Society

London to Berlin via Amsterdam: hyper-local citizen journalism grows

Article published on April 24, 2012
Article published on April 24, 2012
‘Hyper-local blogging’ concerns new blogs or online magazines characterised by their dedication to a particular area or locality. They may be a hub for local restaurant reviews, digital archives for local history or grow into daily, regional online magazines. Editors, contributors and readers explain their popularity

It begins with a strong sense of local pride. ‘I started the original blog because I felt Kentish Town's charms were overlooked in favour of east London, a place I love but feel is somewhat over-subscribed,’ says Stephen Emms, founder and editor of The Kentishtowner, a popular online daily magazine which began life as a local blog focused on North London. ‘I started blogging on local arts events in galleries, and new restaurants and pubs. The statistics are doubling the whole time with thousands and thousands of new readers each month.’ Local blogs often help new arrivals to an area integrate better, instantly allowing them insight into the best spots their new home has to offer. Sarah, an avid reader of The Kentishtowner and London resident of only four months, agrees. ‘When you’re new to a place, it’s hard at first to make connections. For weeks, my closest thing to a friend was the barista who served me my coffee every morning. Reading local blogs allows you to get to know your area and the type of people that live there. You instantly feel more at home somehow.’

From blog to book

... to book in 2012Some blogs are focused on preserving local history. One popular East London blog, Spitalfieldslife, is dedicated to telling the stories of residents of Spitalfields, a neighbourhood characterised for centuries by fluid movements of populations, going back as far as the French Huguenots in the eighteenth century. Populated by east European jews, Irish catholic dockers and, since the 1970s, Bangladeshi economic migrants, Spitalfields has a wealth of local colourful characters, allowing its anonymous but rather prolific author to publish a profile of a local resident every day. The blog proved so successful, its stories have been collated and published as a book.

The craze is certainly not limited to London. Berlin has dozens of local bloggers who, unlike their British counterparts, often take a more thematic approach. They may be concerned only what’s happening in the Berlin the arts scene such as with Bangbangberlin for instance, or documenting a certain period in the cities past (Cabaret-Berlin). There is no shortage of neighbourhood blogs; just look at the wealth of sites listed here.

Antidote to austerity?

Amsterdam’s thriving hyper-local blogging scene seems to be populated mainly with expats. Americans in particular are muscling in on the natives’ technological territory, keen to extol their virtues of their adopted neighbourhoods in blogs such as amandablogandkiss. Local pride is responding and blogs by native Dutch are beginning to crop up more frequently. Meanwhile, local and small scale doesn’t mean inferior writing. Many blogs such as The Londonist feature writing often contributed by media professionals. The Kentishtowner’s rapid graduation from a blog to daily online magazine can also be attributed to its focus on quality of writing and content. Stephen, wkose background is as a contributor to newspapers such as The Guardian, Independent, Sunday Times and many others, insists on The Kentishtowner being about ‘quality writing first and foremost.'

'European cities where hyper-local blogging is thriving tend to be relatively solid economic landscapes'

Interestingly, European cities where hyper-local blogging is thriving tend to be relatively solid economic landscapes, with Dublin, Athens and Madrid and others are notably lagging behind. There has been much in the media about the financial crisis affecting national pride - it shouldn’t affect local pride too. These cities are made up of vibrant, interesting, historic neighbourhoods that have much to offer. In these times of austerity, local restaurants, bars and other attractions need support and hyper-local blogging is one way of doing that- promoting local business as well as helping to instill some local pride. Stay accessible, interactive and thriving.

Image: (cc) *little* Siu-shan LEE/ flickr; in-text © courtesy of spitalfields.com