Monday, 7 November 2011

Blogger Goes To Parliament

Last Thursday night saw me leaving behind the comfortable confines of KT4 to travel to Westminter  - the beating heart of UK democracy.

The humble Worcester Park Blogger had been invited to go to Parliament to discuss how online communities and local blogs can become better engaged with the Parliamentary processes and how Parliament itself can tap into these new media channels to engage with a wider audience to capture public opinion and feed it back into the democractic process.

As well as representatives from big online communities such as Mumsnet and Student Room, I was in the company of a motley assortment of 'hyperlocal' bloggers who, like myself, have established thriving local community blogs and forums - WimbledonSW19.com, Greenwich.co.uk, London SE1 and Charlton Champion to name but a few.

As we talked, some common themes emerged - the demand from local people for relevant local news, opinion and debate of issues related directly to their neigbourhood is very clearly evident and is behind the growth and popularity of so many hyper-local sites.

Also clearly evident is the frustration at the decline or even demise of local newspapers - those who do survive so often reduced to a few perfunctory pages of regurgitated press releases or syndicated pseudo-local content draped around swathes of advertisements and estate agents' supplements.

With some notable exception, the days of quality local print journalism look to be numbered. Stepping in to fill this void are an increasing number of thriving local blogs set up to inform on local issues, act as a voice for their neighbourhoods and provide essential scrutiny of the work of local Councils and politicians.

As for the reaction of local Councils to local blog sites, the same theme emerged time and time again - Councils' opinion of and reaction to local bloggers ranges from outright contempt to a stubborn refusal to acknowledge their existence, let alone engage with them. These new fangled local websites and blogs are seen as an irritation, lacking in credibility and definitely not to be dignified by any form of official response or engagement from the Council.

It might be individual bloggers who create them, but it is the hundreds of thousands of local readers who with informed and intersting comment and contribution ensure that these sites continue and prosper.

By association these blog readers (and that includes you) are regarded by so many local Councils as unimportant. These are Councils who are still firmly rooted in a world where an opinion only counts if it is expressed in green-ink on a letter, voiced in constituency surgery, or from a plastic chair in a meeting at a local community hall.

I didn't start The Worcester Park Blog with any grand vision in my mind. It always has been and always will be a bit of fun; yet I like to think that in the four years it has been running it has come to serve some kind of a purpose - to inform as well as to provide some light relief, to act as a forum for the expression of views on local events, to publicise local good causes and community issues, to address the sometimes serious issues of local politics. And, above all, to continue to laugh at the preposterous number of hairdressers in Worcester Park.

So the fact that the great beast that is Parliament recognises the role and potential of online communities and blogs, invited us up to Westminster to hear our views and wants to work with us in the future is in itself a massive step forward.

There were many great ideas shared on the evening about how Parliament can better share its welath of information that is relevant to local bloggers and communities and bring what can seem a remote and inaccessibly instution in touch with its subjects.

Even more encouraging is the news that Parliament wants to use these established sites to tap into the opinions of the wider public - we heard how Parliament worked with Student Room to seek opinion from the site's audience on a range of issues affecting young people, and feed these opinions directly into the work of Parliamentary Select Committee.

The fact that Parliament might one day in the future be directly engaging with, listening to and acting upon the opinions expressed on blogs such as this is a fascinating prospect.

It certainly leaves our local Councils with an awful lot of catching up to do.

15 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

David Hidalgo said...

Congratulations from Spain. This is a good sign of democratic health. Keep us updated as we miss KT4 from our hometown, specially this time of the year: fall, halloween, bonfire night, remembrance...

Conan The Librarian said...

Has anyone noticed recently in the Sutton Guardian (for those of you that actually get it) the constant terrible grammar and awful spelling?

axlrocky said...

Well done wp blogger, now that your a political bigwig you'll no doubt have no time for us little people like your lib dem co horts in the big house! (lol) only joking , great recognition, well deserved

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased that your hard work has been recognised. So much of what is relevant to local people can only be known by local people. You bring an insight and understanding to what we want. As an ex-marketer it is so important to have insight and be able to tap into your 'target market'. No one can take that away from you. Well done for being recognised but don't sell out on us now!

Rick said...

Congratulations WP and thank you. Aside from keeping us up to date with local issues and developments, you've placed all our locally elected representatives (and ambitious wannabes) under healthy, observable, public scrutiny, which was previously lacking.

No doubt, one or two of those aforementioned purveyors of mushroom syndrome will be along shortly, to thank you for highlighting where their performance has fallen short of our expectations and to you assure us all, just how personally committed they are to open, local democracy!

cm said...

Great that parliament are taking a serious look at non traditional local media. Hugely more informative and up to date than the Sutton Guardian and much more accessible than Sutton Council's terrible website. How about you start a suggestions page to see what issues people would be interested in you covering, or have a guest blog spot?

Nichu said...

Well done and thank you Worcester Park Blogger. I've been following the blog since I researched the area as a place to live in 2007, and continue to do so to find out what's happening in Worcester Park. It's a perfect balance of news, local history and humour. Any switched on council should make use of websites such as this to engage with their community. The very thought of constituency surgeries and plastic chairs listening to people whingeing about parking has just provoked a yawn from me. No thanks. The Sutton Guardian is simply tedious, most of the stories on the website seemed to have occurred ages ago.

Miz said...

WPB 1 - 0 Sutton

Congrads and a well deserved recognition!!!

Update from Brussels next please.

Anonymous said...

Re Sutton Guardian. Yes, the spelling and grammar is awful. I believe they put too much emphasis on cheesy headlines (surely SEO is sensible online). See the following from their website. I'm sure you'll spot the lack of apostrophes. For those with the energy, write to the Sutton Guardian and complain.

Starts

While ghosthunters tiptoed through the corridors of the Old Rectory, the 400-year-old buildings most mischievous spectre - the bottom pinching ghost - was nowhere to be seen.

Despite making itself felt at previous ghost walks, the ghost with the wandering hands stayed away last week.

Residents had donned their glum-rags for the annual Old Rectory ghost walk in Cheam Village hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the houses seven ghosts.

Ends

Jeff said...

By founding and maintaining the WP Blog, the WP Blogmaster has created something which is an important part of the daily life of hundreds if not thousands of WP residents. I for one can't imagine living in Worcester Park without it. Sincere thanks for what is a tremendous personal achievement.

I hope that Westminster politicians do NOT get involved in local blogs in any way. They never take any notice of our opinions when framing policy and new laws - so why should they start responding to views expressed in local blogs?

Let's not forget that these Westminster politicians are the same people who are making us pay the bill for the greed and dishonesty of gangster bankers whom they allow to remain at liberty and resume their bonus driven careers without any new regulation.

Geoff said...

Well, we can always rely on Jeff to chuck cold water on it.

Well done WP, I think it's brilliant news. Westminster didn't invite you to The House to pass the time of day, they must have some sort of agenda and let's give it a chance.

I like positive news.

Cold Water Jeff said...

Geoff - you can go on believing that expense-fiddling Westminster politicians will come up with something positive one day if you want. The facts aren't very promising.

Fact: Politicians never take any notice of the opinions of the people. A prime example was that Sunday a few years back when two million Brits marched against war with Iraq. The next week the British government went to war with Iraq.

Fact: The present economic catastrophe was caused by bankers making toxic loans for short term personal gain. But the Westminster politicians you trust aren't demanding the trillions back from the bankers. They're demanding it back from you and me. They've just sacked 250 nurses at Kingston Hospital to pay for the bankers racket. I didn't know they even had 250 nurses at Kingston Hospital.

Worcester Park said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lord Cynic of Lindsay said...

Well done mighty Blogger. Arise Sir WP.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this aint helping the local council, IMO. It's a cheap way of public view's ! Then again if we carry all this on we could create are own council ! ???

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