Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Getting going again

I've been struck down by blog fear since moving to a new paper (The Argus), both because I'm unsure of how my new employers view personal blogs, and, I think more importantly, because I wasn't sure how my new colleagues would react! But as my job now involves giving advice on blogging, I figured I should dust it off again.

What inspired me today in particular was meeting one of our new community correspondents. She's obviously going to be a natural, intensely interested in her neighbourhood and compelled to tell people about it. But she was also way ahead in understanding how it all works online, without really seeming to think about it. She's not a digital native, yet she's taken to social media like a duck to water.

On a private forum she's set up she now has people from as far away as Spain begging her to keep them up to date with the quirky goings-on she's discovered in her home town. She showed me the many local picture galleries she's set up on her Facebook account, taken on her mobile phone, and the comments they've received. And she's already researched a story about the old hospital whose site her house is built on using forums, community sites and Hansard(!). It was more impressive than many would-be trainee reporter portfolios I've seen. But she wasn't boasting - she just thought I'd be interested. 

So in part, I just want to boast on her behalf, as I already think she's amazing before she's even posted one story for us. But a more serious point, and one which has been hotly debated today, is Robert Picard's question: with enough people like her, what value can professional journalists bring to earn their paypacket

Specialism is obviously one answer - on a local level, my answers, none remotely original, would range from the prosaics of law and shorthand (yes, shorthand), through the monetary incentive to sift through the dull (e.g. council meetings) to get to the gold, to simple longevity (of the post, if not the individual reporter) - it seems to me the biggest potential failing of most community sites and blogs is simply that those running them often give up. But I'm sure there must be many other answers out there.

And with longevity comes the power of the local newspaper brand, which is still very significant in bringing a community together.  Up until now, my correspondent's audience has been negligible. But with the help of The Argus, it's likely she'll get a fair following - and being able to say she's writing for us will undoubtedly open doors for her on the ground too. I'm optimistic this project, and every other similar one from UK local newspapers, has a good chance of helping to solve the conundrum of where next for the regional press. Well, here's hoping . . .

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