Watford Online Media Scene

If I want to get news about my home town online there only appears to be one credible option at the moment.

That being the local newspaper website which insists on squeezing articles and relevant comments into a section less than a third the width of the webpage.  It really is hideous and bizarrely the homepage is little better as the site, like the many clones for other towns which have a newspaper produced by Newsquest, has a stupid marquee displaying jobs from one of their partners.  That said the coverage is much better than I have been able to get anywhere else although the sheer amount of scrolling required to use the site is immensely annoying thanks to all the surrounding adverts and links to totally unrelated material on the site.

One good feature of the Watford Observer website is its blog section which has 21 local residents writing about local issues or what they have been up to providing bloggers with an audience and extra content for the paper at zero cost.

Another local publication, the free monthly MyWatfordNews magazine has a very underutilised website. There were formerly separate websites for each local area covered by the company but now they all redirect to a single central website which has marquees and rotating and sliding banners galore. It’s like the 1990s on Geocities. But worse. And this is a professional publication that wants your advertising spend. On the site there are two large navigateable-to articles on the homepage with another give a link at the bottom. The physical magazines can be viewed via a built-in pdf style viewer but the articles are not given their own pages on the website.  The magazine is really good and I enjoy reading it but the website is absolutely shocking.

The BBC offers little and I don’t think anyone would realistically expect them to be competing with, or even allowed to compete against, these publications.

Next up are the OurSiteName<InsertNameOfOneTownFromAListOfAHundredHere> type directory sites that want to get local small businesses advertising on them.  Sometimes, but not always, these sites include a “Local information guide” or selection of news articles about the local area they are targeting.

On thebestofwatford this comes in the form of a blog. Although coverage is at the rate of less than one brief article a day which are mostly press releases this actually appears to be the best ‘blog’ of local news.  It is clearly written by someone local and is illustrated with photos.

Activ Watford has a ‘news‘ page however it is clearly not their priority as is the eighth tab across in the navigation menu after various classified ad categories. The news, all linked to on external sites, is imported via some kind of RSS search and at the moment at least 50% of the stories relate to a Watford many thousands of miles away in the USA.  Not good.  The site also has a hard to get to ‘information’ page which contains links to press release (council, police, charities etc) articles on the site.

It is very hard for these websites without a physical local presence to get an audience and the Watford Observer clearly have a huge advantage over the other offerings by being part of a large network.  This brings deals with national advertisers and of course local journalists already on the ground and the content posted online would be produced anyway for inclusion in the paper.

However I do think that there is an opportunity for a second local news website to add some variety and perhaps cover some different stories.  I think MyWatfordNews is the best placed to do this as they deliver their magazine to thousands of homes each month with the website address printed on the front and clearly have managed to monetize their website buy selling adverts to local businesses.  They also have to produce content each month for the magazine and this could easily be published online.

MyNews charge £50 a month for a front page advert on the homepage of their network of websites (which cover surrounding towns and villages).  I currently count 5 large adverts in rotation and one small advert on the homepage.  Potentially £250+ a month although I doubt the quoted price is what these companies are actually paying.

Knutsford, with a population about a quarter that of Watford, is a good example of a town with 2 online news sources. There is the Newsquest Knutsford Guardian (change the “knutsfordguardian” section of the URL to any other paper in the network to see the masthead change) and the independent Knutsford Times.  If they can have two credible online news websites why can’t we?

2 Replies to “Watford Online Media Scene”

  1. HI there PhIlIp.

    InterestIng, FIrst off thank you for the mentIon, Its always good to have Inbound lInks but more over that the subject Is “news dIscussIon”

    I need to set out some core facts. The Knutsford GuardIan Is a 150 year old prInted newspaper that, lIke all prInted news across the natIon, It has been sufferIng at the hands of a dIffIcult economy and dImInIshIng advertIsIng sales.

    I setup the The Knutsford TImes In answer to a call for addItIonal news content In the town, people complaIned that the knutsford guardIan was not coverIng storIes accurately. The truth was It was, lIke all papers, runnIng on a reduced team whIlst tryIng to make ends meet.

    My tItle Is an open book for cItIzen journalIst to fIll the deeper communIty gap and broaden the towns news broadcast reach. Two years have passed and one thInk I have learned Is that unless the model Is 100% and drIven so, It Is VERY hard to make a lIvIng out of It.

    I now team up the the the Knutsford GuardIan sharIng news and Ideas openly to support the town. Only a few days ago we actually changed the websIte to be more magazIne / news centrIc. ThIs has created subtle marketIng and advertIsIng opportunItIes that wIll eventually pay Its way and hope fully some wages.

    From the outset II NEVER looked upon the Knutsford TImes as beIng a money spInner but Instead act as a support mechanIsm for support groups, volunteer teams, the polIce and help for my opposItIon tItles! IdealIstIc? PossIbly, Powerful and InformatIve? most defInItely.

    SettIng up another newspaper for Watford: That I wIll help you wIth! I have experIenced the costs of doIng It, managIng and maIntaInIng It etc. After two years I can offer plenty of Ideas and support.

    Best of luck

    Jonathan Farber
    The Knutsford TImes

  2. Thanks for the comment Jonathan.

    The Knutsford Times is definitely a community level project. I don’t think it is ever going to make business sense to create something so indepth about such a small town unless you are part of a larger network where resources/ad sales can be shared.

    I only wish independent projects like the Knutsford Times were commercially viable.

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