Everyone has a paper, don’t they. I don’t mean the local one that you sort of have to get, for births and marriages and news of jumble sales, I mean the national one that you actually choose to read.
In my house, it’s always been The Guardian.
I appreciate it’s crap for news of stuff that’s going on in Scotland, but the Graun has always been good for features. I’ve found tons of columnists there whose styles I admire and would like to emulate – Charlie Brooker, Grace Dent, Jim Shelley, Alexis Petridis, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan, Zoe Williams, Stuart Heritage, Tim Dowling, John Crace and Mil Millington, to name several completely off the top of my head.
They also seem quite willing to do things that other nationals don’t – support the Liberal Democrats, for example, or pioneer hyperlocal news websites.
I’ve wanted to work for them since I decided I was interested in journalism about a decade ago, and the closest I’ve got thus far was being interviewed for the job of the Edinburgh Beatblogger on November 27 2009.
I remember I got there ridiculously early (I was worried about going to the wrong place) – early enough to see the candidate before me leaving, actually. It was a man, a bit older than me maybe, with brownish cords and reddish hair. I was later able to identify him as Tom Allan, and it was he who got the job. I did however receive easily the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever had from Launch Editor Sarah Hartley; commending my community knowledge and saying she was hopeful there would be ways we could work together in the future.
I’ve followed the project with interest since that point – or rather, since the site was formally launched in early March 2010. Whilst the Leeds and Cardiff pages remained in the hands of John Baron and Hannah Waldram throughout, the Edinburgh page was curated first by Tom, then for a few weeks by Nick Eardley (who I believe was just finishing a journalism degree before taking on a job at The Scotsman), and finally by Michael MacLeod, who opened up the page far more and made it many people’s first port of call for local news every day.
I say finally, because as you’ve probably already heard, The Guardian has decided to wind the project down.
According to the paper’s Head of Social Media Development Meg Pickard (who lulled me in to a false sense of security by complimenting my shoes at interview, the cad), “the project is unsustainable in its current form.”
On one level this is understandable. The pages are free for the public to access, but the paper still has to pay three hacks and an editor to maintain them. Although one wonders whether they looked at advertising in any serious way – using the notice board on the page is £10 for a week, but the likes of Facebook charge more like $20 a day for an advert the same size. And inevitably the decision prompted mutterings that if the paper can afford to expand into America, surely it could find a bit of cash for this.
Pickard also pointed out that the project was always experimental. Now, I knew that, and the people doing the blogs presumably knew it too – but I don’t think it was explicitly stated to the general public. Which is a little bit insensitive, given those were the people using the service.
Still, you can’t argue with fact, and these are the notes I wrote after the interview:
As you can see in the middle, I wrote “they have no idea how it would progress – ttl speriment (‘total experiment’ for those who can’t grasp my shorthand!).”
Unfortunately, it seems like they didn’t really take into account the fact that the experiment might work, and that people might be really upset that The Guardian would start up this great resource with amazing potential, then take it away again without warning. Several readers commented that this would stop them reading the main site again and I can’t say I blame them. The success of the project has encouraged several other groups to throw their hyperlocal hat into the ring too, supported and publicized by the Guardian bloggers, so it’d make sense to decamp to them.
The page has been used in a variety of ways; from publicising campaigns to save Blindcraft and The Forest Cafe to covering council meetings and student protests. It’s acted as an umbrella linking to many local sites, including Greener Leith, the blogs of local councillors, The Broughton Spurtle, Tales of One City, Edinburgh Spotlight, ReelScotland, Song by Toad and countless others. It has given a platform for local authors, journalists and campaigners to get their voices heard in the form of guest posts. Rather than trying to do everything alone, it has very much been used as a community resource, signposting existing articles, events and experts rather than rewriting stories in a slightly different way.
It seems odd to me to close the project on grounds of unsustainability, given that so much content has been generated for free via networking and goodwill. I also can’t help thinking that they knew from the beginning that they were putting money into a model that wasn’t going to make a return.
I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the advertising world, but surely the logical thing to do would have been to employ a marketing person from the start, whose job it would be to generate income from local advertising? And it wouldn’t have hurt for the blogs themselves to get a bit of promotion – on the Guardian’s main page, at the very least. There certainly weren’t any posters or bus shelters or events publicizing the thing in Edinburgh, so the success of the site was pretty much entirely down to the networking skills of the individual journalists.
And yet the site was and is known and popular, a testament to the tenacity of those involved (she said, alliteratively).
But even more than making me and other residents aware of a whole host of events, resources and websites across the city, Guardian Edinburgh has helped me develop on a professional level. Being re-tweeted on Twitter and included in the morning roundup of what’s going on has raised my profile and generated traffic for my own sites, as well as introducing me to other contacts.
It was an RT by Guardian Edinburgh that put me in touch with The Edinburgh Reporter, and contributing to that has given me the opportunity to attend the Film and Television Festivals, to interview a whole host of interesting people, and to help cover an historic election.
My inclusion in the Literary Blogosphere, whilst slightly baffling at the time, was hugely flattering and gave me the impetus to concentrate more on fiction and features – so maybe some of the blame for 12 Books in 12 Months even lies there!
And it was Michael from Guardian Edinburgh who encouraged me to write guest posts, which means I can tell people “I write for The Guardian” just like I wanted when I was a teenager.
It was, from my point of view, a very successful experiment – good enough to continue, in fact. Hyperlocal Edinburgh, saturated with content though it may be, will be a darker place without it.