“I remember when all this were paper.” Is that what you think when you stand looking out across the local media landscape? It often feels like the once-dominant local newspaper industry has been bulldozed to make way for a bright new media estate of tweets, blogs, microsites, listing sites, Facebook posts and just about anything else that can be used to transmit news from person A to person B. Except that it’s not quite like that because somewhere in the middle of this confusing new landscape still stands the local newspaper, like a listed building surrounded by new-build.

But even that’s not a totally fair assessment either, for two reasons. The first is that the local paper, in our case Ye Olde Richmond & Twickenham Times, is not just some thatched cottage totally overshadowed by the new. It still has an important role, significant influence and is trying to adapt to the new world. The second reason the thatched cottage analogy doesn’t work is that when the going gets tough, the local paper is not a listed building that can be propped up by English Heritage or Lottery grants for historical or sentimental reasons; it’s a business and could quite easily suddenly stop being one.

TIMES ARE CHANGING
Why mention any of that? Well, sometime ago, many months if we’re honest, a message reached us asking if anyone actually read the Richmond and Twickenham Times anymore and “wouldn’t it be good to do a survey about it”? The answers to those questions are yes and yes. People still read it, businesses still advertise in it and angry residents still write letters to it. But all three of those groups also increasingly do those things online. The business of making actual newspapers out of dead trees is in serious decline. It’s only a matter of time before the traditional printed newspaper is found only in the world of Hoxton retro-chic.

The R&TT did try to get down and local in the digital age by setting up a Twickenham Live micro-site to bring the ‘hyperlocal’ into its already local world. But it didn’t really work. Filtering existing generic content by keyword and hoping readers will chip in too wasn’t enough to create something that felt part of a local community. The site still exists but, it’s a bit of a case of read it and weep. Let’s move on.


TWITS

Phase 2 from the R&TT has seen their resident journalists take to Twitter using personal accounts to engage with the community. It’s been more effective than the Twickenham Live experiment and builds the kind of rapport with the locals (or at least those who use Twitter) that simply isn’t present when the paper’s @richmondtimes tweet-bot pushes out links to their online stories. And it’s that sense of being part of the community, or at least in it, that makes the difference. OK, so there have been one or two ‘learning experiences’ but the approach seems to be helping. Real news mixed with local banter? Don’t rule it out, we’ve heard it can work. But can it generate revenue? The jury is definitely still out on that one.

Twitter: the home of news?
Twitter: the home of news?

So what about the rest of the competition? Recent years have seen a proliferation of local websites operating on either no money or very little money. Twickerati, TeddingtonTown, StMrgrts, Totally Richmond, Best of Richmond, the Council’s own website, and even family focused sites and blogs like For Sanity’s Sake and Twickermum have all become sources of news competing to a greater or lesser extent with traditional local media. And don’t forget the power of Mumsnet as a local influencer and forum for discussion. Although not all of these would fall within the post-Leveson press regulation definition of news providers, some might. They’re certainly providing news and good competition for the traditional local press. Do they need regulating?

APP FOR THAT?
And if you don’t want to bother reading all these new-fangled websites you can simply search on Twitter or see what you’re local friends have been posting on Facebook. Or if even that’s too much, you might want to try your luck with a local app. There are already a few locally-focused mobile apps and the number is likely to increase. Big Local App is a franchise operation with a Richmond edition or you could try the independent and locally produced Twickenham App.

A BRIGHT NEW FUTURE?
Most new initiatives, whether website, blog or app, claim to be some kind of one-stop shop for local news and listings. But most aren’t. The reason they aren’t is that producing content is time consuming and sometimes boring. Doing everything well is very hard. And that’s why, when it comes to news, having properly produced, edited and prioritised local content remains important, even if people don’t want to pay for it. Taking a news feed of BBC content which happens to mention Twickenham is not enough. It’s not just about aggregating content, we still need people who can dig out intrigue at the Council (is there any btw?) as well as give us “Bus Hits Lamp Post” or “Village Fete a Success”.

If, or perhaps when, the commercial business model fails, then it might be left to the local hobbyists and amateurs to take over. Would that be so bad? There are already people out there filling in the gaps in local news and taking the power away from the traditional businesses. These hobbyists, amateurs, franchise operations and even the communities themselves are all creating a new local media landscape. Whether it’s actually any good, and whether they have the capacity or inclination to tackle the tough but important stuff, is a subject for discussion. But whether there’s still a sustainable long-term business model for ‘proper’ local content written by salaried local journalists remains just as debatable.

So, how do you get your local news and what does anything mean basically?

TAKE YOUR PICK FROM OUR LINKS:

R&TT Journos:
* @Twickenham_Rach
* @AmyDyduch
* @clare_buchanan

Mobile Apps
* Big Local App Richmond
* Twickenham App

Websites:
* Richmond & Twickenham Times
* Twickenham Town Business Association
* TheBestOfTwickenham
* Totally Richmond
* St Margarets
* East Twickenham Village
* Teddington Town
* Teddington Town
* For Sanity’s Sake
* Twickermum

Copies of the R&TT on the pavement (photo: © @twickeman)
Copies of the R&TT on the pavement (photo: © @twickeman)