Nine and a half years ago, I decided to take my local blog charting the whimsical weirdness of the town I lived in and point it at politics. It seemed like it would be a fun thing to do for a short while, especially as the candidates included a former Central News presenter who was known by very few outside the East Midlands, and had hardly been on telly for two decades, but was well known to me as a avid TV watcher in the eighties and casual Prisoner Cell Block H fan. It should make for a few amusing posts, I imagined. Things got very weird, and to cut a story very short I found I was writing a blog more or less solely devoted to local politics, often driven by the sheer horror of what was out there when probed.
I’ve tried to retire many times, and felt that the successful action against Broxtowe Borough Council over the Summer was a valedictory moment, and time to step away. The Beestonian, which span out of this blog before assuming a life of its own and going on to greater things, was more fun to run. My day job at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature was -is -ridiculously good fun as well as doing something that I believe incredibly deeply in: showing that the greatest step on the ladder in so many ways is to foster a love of reading. I get asked to do a lot of community-based things, including taking a school governor role, sitting on the local Civic Society committee, and advising local individuals, campaigns and businesses how to promote themselves effectively. I was asked to -and accepted – a part-time position lecturing in journalism at Nottingham College. I have a lot on. This blog had been fun, but maybe it was time to walk away.
Then there is the most important thing in my life: my toddler son. He turns three this weekend – feel free to wish him another year of fun and silliness – and everything else is secondary to him. I was an unlikely political journalist; now I was an unlikely devoted father.
I simply can’t do it again – I can’t commit to the huge amounts of time, energy and terror of legal threats that a proper blog on the election commands. I’m in an incredibly fortunate position to not have to further burnish my credentials, to get my name out there, to demand attention from readers.
Yet there is a real problem with local political journalism right now: there’s simply not a great deal of it. I won’t get into the historical and complex reasons behind this – us hyper-local, utterly independent digital-first journalists are probably part of the problem. But while the 2010 election had many dedicated eyes upon Broxtowe, the 2015 and 2017 campaigns saw these becoming fewer. There are some fine local journos out there: Kit Sandeman, Hugh Casswell and Tony Roe are all brilliant professionals. Yet with so many battles to be fought, so many patches to cover, much goes by unreported.
To square this circle, I’ve decided to run an election blog, but not write it. I’ve put a call out for budding citizen journos to come forward and take over the blog: using my resources, contacts and platform to report on the campaign to win Broxtowe. In the same way I have an open editorial for The Beestonian, I want to give other journos the skills, experience and – this bit requires you, keep reading – funds to become proper trained local journalists. The more people have the skills to be able to speak truth to power, the better. If that can be the legacy of this blog, then great.
I’ve so far commissioned two very promising younger journalists with little experience, and they’ll be reporting for here very soon. Our editorial line is
- Independence: none of us are members of a political party, and while I will take posts from those who are, it will be clearly stated next to their byline. Readers of this blog know I have a leftish streak, but find me an editor who doesn’t hold some sort of position and I’ll show you a viable Brexit deal. Independence will be the core of this blog.
- Irreverence: I’ve done plenty of serious, straight-faced journalism in my time and its an important thing to have, but in the next six weeks it won’t be the theme. We won’t be doing po-faced polemics. We won’t be doing detailed examinations of policy. We will be doing critiques of the typeface of campaign material. We will be doing interviews with each politician that will ban party-line cliches. We will be doing anything that actually cuts away the huge amounts of crap that comes with each election and talk to YOU as an intelligent, curious reader rather than a reactive drone.
- Broxtowe-centric: Boris Johnson is not standing in this constituency. Jeremy Corbyn is not standing in this constituency. Jo Swinson is…you get the picture. There will be mountains of stuff on those three, and other national figures, absolutely everywhere for the next few weeks. It’s unlikely we’ll find a fresh take on this, so we won’t bother. Our focus is SOLELY on Broxtowe, and informed by the fact we live in a representative parliamentary democracy, not a presidency. The diminishing nature of local media often gives us the feeling that the reverse is true; with ‘the provinces’ seen as the place to vox-pop on a weekday afternoon in a mildly condescending manner; I hope we can provide some form of corrective to this, providing something unique, dedicated and grounded right here.
- Funded: and this is where you play a part.
This blog doesn’t cost a penny. It doesn’t carry advertising – aside from the stuff WordPress sticks on which a decent ad-blocker will hide and I never see from my end. I’m not in hock to some shady background figure pouring tons of funding in to serve as a propaganda tool (though if any shady background figures do want to pour money in then I best warn you I have called just about every election incorrectly and you’re best off sticking the cash on the lottery).
It will have costs to run: while I will be running the editing in my free time, the work carried out by my small team of journos will need some recompense: first, to cover expenses travelling and buying immense quantities of coffee; second, so in receiving a wage they can properly describe themselves as ‘professional journalists’. Journalism now is dominated by those who can afford to do it, as unpaid internships and volunteering are both a necessity for all and an impracticality for many: this explains why the majority of top level UK journalists in 2016 were privately educated against a national average of just 7% .
This has most likely seen a widening gulf in the last three years. While those non-state school journos are no doubt great at their craft, they are not representative and important voices are not being heard; the true diversity of the UK is not being heard. In some small way, we want to be part of changing that.
So out comes the begging bowl. I will pay for all expenses towards commissioned contributors here, and do so out of my own pocket. If you can help towards that, and then cover a fee for them, all the better.
I commit to not taking a fee, and ensuring all expenses are paid covered even if we only bring in a couple of bottle tops and a token from Beeston Beach. I will, the week after the election is over (and presumably when I can once again shutter this blog) publish a full breakdown on how it is funded: I will be utterly transparent.
So if you can dig into your pockets; if you can make this a two-way street we’ll make every penny donated worth your while: and perhaps play a part in changing how local journalism works:
You can Paypal here: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA .
And to whet your appetite, an hour after this blog is posted the first two exclusive scoops of the BroxElects19 will be hitting the newstands. Or dropping into your inboxes – click the button in the top-right margin of this site to sign up and get an alert each time we post.
Welcome aboard. We’re in for one hell of a ride.