There is a fascinating battle going on in West London between a hyperlocal blogger and the established ‘big media’ which has become very personal. A Twitter flame war between the two parties has developed with insults like ‘tosser’ suggesting that it has all got a bit too playground.
This isn’t unprecedented but what makes it really interesting is that both sides of the argument are doing a good job. The Trinity Mirror run Chronicle series which covers the area is having a very hard time in London and there has been a marked drop in quality in most of their titles over the last five years. In commercial terms they clearly suffered by the entry into the market of the local Council which, up until this April, published their heavily subsidised H&F News. With predatory pricing of ads and a large well-paid staff it was a vastly superior product to the Trinity Mirror titles. Their sales, which had already been really low, not surprisingly fell further and they were forced to move to free distribution.
The war between the Council and the newspaper ended when Eric Pickles forced the former to shut their paper. The Council tried to tender out an exclusive contract for its advertising but there were no takers other than Trinity Mirror so the conflict ended with an uneasy alliance between the two. Despite the revenues from the Council probably being less than £100,000, Trinity Mirror have creditably seemed willing to back the titles with resources and good journalists like Greg Burns have made them into proper readable local newspapers again.
The Shepherd’s Bush blog is published by Chris Underwood. http://shepherds-bush.blogspot.com/ There are lots of people out there claiming to be hyperlocal bloggers but the reality is that few offer any real sense of their community, are ill-trained and their readership consists of other hyperlocal bloggers who are members of a network of mutual boosterism. Chris’s huge popular blog is one of the few ones that I’ve seen that offers something genuinely useful to local residents.
Shepherd’s Bush is unusually blessed for local news because as well as a good local paper and a top quality blog there is a site from the Neighbour Net group www.shepherdsbushw12.com. In 99.5% of the towns and villages in the UK this would be an outstanding local resource – in W12 it is third best.
The cause of the dispute between the two is unclear but Chris has been quite vocal about the Trinity Mirror’s acceptance of ads for adult services which he, quite correctly, points out are often placed by businesses who use trafficked women. He also believes that the arrangement between the Council and Trinity Mirror is a stitch up. The Council as part of the deal have pages in the paper’s titles given over to Council information. In this case he appears to be wrong as the editorial independence of the paper appears to be intact with negative items about the Council getting coverage.
Abusive tweets about Chris were made by a Trinity Mirror employee and then removed. He in return never misses the opportunity to criticise the paper and its staff and boasts whenever he beats them to a breaking news item which is often.
The result of this bitter rivalry has been an increase in the standard and timeliness of both side’s reporting. Readers are benefiting because providing local news has become a weapon in the war between the two. The problem as ever is how sustainable this all is. Trinity are clearly operating on a loss making basis in the area and don’t seem to have won back much of the business lost to the Council’s paper. It is to be hoped that the increased quality of their content is increasing revenues and justifying the extra staffing. Chris Underwood makes no money at all from his blog. Mutual hatred can only sustain such high levels of effort for so long and eventually the issue of funding will come into play. In the meantime the people of Shepherd’s Bush can enjoy being one of the few areas of London who are properly informed about local news and events.