Comment and insight on journalism issues from Press Gazette's guest writers

Filling the media black hole in Wales with hyperlocal news

David Williams is the co-founder of MyTown Media Ltd, an independent hyperlocal news company in Wales

I was browsing the video department of the now defunct Virgin Records Piccadilly Circus store in late 1999 when I stumbled across the DVD section.

There were no more than 50 DVDs so I was shocked when the confident teenage assistant told me, “we are doing a refit in the New Year for the DVD section to be twice the size of the VHS section”.

We had all seen fads come and go before so I remarked, “we’ll see”, before buying Independence Day on video. Needless to say it was the last VHS I ever bought. I guess the same conversation could have happened ten years earlier in the vinyl section about CDs.

But in 2009 that exchange sprung to mind when I was looking to invest in the mid-Wales media industry. As a trained newspaper journalist I was startled and somewhat saddened to return from the booming English media industry of the Middle East to see the more traditional local media here in rapid decline.

A media black hole was widening over rural Wales as the decline gathered pace. The area had an excellent weekly but time was catching up. The daily Shropshire Star’s impact was depreciating while radio and magazine coverage was virtually non-existent.

The BBC pays nothing more than lip services to rural areas like mid-Wales so it was hard for me to see what could flourish in this difficult climate.

But then I recalled Virgin Records in 1999. What could be my own fresh section that could outgrow the traditional tried and tested over the coming months?

Hyperlocal news sites were sprouting up across the UK. Retired or disillusioned journalists were behind most, simply keeping their hand in and trying to break even.

After speaking to one or two and running my own survey of 100 people’s reading habits, MyTown Media Ltd was launched and it hasn’t looked back.

On Friday 13th, 2010, www.mywelshpool.co.uk was introduced and nine months later we had one million page views and 1,000 daily unique visitors.

Not bad for a rural ‘backwater’. www.mynewtown.co.uk followed and last week we added two more – mybrecon and myradnor – so we now have Britain’s biggest county of Powys covered.

The private sector’s support already made us self-sustaining while earlier this summer Nesta – the UK Innovation Foundation – selected us as one of their ten

Destination Local projects to receive grants and spark expansion.

It has been an incredible ride so far. MyTown Media Ltd has shown that there is a demand but longevity will depend very much on tapping into those much needed public sector advertising revenues.

Strangely, the public sector, hamstrung by outdated legislation, hangs on to the golden years of newspaper advertising but with more spending cuts required, it can only be a matter of time before they too convert to more impactful value-for-money communication streams. Then, and only then, will the full evolution be complete and a whole new era of local news delivery will cover the entire UK.

 

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