A journalist who set up a hyperlocal website has revealed that he gave it up because it wasn’t making any money.
Richard Jones launched Saddleworth News in February 2010 but handed the reins over to someone else after he realised he couldn’t make a career out of it.
Writing in the new book What Do We Mean by Local?, Richard said that far from being a blueprint for the industry’s future, hyperlocal sites faced the same financial pressures as all other news operations.
Richard, who now works as a visiting lecturer in online at the University of Leeds, has passed the site on to a journalism student at the University of Huddersfield who is writing Saddleworth News as a final year project.
He wrote: “I’m a journalist, not a salesman. And I found selling ads on Saddleworth News difficult. Despite my site’s reach of more than 20,000 unique users per month in an area of only 24,000 people, it was hard to persuade the butcher and the baker of the value of taking an ad: much easier for them to do what they’ve always done and use the glossy magazines or the daily paper.
“Most of the ads I did sell were to people who used the website as readers and had their own small online businesses. But I only ever made £150 a month from ads, a paltry return given that I had extended the time I spent writing it to two hours every weekday.
“When my daughter turned two and we wanted to start putting her into nursery for at least a couple of days each week, I thought about trying to make Saddleworth News my full-time job. Had I been 22, I might have given it a go, but with a family and a mortgage, gambling isn’t so attractive.
“I would have needed to increase my income from the site at least tenfold to start to make it viable as a career, which would have meant spending all of my time chasing cash rather than chasing stories.”
Richard added that hyperlocal websites do have a future but is sceptical about whether hyperlocal journalism of a professional standard has any more of a future than newspaper journalism.
“For all the benefits of hyperlocal reporting, the cash crisis facing other parts of our trade is there too,” he said.
“Working on Saddleworth News was fun and frustrating, exciting and boring, illuminating and tedious, just like journalism is. But I’m afraid it didn’t get me any closer to a model which will keep reporters in the councils and courtrooms.”