The Londonist is a blog about London, written by Londoners, for Londoners. It is one of, if not the, most popular and relevant blogs about our fair capital city. Following my piece looking at how the Londonist compares to the freesheets, I dropped the team a line and was delighted when they said they’d be more than happy to answer a few questions.
Many thanks to Dave at the Londonist for pulling together these particularly insightful musings.
Do you see Londonist as complementing or competing with the traditional London news sources such as the Evening Standard and The Metro?
Whilst we do cover news stories that are specifically relevant to London and Londoners, we are obviously not a news agency! The information behind our newsy posts is, for the most part, gathered from existing news sources – although on a few occasions we have managed to beat the proper news outlets to a big story (such as the Camden Market fire). This relationship with the established press is bidirectional. As well as Londonist taking its lead from journalists, all the traditional London media sources have also picked up on our original content in the past. Given this symbiosis, Londonist is much more complementary than competing with the traditional London news sources.
There are other key differences worth noting. Because our remit is ruthlessly London-focussed, we will only report on news that is specifically relevant to London, unlike the ES or the freesheets, which will also report on national and international news. Because of this, we are able to concentrate on the Londony aspects of the news that some of the more traditional news sources might miss. We also attract a different audience. The freesheets are largely read on paper during the daily commute. Londonist is mostly read at home or office and always online. So in that sense, we’re not competing to any great extent as we inhabit different niches.
What’s missing from London reporting – both online and offline?
Local reporting in particular could be greatly improved by joining up the dots to local government and citizen journalism. London has an established but struggling local news network that still operates on the traditional journalistic model. It’s hard to see how printed free newspapers will survive under the paid journalist plus print model. I’d love to see more online community portals with local characters, bloggers and journalists all contributing news, reviews and features, perhaps at the borough level and with some kind of buy-in from the local authority. A shining beacon of this grassroots yet authoritative approach is the SE1 Portal, which is a fine resource even if you’re not a denizen of that part of London. I think there’s great scope for rolling out this kind of site to all areas of London, and linking them up to council departments for community feedback on local issues such as rubbish collection, graffiti, street crime, etc. Eventually, even democratic and legal processes could be fed through such a mechanism.
How important is Twitter to the Londonist news offering, and how do you see Londonist’s use of twitter evolving?
So far, we’ve used it mostly as an alternative to RSS, as a means for people to subscribe to our content. But we’ve also played with it as a tool for quick progress reports during some of the wacky adventures our writers get up to (e.g. themed pub crawls, ghost hunts, etc.). It’s been very useful as a source of new readers, as people tweet about stuff they’ve read on our site and link through. Twitter is one of our main sources of traffic these days – often second only to Google search. We’ll probably use it more for image-based updating in the future. It’d also be fun to have some kind of Twitter filter linking into our sidebar so readers can see all the most interesting tweets about London on any given day, but at the same time we don’t want the site homepage to become too beholden to any one technology in case it all falls through.
Londonist has a loyal and expanding community who are very active on the blog – how has Londonist developed and grown this relationship, and what can other regional news & culture blogs take from this?
Londonist’s contributors (a.k.a. ‘Londonistas’) are all volunteers. We do what we do for no reward, other than maybe a pint of beer and packet of crisps every now and then. Because of this, everyone who contributes to Londonist does so because they want to – reflecting a passion for all things Londony.
It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true to say that our community of contributors and readers is Londonist’s greatest strength. We maintain a fairly wide network of friends and contacts across many areas of London life (many of them also London-obsessives), which gives us lots of opportunities for collaboration in some of the most interesting and stimulating events and initiatives that are taking place in the capital.
Our Flickr community has been one of our greatest strengths. We encourage readers to put images of London in our Flickr photo pool – we now have something like 50,000 photos of the capital in all its wonderful glory, from nearly 10,000 readers. We then use these images to illustrate our stories – a fantastic resource which other websites and the mainstream media could do well to emulate. As a thank you to our readers, we recently organised a photo competition in conjunction with Slow Down London to get some of the best photos from the community displayed in Foyles’ café. It’s direct interactions with our readers such as this that we’re most proud of.
Finally, we are an inclusive bunch. We’re always keen to hear from Londoners, to share a beer or two with them, to get involved with what they’re doing and to encourage them to get involved with us.