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”
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:
- Live Brum, a crowd sourced listing site where the cities citizens keep each other up to date with events.
- Created in Birmingham an award winning site which reflects the breadth of creative activity in the city.
- Bournville Village is just one example of a very local news site, this one covers one neighbourhood and is run by volunteers – it has a sister site in the form of http://bournvillevillagecouncil.org.uk
- Digbeth is Good covers another and is again run by a volunteer.
- The Stirrer and Birmingham it’s Not Shit (Global City – Local Blog!) both cover the city in detail and from very different perspectives – again both run by individuals who are supported by a wider community.
- Hands on Handsworth is an example of a number of blogging neighbourhood managers (publicly funded) as is
- Birmingham News Room the city council’s tool for talking more directly to the public, rather than through the media.
- Birmingham Mail Your Communities is the beginnings of the local newspaper working with very local blogs
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.
- 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:
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.