David Elks: The death of hyperlocal, or just a move to something different?
TUNSTALL Chamber of Trade is asking for review of the licence for Tunstall Mini Mart in a bid to cut down on the number of drunks hanging around in shop doorways and urinating in the telephone box.
They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, and this photograph, captured the problem of drinkers on the streets in broad daylight in The Sentinel yesterday.
Stories like this can come from many sources. Often, a reporter will see something and suggest it to the news editor, or they might get a tip-off. It might even be flagged in a council report.
The basis of this story and problems of on-street drinking in Tunstall came initially from a picture posted on community website run by Matt Burke called www.mytunstall.co.uk.
For me, this site and other so-called hyperlocal sites like it have become an invaluable source of possible community news in the same way newsletters and library noticeboards were when I was a cub reporter.
However, in the past couple of months three high-profile websites serving North Staffordshire have either closed, or significantly scaled back their operations.
In August, one of the most prominent figures in the development of hyperlocal news, Tony Walley, announced he was stepping back from the Pits 'n Pots political website which he co-founded with Mike Rawlins.
That news came shortly after the Longton South site run by Mark Ellam announced it was closing down.
Spool back just over two years ago and there were 16 active sites run by volunteers providing community news. Now there are nine, and falling.
So does this signal the death of hyperlocal? Of course not. It's just that innovation on web happens so fast that even today's leading-edge tech can be consigned to the dustbin within two or three years.
The primary driver behind the so-called hyperlocal scene and citizen journalism was the advent of simple-to-use tools and websites that allowed users to add their own comments, articles, pictures and even videos (dubbed web 2.0).
But tools are nothing without a cause, and it was the threat to close Trentham High School in late 2007 that galvanised Tony Walley, a school governor at Longton High School, to create the original Pits 'n Pots blog.
From that start, the co-founders created a full-blown political website for Stoke-on-Trent devoted to reporting on the politics, and the politicians, of the city.
They streamed live updates from the public using Twitter to capture some of the drama – and confusion – of the Hanley EDL Rally in January 2010.
So why are these sites falling down? Three reasons; lack of time; lack of money; and the development of new, even simpler-to-use platforms such as Facebook.
As a journalist looking in, I've always been constantly surprised by how much time volunteers devote to these sites.
For example, Tony Walley is the managing director of a steel stockholders employing 35 people in Talke.
He rang me shortly after he made the decision and admitted he'd lost enthusiasm for writing three stories a day while trying to juggle work and a growing passion for radio and music.
Probably the most influential factor on the hyperlocal scene has been the rise of social sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
The common path for any blogger was to create a site with strong pictures and articles with which to create a passionate community of supporters. That could take weeks, months or even years with more obscure subject topics.
With Facebook, that's all changed. Within minutes, a user with an account can create a 'Page', and invite their friends to take part.
Given the power of Facebook, it's not surprising to note that a tribute page set up for schoolgirl Courtney Holdcroft pulled in more than 4,000 followers in less 12 hours after she was knocked down by a bus outside school.
Does that mean that hyperlocal is dead? Not really.
It is true that the idea of updating a site regularly can be hard work, and might not be an option for everyone.
Examples such as MyTunstall demonstrate what is possible with a small, passionate community of contributors who care about where they live.
And the idea that people can use the internet to express themselves and to raise support (or opposition) to a cause has never been stronger.
However, the core strength of Facebook is also its key weakness. With more than 750 million followers, there's no bigger site to get your message across. The problem is that there are so many pages, topics and threads that it can be difficult to find what you're looking for.
Which is where www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk comes in.
The new site now allows individuals and organisations to post their own articles, picture galleries and discussion topics.
We've also had pictures about charity coffee mornings and school events.
It might only be a picture, but it helps tell a great story.
David Elks is digital publisher of The Sentinel's website, www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk