The one thing that can’t be taught

By Ben Black | 11th Jun 2014

Cwmbran Life was set up three years ago after I spent 20 minutes on wordpress.com. I didn’t have a plan of what would happen next or how I would find stories. The Community Journalism MOOC was a brilliant way for me to learn new stuff to improve Cwmbran Life and take a step back from the juggle of running a hyperlocal around a day job and family life.

I run the site on my own which has meant being a ‘Jack of all Trades’. The MOOC helped me look at how I do things and what I could do better. It has made me realise that I’m never going to have the skills to be a WordPress developer. The biggest confidence boost the MOOC gave me was a reminder that there is one thing that can’t be taught:

“I live in Cwmbran and I love the place”

The skills from the MOOC like finding a writing style and editing images can be learned. But never forget those two things that make you unique as a hyperlocal: you live in the community and you care about it.

However, the exercises from the MOOC around tone of voice and audience gave me the confidence to put myself in the stories a bit more.

The usual approach to journalism is being an ‘observer’ but the MOOC got me thinking about giving a different voice on Cwmbran from what someone would find in the mainstream media. Cwmbran Boating Lake is a popular attraction and I tracked down the man who built it. He is 90 years-old and I met him in the pub. Before the MOOC I would have written it as an observer but this time I put my own local knowledge in the story and even a photo of my daughter.

I used this style of writing when I spotted the ‘Asda bride’.

The Asda bride

During the MOOC one of my stories made the national press. During a visit to Cwmbran Asda I saw a woman in a wedding dress and took a short video. I put myself in the story I wrote and how the whole scene summed up why Cwmbran is a great place to live. I even included this line in my post: “I’m smiling and have goosebumps as I type this blog.”

Hyperlocal and mobile

The stats on the MOOC around mobile changed my thinking around hyperlocal. It is essential to have a smartphone with you all the time and have the confidence to go up and talk to people.

Hyperlocal has to be fun

Sustainability is my biggest worry. I don’t worry about earning money from Cwmbran Life but that is a part of future plans that the MOOC encouraged me to think about. Getting bored is the real fear. But thanks to regularly stumbling across stories that just would not make the mainstream media and the feedback I get I can see me keeping it up for some time yet. The reason for that is it is fun. I post links to jobs or photos of job adverts in windows and get 50 people ‘tagging’ their friends. It makes me smile that this simple stuff could help someone get a job.

Use Facebook

My Facebook page is crazy at times to keep track of but it has become essential and has helped me build a personality for Cwmbran Life. I am now posting more on Facebook that on my WordPress blog but that is back to the stats around mobile use. I can share things I see on the spot and in a format that people like to read on social media.

The MOOC and my day job

My day job is in public relations. PR is about telling stories in different ways and the things I picked up have already come in handy in the office.

Any questions

Tweet me at @benblack to ask anything about Cwmbran Life.

The Community Journalism MOOC has now closed but we will be uploading many of the course materials to this website in the next few months.

Image accompanying this article is copyright Jonathan Crookes.
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