And we're off!

This week was the two day launch of the Books & Print Sandbox and we were amazed at the breadth and ambition of all the projects. Fully enthused we're

For the project we are focusing on the area and community of Port Talbot in South West Wales, famous for their steel works, mining, Micheal Sheen and its lovely blue flag beach.

The Problem
Port Talbot is a predominantly urban area in South West Wales. Traditionally heavily industrialized, it also has an attractive coastline and countryside. In 2009 both dedicated local papers serving the area closed. In response, a cooperative of journalists and local residents formed a social enterprise to see how local news could be generated and shared. Their research showed that 88% of Port Talbot respondents wanted a local news service and the Port Talbot Magnet was born. Published online, it’s also played a key role in staging and covering local events with participation from the wider community. From the start it has had links with the School of Journalism (JOMEC) in Cardiff University as a champion and as a resource for learning and networking.

“Research showed that 88% of Port Talbot respondents wanted a local news service” – Cardiff University School of Journalism Research, 2010 

The Magnet is created and published by local people for local people to fill a gap and meet a need. Most content is created by a core team of volunteer journalists. Residents and users are encourage to submit content. The more local people submit stories that either timely, topical or compelling, the greater the engagement and flow of local news and the more people are plugged into and have the chance to play a part in the wider community. But, as an ordinary citizen, converting what you see, know and feel to something that could be published and shared may seem daunting and difficult. How, then, to source more and better local news? How to convert knowledge into good quality, trusted content?

The Idea
Our project will tackle hyper-local news from an entirely new angle and create a platform that not only is a toolkit for collecting local news but a motivational tool to engage communities in the process. The working title of ‘Little j’ comes from the term little j journalism, referring to grassroots or citizen journalism.

Examples of hyper-local news have appeared around the globe with varying levels of success (e.g. Lichfield Live, Barnstaple People, Patch and Blottr) but none have solved the problem of how to convert interested parties into engaged citizen journalists.

“The research showed 88% of residents want a local news service, but this's not akin to 88% wanting to actively get involved with a local news service.”

So whilst this is going to end up with a digital output, we are seeing this as a human problem – a problem of motivation and removing the barriers to creating your own news. We intend to work with the citizens of Port Talbot and also to apply insights from psychology, behavioural economics and game theory to create a platform that gets people excited about being part of a citizen journalist community.

What will success look like?
We have three months to research. design and develop something for Port Talbot and, at the moment, that's a scary prospect. We don't want to skimp on the research but also we want to feel like we're moving forward so we intend to create rapid prototypes of the system and get it out there as soon as we can for people to start testing. The platform will likely be online so we will be able to let people access it from their own homes whilst still recording their actions and thoughts. Getting this constant feedback will be crucial to making something that actually works for the community and the Magnet.

At the end of the project our ambition is to have a beta version online that Port Talbot is using. However, this won't be the end. We want to then move the platform to see how it performs in other communities and keep revising it when we get feedback. We hope to then keep it expanding until the system proves itself to be a robust and valid method of motivating citizen journalism.

And to the question of what's the business model? Hmm, answers on a [digital] postcard please.