Guardian local:Failed experiment?

Lets get this hyperlocal stuff back to London. Just don't get any on your hands (via Wikipedia)

In short. No and credit for trying.

I was frustrated by much of the twitter chat around the announcement that Guardian local was no more. The insinuation seemed to be that this was a failed experiment. I tweeted that no experiment is a failure.

So it’s good to hear that the Guardian:

have also learned from the local communities who got involved with telling their stories. And using this we have continually refined our approach over the past year.

But it’s scary to hear

One of the guiding principles of the local blogs has been dialogue with communities about situations and topics of mutual interest and concern. There will still be plenty of that on guardian.co.uk – for example, in our growing army of local cutswatchers, monitoring local council activities – but we felt, in that spirit, that we should share the thinking behind the local experiment with you, the readers who have been involved all along

‘We value the community so much that we want to bring it all in to one place’. It’s trying to take community out of the community.’ Thanks for allowing us to experiment on you but we’re back off to London now. We’ll call you when we need you!’

But I’m trying not to be parochial about this and dismiss it as the Guardian cementing the London centric nature of their broader community offering. (Who wants to be a member of the ‘Guardian club’ (the touchy feely response to the paywall argument) if there is no room for local communities? But, hey, I did see a masterclass in Manchester.)

No,  I’m sure that the Guardian has learned loads and will see the benefit. I’m sure they understand how to run a crowd now. I’m sure they see the value in having someone on the ground. They must see the potential of new technology in having faster, targeted and responsive journalism. It even strengthened their brand – albeit in a passive way.

So a lot for the Guardian to be proud of. But any the failure of any experiment comes from how you use the results not the experiment itself. And they’ll fail if they take the results and don’t keep the hyperlocal team.

Relationships matter

Talking to community managers from the small hyperlocals to the big players like Propublica it’s clear that there is real value in the experience of handling a crowd at grass roots. I’m sure that Hannah, John and Michael have that in spades. I never met John and Michael but did meet Hannah. She is whip smart. I’ve no reason to assume that John and Michael are any different because Sarah, who drove the project, is planet-size smart when it comes to this stuff. To lose them would be a bad fail.

The truth is that the value of the Guardian local communities rests with them; their work and their relationship building. The unique nature of each area can’t be homogenised in to a broad model. The people who are upset to see the sites go didn’t have a relationship with the Guardian – the Guardian is the bastard that broke their relationship up!  You can’t just transplant the Guardian Cardiff model anywhere. You could put Hannah or John or Michael anywhere and they’d use that experience. But you might also lose some of their passion and, with the best will in the world, there would be little or no reason for their Guardian Local audiences to follow them.

That’s why I stand by my belief that hyperlocal is not a model that large media organisations can ever get right.

I wanted the Guardian to prove me wrong and for a while they did. They let the hyperlocals have an identity and quietly absorbed the experience.Yes!  Then they went and blew it by acting like the Guardian rather than letting the sites speak for themselves and standing by their belief “that journalism plays a vital role in communities”

Update: A great storify from Sarah on the closure – the tweets alone show what people feel about the move.

More updates: Rick Waghorn, whose Addiply system was used for ads on the local sites, is very nice in saying I was one of the people who ‘get’ the biggest lesson to learn from the saga. Shucks!  Tom Allen has a good post about the response to the closure including the start of fundraising efforts to try to take the guardian up on their offer of partnership. I was surprised that the Guardian only considered this ‘after’ the closure announcement rather than seeing it as part of the exit strategy. But the support is showing and efforts to find ways to fund the sits are underway. Matt Edgar suggests using Guardian subscriptions to pay – don’t subscribe to the Guardian any more, subscribe to hyperlocal. I’m sure the loss of subscriptions was not in the Guardians mind when they closed the site.

 The Media briefing also picks up on the this thread as Ed Oldfied looks at how the story developed and what happens next. There are some interesting facts and figures in the post but it does rest of the word failed again! A point that is picked up in an addition to the post:

It is worth pointing out that while the business model of these sites was unproven and ultimately unviable, the publishing model from a content perspective was a success – as proven by the outpouring of anger from readers in Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the awards and accolades the three beatbloggers gathered.

Sarah Hartley, who led the project, doesn’t agree with Ed’s analysis and “takes exception to the term ‘failed'”, preferring to describe the project as “halted, stopped, concluded”.

I agree.