08 March 2020

Update: We have since learned that local paper Hackney Gazette has moved offices to Green Lanes, on the borders of Hackney.

Loving local

RUNNING a hyperlocal news blog: how's that work, then? Our February meeting asked David Altheer - owner, editor-in-chief, reporter, ad manager and commercial director of Loving Dalston (lovingdalston.co.uk). When David left the employ of The Times 11 years ago, he was told "you don't exist without a website." So he decided his would be about local news.

David Altheer

David Altheer

Unlike other bloggers in the area who don't even give their names, David's blog has his name and photo. So sometimes readers recognise him in the street and give him stories.

The blog's strapline is "news from Hackney and about that you'll read here first". Loving Dalston won't handle stories that another publication has already picked up.

Cuts at the company running the local newspaper had moved its offices ever further away from Hackney - to Ilford and then Swiss Cottage, In these circumstances, it was in David's view hard for the local paper not to miss most stories. (More recently, the local paper's moved to Green Lanes on the borders of Hackney and closer to its readership again: see below.)

David's keen to "give minorities a voice". He spotted a poster for an Anatolian (Turkish and Kurdish) festival in his local supermarket and asked for a translation. Attending the event, he discovered none of the English-language media had ever covered it. After Loving Dalston's story, the local mayor and MP went along went to next year's event, the year after the local paper was there.

He covers neighbouring boroughs if the story's good enough. A resident of Forest Gate was the focus of a story on London's Ahmadis - a religious community subject to sectarian persecution. Among many stories on developers, the blog ran a story from faraway Barking, whose estate agents were describing the area as "the new Barcelona."

Does it make any money? "Not enough to live on," but enough money to take David and his partner on "good holidays" that include "five star hotels".

Although Hackney has the nation's highest proportion of "young people with high quality degrees" - "very interesting" to advertisers - ads don't make much money. David stopped ads he was unhappy with - gambling- or tobacco-related - that were insinuating themselves onto his blog via the algorithms.

What does bring in the cash is sponsored links. With "hundreds of links" on his website and a surprisingly high Google ranking, links mean "little bits of money - it all adds up".

Loving Dalston started out on a simple Google blogging platform, which it soon outgrew: it's now on Wordpress on paid-for web hosting. David spends "very little money" on the website.

Webmasters come and go: David says any such blog needs a good tech person to fend off cyber-attacks: Loving Dalston has suffered several. Currently, its only social media is its Twitter feed, which David "does at weekends."

Advice? With libel law "you have to prove your innocence - I am very wary of this" and "can't afford lawyers". He advises looking into the libel insurance offered through the NUJ - or learn to "live on your wits".

  • This article was amended on 8 March 2020 to correct one of the former locations of the offices of Hackney Gazette and the name of the borough described by estate agents as "the new Barcelona." The unexpectedly poor quality of the Freelance's back-up audio recording had caused these placenames to be misheard, for which we apologise.
  • Former Hackney Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel contacted David Altheer by Twitter on 8 March 2020. David then contacted us, quoting a 2018 Hackney Gazette article which stated that the paper's offices had previously been "in Bethnal Green Road, and has since moved to Ilford, Swiss Cottage, back to Ilford, then Barking, and back to Swiss Cottage. But since July, we have been in Green Lanes - back on the Hackney border" in Islington, N16. The Freelance is happy to provide this update, and to confirm that the Hackney Gazette has never had its offices in Enfield.