Guardian Local comes to an end. So what’s next?

Posted on 28/04/2011 by

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Perhaps appropriately, I found out about the end of the Guardian Local project on twitter yesterday. Michael MacLeod, who has been blogging like a whirlwind for the last eight months, tweeted the sad news that the Guardian Edinburgh – and it’s sister sites in Leeds and Cardiff – were all coming to an end.

Whilst the project was always funded as a pilot, and had no long-term guarantees, it did come as a surprise. Guardian Edinburgh, Leeds and Cardiff have clearly been successful – popular local sites, full of debate, interaction, guest posts, and scrutiny of local democracy.

So why end it now?

In her article about the end of the project, The Guardian’s Head of Digital Engagement Meg Pickard writes that the project isn’t sustainable.

As an experiment in covering local communities in a new way, it has been successful and enlightening. Unfortunately, while the blogs have found engaged local readerships and had good editorial impact, the project is not sustainable in its present form.

There has been a large and emotional response from people to the announcement, both in the comments section of Meg’s article, and on twitter. Most are disappointed to lose the local coverage they had come to respect and rely on, and also sympathetic to the beatbloggers losing their jobs.

Some people are downright angry;

http://twitter.com/#!/NemesisRepublic/statuses/63610867513688064

One blogger in Leeds even writes that pulling the project’s funding is a betrayal of the community;

It happens all of the time.  Funding runs out.  Patience runs out. Commitment runs out.

Because for the project sponsor this is little more than ‘an experiment’.  Or ‘a contract’.  A community to dabble in.  A kind of train set for grown ups.

This is not their community.

This is not where their children will grow up or their parents will grow old.  Of course they will have local people on the ground – but the ones that really call the shots?  This is not THEIR community.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Almost immediately, people on twitter started doing what they do best – organising a campaign to save the three sites. In fact, they responded in exactly the way that the Guardian Local sites had shown them they could  to save their community centres and local amenities.

Suddenly there was a hashtag or four – #SaveGdnLocal #SaveGdnEdinburgh #SaveGdnCardiff #SaveGdnLeeds.

In Leeds, one tweep swiftly set up a pledgbank page, (a My Society tool created by the same team behind Fix-my-Street) offering to pay £23.23 per month towards the cost of “a citizen run news service for Leeds” – but only if 35 other people sign up too.  £23.23 is the cost of a monthly subscription to the Guardian

That would give them £10,000 per year to get started.

So far, nine people have pledged in less than 24 hours. Good, but a long way to go. And £10,000 doesn’t come close to the cost of employing a full-time beatblogger. “Very interesting, but how would it work on a practical level?” asked Edinburgh Evening News journalist Victoria Raimes on my Facebook wall.

The idea of the community funding its own news source like this is really not so far fetched. In America Spot.us is already used to fund journalists to do stories that matter to local people. Journalists post story ideas on the site, along with how much it will cost – and if enough people donate, they make the piece.

Listener sponsored radio stations – some on a very large scale – exist all over the US. I started out my radio and community media career at one, WPFW in Washington DC, which has a listener base of over 200,000.Every year they hold “pledge drives” where staff and volunteers man the phone lines and take donations for days on end – raising millions of dollars. Why? Because they know that without their small, independent radio stations, they would lose any media plurality.

In the UK, we don’t expect to have to support our media in this way. But we could do, if we wanted. @GdnEdinburgh has nearly 5000 followers on twitter – if just half of them were to subscribe £1 a month, that would easily employ a full-time beatblogger. There would even be funds to pay guest bloggers for their articles, videos and podcasts.

Unlike some people, I don’t think that the Guardian’s decision to stop funding the project means it was a failure.

In Edinburgh it has kick-started and contributed to all kinds of interesting initiatives in the realms of social media and active citizenship. My own work with Edinbuzz and the Innertube Map project would not be happening were it not for the training I received as a beatblogger, and there are blogs and Facebook campaigns all over the city that were seeded by the example set by Guardian Edinburgh. That seems like a fantastic legacy to me.

And if the people of Edinburgh want to pay for their own community news resource, funded in the most democratic and exciting way possible – then I know where you can find a talented and energetic beatblogger looking for work.

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