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?