Hannah Waldram – Learning the practice of beat blogging

Hannah WaldramBeat — for those of us not directly in the world of or local news reporting, we might think is an urban or rap musician . Beat is the now common practice of using social technologies and local social network sources to inform and craft hyperlocal news stories. A term used by digital and hyperlocal journalists.

It is hours spent “immersed, connected, traversing the beat” [wherever situated, however constructed] listening and sharing the stories that many national and larger media companies do not cover; or need people on the ground to cover.

While, I had heard the term stateside many years before from articles written by Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis; and I’d met journalists who ‘kind of blogged’ I’d never really met or observed the practices of someone employed full-time to be a beat blogger. That was until I met Hannah Waldram, aka @GdnCardiff (@2012-011). It would be Hannah who would introduce me to the practices of her craft and her ways of working within and around Cardiff.

A leading thinker on the subject, Jay Rosen originally described the practice of in 2007 as:

… a beat reporter could do a way better job if there was a live social network connected to the beat, made up of people who know the territory the beat covers, and want the reporting on that beat to be better. (Jay Rosen, 2007, PressThink).

With Jeff Jarvis the same year commenting on the role and purpose of beat blogging and the launch of the project beatblogging.org [no longer active], saying:

It reconfigures the place of the reporter in the information flow chart.

The reporter was a gatekeeper before — only the expertise he chose would make it to the public in print. But now the role of the reporter can and should be different: as a moderator, vetter, enabler, encourager.

So I like to think of this as turning reporting inside-out: Before, the reporter put himself at the center, because it was through him that reporting flowed to the press and public. Now there can be a network of people who report and advise and the reporter should be asking himself what he can do to help them do that better; the reporter stands not at the center but at the edge…

I think beatblogging can get journalism back to its essential mission, discarding the distractions brought on by the means of production and distribution to which the journalists once had exclusive access. The role of the journalist becomes clearer, even purer: They organize information for communities and communities of information.

So beat blogging while being a practice, a way of working traversing local networks and newsrooms, is also about facilitating, curating,  and supporting the sharing of deep rich stories that represent niche interests. Especially local interests the big boys and girls in the big cities may have forgotten how to play in or connect to. More recently, Steve Buttry provided a list of ways a reporter could/should use a beat blog.

But it was in 2010, at my Cardiff Geek Girl talk where I was fortunate to meet Hannah Waldram, that I would learn about her role as the Beat Blogger, one of the first of such a roles in the country (UK), that I’d come to learn more about the practices of a beat blogger. From the presentations she gave, the local projects she supported and her day to day posting of local news stories from in and around Cardiff at http://www.guardian.co.uk/cardiff/ Here is a video of Hannah talking about her role:

My first impression was that Hannah not only cared about local stories and using social technologies to capture/share local voices; she understood the art of curating them.

An alumni of JOMEC, previously she had worked as a social reporter by Birmingham based Podnosh; the editor of adance website and she also founded the hyperlocal website BournvilleVillage.com. Hannah was also one of the two founding members of Cardiff Blogs (with Ed Walker). Using her skills and passion to build and connect networks of bloggers who like, Hannah were also interested in sharing stories about niche interests (see Hannah’s list of the Cardiff Blogosphere in May, 2011; and the list she started at Cardiff Blogs ).

You don’t need to be attached to a leading news organization (like Hannah was) to be a beat blogger; but you do need to learn the practices of documenting and reporting the news in an authentic, responsible and factual way (as I am sure Richard Samrbook, Emma Meese and Glyn Motershead from Cardiff Centre for Community Journalism would say).

From 2010 to 2011, Hannah would spend her time following up on leads, drawing out the narrative from local events and stories; from Roath to Whitchurch, Cardiff Bay to Elly. News stories many of the large media companies and national new journalists miss or deem unimportant on the big stage. Hannah’s practice of blogging local news, events and stories from around Cardiff gave a voice to the many stories that often fall between the cracks of endless chatter and international noise (see Best of 2010 and Best of 2011 for review).

Hannah inspired many people, including myself, encouraging me to reflect on my own blogging practices as she injected energy into the blogging community in Wales. The practice of doing only gets you so far. When you love the practice you are doing, the possibilities are endless.

In 2011, it was really sad (and a shock) to hear that the Guardian had decided to close the Cardiff Blog; and Hannah was to move to the Guardians office in London where she was to take on the role as a community coordinator on the news team for guardian.co.uk. Building a community through practice takes time. More time we wished she had. London’s gain was certainly Cardiff’s loss. A loss felt very heavy in the blogging community across not just Cardiff, but Wales, as evidence by some of the followers of her blog:

You’ve done an amazing job, and the connections and threads you’ve weaved in the city will continue to grow. Best wishes for your new job :) (Tom Beardshaw, 27th May 2011).

We’re really going to miss Guardian Cardiff Hannah…its been such a good resource to keep up to date with what is going on in the city, thanks for supporting and promoting The Cardiff Story Museum (Cardiff Story, 27th May, 2011).

And then this …

As our Guardian Cardiff disappears, so does our insight into the workings of our local council… and other aspects of life in Cardiff.

It’s been wonderful to have a journalist with “a bit” of quality based in Cardiff – you just need to read any national (or local/regional) newspaper in the UK to see how low in quality (and over-opinionated) many of our journalists are.

If only this project had been expanded to provide bottom-up news service for the whole of the UK. Perhaps it will return when those at the top realise that people are tired of “non-stories”, “celebrities”, and the other irrelevant junk that fills the pages of the Guardian and other national newspapers. (IansView, 28th May 2011)

A couple of years on, Hannah’s impact is still felt across Wales; and the friends she made, she is still strongly connected to. Maybe one day she can be tempted back to Wales (we misses you :-)).

To Hannah, beatblogger, local story teller, lover of ballet and queen of the hyperlocal, I dedicate this #WOWWales tribute.

Hannah Waldrum,#WOWWales colleague, mentor, and friend.

Who inspires you?


Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales.

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales. OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.

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