The Guardian Edinburgh blog is to be wound up this month, and that, as they say is that. Late to the wake that I am, Ali George has inspired me to add my two cents, to all the other two cents that have been written about the impact that the service had.
The recipe seemed deceptively simple. Get a talented journalist the tools to do decent multi-media journalism, a brief to work with people in a way that they feel most comfortable, whether that’s photos, or audio, or film or the written word, and combine it with that brand and off you go with a flying start to shake the torpid local media scene up.
From the perspective of someone who had been running what some considered a “hyperlocal” site in the city before the Guardian came to town, it was a breath of fresh air. Here was a service that not only linked out to the source of their stories – it actively celebrated the source of those stories. A minor revolution to someone who had got into the habit of seeing at least one of the stories in the Greener Leith weekly email appear subsequently in the local rag, without so much as a link on the web version of the story.
At that time, I never really thought it mattered that much for Greener Leith, whether the Evening News linked to us or not. Afterall, as a charity, focussed on improving the local neighbourhood, I was grateful that the organisation was getting publicity. Any publicity. I still am. Any disgruntlment I felt, I mentally filed under “bloggers vanity,” and tried to ignore it.
But the extra traffic, and the search engine ranking improvements, and the credibilitiy (at least in some circles!) that all those links from the Guardian to our little website have helped me, and others, to understand what you might call ‘media power,’ and how it works. Links have a value, website visitors have a value, and by promoting and colloborating on stories both websites were arguably more successful for it. Because of this, The Guardian has, in a way, directly supported the development of Greener Leith in a way which no other large media organisation has. I’m certainly tremendously grateful for this.
Partly as a consequence of those links, Greener Leith now has the audience, influence, and ambition (and the stats to prove it) to promote our content and our approach to grant funders and other people. The Guardian Edinburgh blog (along with all the Talk About Local folk) undoubtedly played a role in helping us to see the value in our content, and building that value.
I can’t tease out quite how much The Guardian Edinburgh blog has helped Greener Leith. But, the stats are interesting. According to Google Analytics, in the last 12 months, the five top traffic sources to the Greener Leith site are:
- Google (search)
- Direct (i.e people typing the address into their browser)
- The Guardian
But there’s more to it than traffic stats. Although I don’t get to see him often enough, I got to meet, work with and develop some fun ideas with Tom, the first Guardian Beat Blogger for Edinburgh. And whilst, I never have had a chance to spend the same amount of time with the Mike who followed in his footsteps, they both did an incredible job – and both contributed to projects like Edinbuzz. As Tom says – that is an ongoing legacy in itself that is to be celebrated. In fact, now that I work for STV Local, I realise just how incredible a job they’ve done.
Five years ago, when Greener Leith started, it was viewed in some quarters as a seditious act to post the papers for local community meetings online, with commentry to try to explain what they meant. But the local news scene is different in Edinburgh now. For noteworthy council meetings in the city chambers, it is not uncommon to have three people live tweeting the proceedings. Sometimes even local councillors join in from the floor. Sometimes, these days, the Guardian Beat Blogger may not be amongst those tweeting.
The Guardian undoubtedly helped to raise some folk’s aspirations for, and understanding of, what local news could be at a city-wide level. For the first time it seemed some people at least (how inclusive was it really?), could take part in the process of producing news about their city underneath an established brand, which felt less mediated by a giant, mysterious editorial beast with unknown motives.
Perhaps more importantly in my view, there was another voice, with a Guardian set of news values, interpreting what was going on in the city chambers, and other city institutions in a sustained way. Perhaps these are a few of the reasons why there’s been such an outcry at the decision to fold the service.
And looking to the future in Edinburgh, the city-wide independent sites like the Edinburgh Spotlight and the Edinburgh Reporter will keep evolving in their own ways, building their own audiences, and perhaps revenue streams. There’s a new independent start-up poised to launch, the Evening News are rumoured to be planning a relaunch of their website and of course there’s STV Edinburgh, where I work now. Unsurprisingly, STV Local is a service that I hope will be able to more than fill some of the gaps that will be left in local people’s RSS readers. So whilst the Guardian will be missed – and it has undeniably influenced many websites in the city – it is by no means the end of good quality local news in the city. Today there seems to be more of that than ever, and more opportunity for local groups to be heard too.
At the end of the day it’s just particularly rubbish, for Mike, Sarah, and the beat bloggers in other places that the Guardian did not see fit to spend time figuring out how to make it all financially viable, and investing in that important part of the equation properly. They are good people, and it’s surprising that the Guardian don’t want to keep them.
Yeah it was an experiment, but we liked it.