted at a later date, but while I was pontificating about which shade of red I preferred, nobody was visiting the site.
So instead, I just launched it. No fireworks, no opening ceremony – one day it wasn’t public, the next it was. The moral of the story? Stop thinking about it, trying to rationalise it, trying to make it look exactly the way you want it. JFDI*.
*For the sake of not getting blocked by filters, I’ll leave you to google the terminology.
Don’t Quit the Day Job
I enjoy the experience of writing for ConnectCannock massively. I’ve discovered things about the small town I live in that I didn’ t know existed, I’ve been involved in things I wouldn’t normally have even considered (council meetings, reporting live from local election results until 4am!) and I’ve discovered some interesting people that I just wouldn’t have been aware of previously.
However, there’s no way in hell I can see this being a self-sustaining project. If that’s what you’re after – and there’s a lot of talk about this in the US – then I’d personally say that this isn’t the project for you. The days of reasonable revenue from online ads are long gone, and lets face it, how many people even click ads these days? I genuinely can’t remember the last time I did. They get filtered out either by my browser, or by the fact that I’ve seen enough ads for my brain to turn them to white noise automatically.
In theory, I could’ve tried to turn the business directory side of ConnectCannock into a paying system – it has a fair few features that a lot of paid systems dont, such as QR codes per business, proper Twitter / Facebook connections, streetview and a few other bits – but then I’d need to spend time selling space, and it’d mean spending less time on the main site.
How To Make Friends and Influence People
One of the best parts of doing this is that a bit of googling will lead you onto a lot of other people who are doing similar things in nearby areas, pretty much all of whom in my experience are friendly, and have been willing to share advice from the outset.
For me, ‘borrowing’ ideas from sites like WV11.co.uk, LichfieldLive.co.uk and alittlebitofstone.co.uk has been an easier climb in working out how things should work, which then makes the path to further experimentation a little easier.
There’s also invaluable resources like TalkAboutLocal, who provide advice on setting up sites and actually putting content on them, hyperlocal directory OpenlyLocal, and the Social Media Surgery site, where groups create and attend social media surgeries (which I’m planning on doing locally – more on this at a later stage).
My local council have been extremely helpful and open about various plans as well, and have always supplied a constant feed of PR and information I can use for the site.
Failure is Always An Option
The real delight in doing local news this way is that you can experiment without much fear of.. well, anything. There’s nobody in charge to fire you if it all goes downhill, and you’re not making money from it – so who cares? Try stuff. If it doesn’t work, change it, try something else. Most hyperlocal sites operate at a minimal cost, so it’s not really like it’s going to involve losing anything more than a couple of quid.
The End. Honest.
One of the main reasons I deal with ConnectCannock is that I’ve discovered I actually enjoy this stuff, and it appeals to my general desire to not only learn new things, but to be able to share that knowledge. Need help with technical information? Need to understand how to interrogate a set of data in a few seconds, or how to best use QR codes? I can probably help, but I might end up trying to find out what you know about journalism. Or facebook groups. Or something else that you’ve done that I haven’t.