Greg Hadfield
Reasons to be cheerful. Not a normal subject for journalists and journalism to ponder.

But that was the optimistic theme for today’s TEDxBrighton event.

It's certainly "an idea worth spreading", to echo the slogan of the world-famous annual TED conference, attracting leading thinkers and doers and spawning spin-off events around the world.

Understandably, journalism doesn’t usually merit many mentions at TED; the acronym stands for technology, entertainment, and design.

I used my presentation at today's event to urge fellow citizens to work together in making Brighton and Hove – my home since 1986, when I got a job in Fleet Street – into an "open-data city" to rival San Francisco, Washington or New York.

Afterwards, I pondered how such a move could offer a lifeline to local newspapers up and down the UK.

In the footstep’s of the Guardian’s excellent datablog, local newspapers could put themselves once again at the heart of the new wave of cities, where organisations – frequently those that are publicly-funded or democratically-elected – make data available so that others can use it, often in innovative ways: to visualise it, to build iPhone apps, to engage with it, to hold organisations to account with it. In short, to shape a more digital democracy.

By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities and in one sense, of course, all cities will eventually be digital. Data is going be a key component of that future, especially open, machine-readable datasets that are linked to other datasets.

My guess - as we look forward in hope to an increasingly-connected world, comprising largely of connected cities - is that open-data cities, their citizens and their businesses, will enjoy big benefits by stealing a march and getting to the future first.

Just as cities such as Brighton and Hove grew as a result of being connected to the rail network in the 19th century, so they will prosper by becoming hubs in the new global network of networked cities.

Predominantly at national and global levels, open data is the fuel for Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a "semantic web": a mesh of data, rather than the current network of documents, in which data can be linked together, wherever it sits, by computers that understand what it signifies.

"Raw data now" was the call from Sir Tim, the father of what we used to call the worldwide web, a call that echoed round the globe when he chanted it at TED 2009. As a result, the UK now has the initiative; and London has the London Datastore.

But few cities have made the leap. Brighton and Hove, with a big and vibrant community of digital innovators including, is better placed than most.

If a newspaper such as the Argus – with its unique authority at the heart of a real-world community, with its unrivalled local knowledge – got involved and joined with others to catalyse a citywide commitment to open data, the results are beyond imagination.

As we know, local newspapers have seen their community of readers migrate online, have seen their business models undermined by digital advertising, and are now seeing their relationships with local businesses weakened by the arrival of services like Groupon – not to mention Facebook Places and foursquare.

By helping to free our local data, by re-inventing themselves as local data hubs, and by working with local businesses and local voluntary organizations, city newspapers could be part of the new conversation. They could then face the future a little more optimistically.

Let’s be honest. They don’t have much left to lose.

Greg Hadfield, a former Fleet Street journalist and internet entrepreneur, is director of strategic projects at Cogapp, a digital agency with offices in Brighton and Hove.

See Greg's TEDxBrighton slideshow on open-data cities below and read his full presentation at this link.

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