First launched as a blog in 2010, Kentishtowner won funding through Destination Local, Nesta's programme to stimulate innovation and investment in the UK hyperlocal (very local) media sector.
The north London title has gone on to launch a print edition, optimise its website for mobile including an online shop and geo-tagged business directory, launch south London title Below the River, and get nominated for the 2013 and 2014 Newspaper Awards.
We checked in with founding editor Stephen Emms and co-editor Tom Kihl to find out what sort of impact Kentishtowner has had on the community it was first inspired by.
What does ‘hyperlocal’ mean to you?
Hyperlocal was a word we hadn’t really considered before the Nesta funding - we were just doing our thing at the time. It’s been interesting to find out that what we were doing had a name and a community, which we’re now a part of.
Hyperlocal for us means that the basis of what we do has a geographical location. But that’s really just the starting point. It is our USP and it gives us a really fantastically-engaged audience but that alone is not enough.
What is the secret to your success?
People think they’ve got to report road blockages and cats up trees and things like that, which is fine if they want to, but we think our title is valued because we don’t report that.
We cover all sorts of things from social history and entertainment-type news through to restaurant and bars reviews. It’s lifestyle content, but as people feel it’s helping to evolve the area they have a deeper engagement with it. They’ll share our features like they would those in a broadsheet. For example, a successful feature for us will have 200 likes on Facebook.
People get very excited about things like a no-go area suddenly becoming a thriving community pub - these are the stories that people want to read about.
We’ve had some viral successes too: our one-handed hairdresser story did well internationally and a story we did on nightclubs did very well too. Certain stories work well on two levels; we now tailor those stories to have an international interest as well as a local interest so they get picked up by a wider audience.
How do you capture the voice of Kentish Town?
Every week different people from the community write something for us. On Mondays people write about something that is important to them and it could be anything from an art gallery closing to a fish stall on the market that’s disappeared.
On Tuesdays we have a Q&A with different people from the area. We’ve heard from pub owners, coffee shop owners and even some international celebrities for example Boy George’s interview, which went absolutely massive. One of our most popular interviews was with the woman who sells flowers at Kentish Town tube station – everyone knows who she is – she is a celebrity!
What impact has it had on the area?
There’s so many examples. And to show people how we can support the high street has been great. The founder of the Free Space gallery wrote a story for us in our ‘What matters’ section about how they needed funding – and they got it through our story. There’s going to be an art house cinema opening up in an old Pizza Express building, which we’ve championed. Every story we've done on it has had thousands of views.
We have helped a pub called The Grafton become one of the most popular pubs in the area. It's positive for everybody that the space is being used in a way that works and is a community hub as well.
There’s a kind of hipster Chinese place Zing Zing as well, it’s got a really cool interior – like a coffee shop. Some people love it, some people hate it; it promotes lots of debate. We’re building a case study with them as there’s a direct relationship between a review we published and an increase in their sales. They put three extra members of staff on the Saturday night after our piece came out and they still couldn’t cope with all the orders.
In the hyperlocal relationship – because you’re all living next to each other – you need to be able to show businesses that advertising is not just them spending money to support your publication, you need them to actually see a return.
Everyone already knew about crazy Camden, posh Hampstead and gentrified Islington next door so helping to put a previously underrated part of London on the map has been really interesting.
The area has moved in tandem with the publication as well, everything has come together at the same time. There are lovely coffee shops on every corner and nice pubs – it really has changed - but it’s very much got its own identity as well. Although Kentishtowner covers north London it’s very much got Kentish Town at the heart of it and people that live here are proud of it as well.
Photos: Kentishtowner founding editor Stephen Emms and co-editor Tom Kihl, Kentishtowner in print and online, all photos by Richard Lewis
Stephen and Tom have written A Survivors’ Guide to Hyperlocal Media, a practical and useful guide for hyperlocal media publishers to help make their service a success.