When news publisher Reach plc launched a new title in December 2018, it was in many ways starting from scratch.
MyLondon merged two existing titles, Get West London and Croydon Advertiser, under a new banner. The website seeks to cover the entirety of the capital, from Central London to the outskirts and all the boroughs in between.
MyLondon was given a small head start as it retained reporters and social media accounts. However, changing its URL meant pushing the reset button on its search traffic overnight.
"When you launch, in the beginning, you don’t know what your audience will want. We tried to produce a mixture of content: breaking news, listicles, features, interviews, long-reads," she said.
The team aimed to build hyperlocal patches all over the capital, in particular in the north and east where the title was not well-established. To get itself on the map, it focused on becoming search authority on popular topics.
What do Londoners care about? London weather and the London Underground are two important topics, according to Charlie Jones, a reporter on the features team.
"[The Underground] has been huge. On the features team we try to get one piece published everyday centred around it because that does bring a lot of traffic," he explained.
"Social media is also incredibly important in - people want to be heard and they will post their grievances,” Jones continued.
Elvin added that social platforms are key for developing contacts; Facebook Groups have been particularly useful for getting quotes, tip-offs and exclusives.
“As [our readers] get to know our brand, they increasingly send us pictures, tweet us and get in contact with tip-offs,” she said, adding that the story of the year came from a tip-off on a stand-off with a gunman in Croydon.
Small media startups often find it hard to source stories and get people to talk to reporters who do not benefit from the weight of a well-known title behind them.
This was part of the initial problem facing MyLondon but competent reporting and accurate quoting of interviewees have helped build trust and contacts within local communities.
"It can work to your benefit being part of a new brand because some people who talked to the Croydon Advertiser ten years ago still remember a negative experience they had with that brand. But they don’t know MyLondon and that gives you a chance to have a clean slate. We can create our journalism the way we want from now on."
It also gives reporters more creative space with story ideas around good data, like racing the London Underground and a bike across the city to see who will win.
"Even if you don’t have contacts, it’s easy to look through the website and have a look at what we do. Because there are so many boroughs in London, one version of a story in Croydon might work elsewhere.
"Think about what you know about living in a part of London, it might be ‘X things you know if you live in Walthamstow’.
"Use metrics to broaden search and see how stories perform. If you see a story doing well about a TV programme about a part of London, are there any other shows in London you could write about?
"Come up with some bonkers ideas - your editor might shoot down half of them but you only need one to be fantastic then you’re onto a winner."
She also advised to make use of your surroundings, like in another strong-performing story about the origin behind graffiti appearing all over London. If you are finding yourself wondering about something in your local area, then it is likely your readers are too.
Jones agreed and said to keep your eyes peeled at all times for gems in your day-to-day passing, whether that is graffiti, or something unusual in your local newsagents.
“Go and take a walk around, you need to know what you’re looking at, where you are and the people. Social media is incredibly important but you need to go have a look around."
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