What would you show from Birmingham to demonstrate how the web can do local better than local tv?

Earlier this month Will Perrin wrote a blog post setting out why Local TV  probably won’t work and, more importantly, doesn’t need to. He was responding to the government’s announcement of plans to encourage the development of up to 20 new Local TV stations by 2015.

He echoed a huge number of my thoughts on linear media, transmitters/printing presses and local-ness.  Will  challenged the government’s concentration on Local TV with a series of statements (for Will’s expansion on these visit his blog post here.):

  • Why use television as a medium of transmission at all?
  • TV is not local
  • For small audience local TV there is no need to regulate news in the traditional way.
  • The footprint for any of the 80-odd transmitters is orders of magnitude too large for a real big society impact.
  • If you start with the internet, instead of TV low cost public service models are apparent.
  • Of the hundreds of good local websites in the UK very few regularly use video to tell stories.
  • Public service news done in the traditional British broadcast way is too expensive for local TV

There are a number of other thoughts I could add:

  • The local web scene is more sustainable because it doesn’t rely on the financial viability of one or two organisations
  • It has plurality (and I would suggest accountability) built in.
  • Impartiality is now a difficult idea, the best way to develop trusted media is to expect/require it to be transparent.

But it was this one that got me thinking about what happens in my home city:

  • Birmingham UK v Birmingham Alabama is often used as an example. Birmingham UK has a superb set of local, volunteer run grass roots internet media covering news, entertainment, events and culture.

The answer needn’t be Local TV

Here in Birmingham I think we take for granted the city’s very local web scene. Perhaps now is the time to shout about it. What is happening here (and in other parts of the country and the world) has in it the start of what the government should really nurture instead of Local TV.

The Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s department has a structural reform plan (links to a pdf) which states it’s second priority as supporting the Big Society – “a new era of people power”.  One way they wish to do this is

“foster the development of a new breed of strong local media groups, by removing local cross-media ownership rules to encourage local TV”

In this speech Jeremy Hunt says

I have long believed that the lack of high quality local TV is one of the biggest gaps in British broadcasting.  Why? Because, ironically, in an age of globalism people feel the need for stronger not weaker connections to the communities in which they live. And this government is committed to strengthening those ties by giving local communities far greater control over their own destinies. (my emphasis)

I think that is exactly what local online media is doing here in Birmingham.  Not only that but the burgeoning open data movement (encouraged by both the last and this government) is also making it easier for those same groups to hold power to account in new ways.   In the same speech Jeremy Hunt committed to broadband roll out.  The government understands the power of the web in so many ways.

Show and Tell

If he were to come to Birmingham who could Jeremy Hunt meet and what locally grown bottom up Big Society media goodness could we show him to help demonstrate an alternative beyond Local TV?

Here’s my starter:

Examples of local information and news:

There are dozens of very local sites in Birmingham.  Openly Local records a few of them here:  and there are others listed on Be Vocal, but we still don’t have a full list.  Among my favourites are the allotments blogs like Court Lane Allotments with their own youtube channel and Neighbourhod Forum sites, such as the the one from Acocks Green – they provide a very local news service.

Examples of  online civic activism:

  • BCCDIY :  the volunteer built alternative Birmingham City Council website.
  • Big City Plan Talk another volunteer built site, this time an alternative to a rather shonky government consultation.

Support tools:

  • Help Me Investigate A crowd sourced civic investigations website.
  • Social Media Surgeries Birmingham born idea (now spreading world wide) where volunteers share their skills with community groups, encouraging the wider use of the web for civic good and community reporting.
  • Talk About Local Will’s own organisation which is spreading the skills to run local community websites across the country – and indeed across the sea.

I know these sites are not telly. But people want local news and information, they don’t necessarily want to watch it.  All these sites use different media for different types of information.

What have I missed off?

Please add in the comments all the other sites I’ve missed off.  If you run a local website in Birmingham (even if it’s for your local neighbourhood watch) please also consider adding it to Chris Taggarts growing list of such sites here:


Thank you.


Declaration:  We started the social media surgeries for voluntary groups in Brum in October 2008 and run the www.socialmediasurgery.com site.  I’m also a Director of Help Me Investigate Ltd.  Part of our work has been to help Neighbourhood Manager’s blog and run social media surgeries, Birmingham City Council started Birmingham Newsroom after some advice from us.


  1. Birmingham’s contribution to OpenStreetMap (first UK city fully mapped by volunteers).

    AllBrum events listings.

    WxWM, Hackitude, Mapitude.

    There are a couple of things on your list I /wouldn’t/ include, but I’ll speak to you about the privately.

  2. dglp says:

    Hi Nick,
    I’d say the B13/B14 AboutMyAreas and BrumCycle should be on here, and there are sites like clickityworld as well. I’m prompted to say that there will be any number of personal and small scale bulletin board, and of course the relevant local sections of the UrbEx, architecture, motoring, cycling and other boards.
    Then there are the twitter aggregators, which, if you put in the name of an area, serve to provide a running commentary, almost as if they were overheard in passing on the street.

    So there’s a potentially infinite list!

    NB: can these comment entry fields be enlarged?

    Edit: Links here


  3. Karen Caine says:

    Well, we would always like to do more with it, and struggle to find the time, but the City Centre Neighbourhood Forum do try with http://www.brumcitycentre.com. The good news is that an increasing number of the committee are now learning or have learned to blog so we can spread the load, increase participation, variety and commitment, and improve the site!

  4. Chris Ivens says:

    I must mention that Birmingham Post was thinking about a tv thing and hasn’t taken it further. There is a Birmingham TV site which doesn’t have legs because no-one wants to either fund or listen. Local sites written down rather than video are quicker to get out than video a lot of the time. Think of the speed of twitter. Yes twitter can link to video but it still needs the text to be searchable to be able to find it.

    Last point of note. Birmingham trains had a tv system on the cross city line for a few years. It has changed hands several times and looks to have now shut down. It was not even possible to keep it running with decent content with a captive audience.

  5. Dave Harte says:

    It’s worth having a read of the response to Will’s blog post from Dave Hyndman from Northern Visions. He makes a good case for TV transmission being part of an integrated service along with the web.

    Overall, I can’t help feeling that even with all the sites mentioned there isn’t really much here that yet adds up to a viable local media scene. Yes there’s plenty of it but even here in Bournville we’re not really serving citizens with an effective news service. If there was a major breaking story in my patch then I’d probably be at work when it happened.

    We can do some stuff differently, particularly in experimenting with forms of data journalism, but I think we still need time in the wilderness to help us mature. The amount of local blogs operating at the level of The Stirrer or Ventnor blog can be counted on one hand – we’re about two years away from that level I think.

    The other issue is impartiality. It’s great that the Mail have started to link to local blogs (though it’s more to do with their positioning themselves in a debate rather than serving readers), yet the one they link to for Edgbaston belongs to a local Conservative councillor. Perhaps for Bournville they might have linked to our local BNP blog? It feels a bit wrong. A local TV news service would likely have some form of light touch regulation to ensure impartiality – I’d welcome that.

  6. Hi
    Just realised I’m late on this one, sorry – but felt Karen Strunks’ wakegreenpark.blogspot.com and Basharat Dad’s letstalkb8.ning.com deserved a mention as well as the ones above. 🙂

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