I will commit £23.32 per month to a citizen-run news service for Leeds that offers quality writing with a determinedly local focus but only if 35 other local people will do the same

Think about this carefully because it’s quite a commitment.

The Guardian is “winding down” its Guardian Local pilot including the successful Leeds blog. I think this is a mistake. In just a short time John Baron and Sarah Hartley have created a service that gives a new and authentic voice to the UK’s sixth largest city. They’ve proven the value of a professional beatblogger who nurtures and complements the wider network of local bloggers.

As Jess Haigh put it,

Guest blogging on @GdnLeeds made me think finally it was OK to have stayed up North, that London wasn’t ‘all’.

And as I wondered what to do, it struck me that I already pay the Guardian £23.32 per month to subscribe to the print edition of the (London-based) paper. What if that money went directly to supporting, in Mike’s words, “quality writing with a determinedly local focus”? And how many (or how few) committed subscribers would it take to make a service sustainable?

Back of an envelope, 36 print subscribers pay the Guardian £10,000 per year. It wouldn’t fund a whole beatblogger but it’s certainly enough to get the ball rolling. If you subscribe to the Guardian (or indeed any other daily paper) in Leeds would you consider switching that spend to a citizen-run news service? I would, and so far seven other people have joined me on Pledgebank.

There’s been a lively discussion about all this on Twitter under the #SaveGdnLeeds and #SaveGdnLocal hastags so I wanted to make a few points clear about the pledge and why I made it this way.

  1. This pledge is a spontaneous initiative in support of quality local media. I had no advance warning of today’s news and didn’t consult Sarah, John or anyone else before making my personal pledge. But if the required 35 people come forward I really hope they’ll be able to work with us to make good on the pledge.
  2. This is a pledge of support, not a business model. I don’t for a moment believe that 36 people paying £23.32 per month is in itself a sustainable way to run a local blog. But I do think that if a critical mass of people care a lot and are already paying for news in print form then it’s possible to do something.
  3. This initial pledge is deliberately demanding a high commitment of a small number of people. I know there are many more out there who value the blog but cannot or will not sign the pledge as it stands. That’s OK. We can widen the circle later.
  4. This pledge is born from a conviction that there is a future for paid-for media on the the web. Indeed if you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. For all the reasons stated above I think the job of holding up of a mirror to a city of 700,000 people is too important to be left to advertisers alone.
  5. This pledge is about a community’s ability to tell its own stories. Right now we hear a lot about the risks of national supermarket chains squeezing out local retailers. Today I realised that what’s true of bread and milk may also be true of news and information.

So as of this evening I’m looking for 28 people to join me in the pledge by the end of May. I’m not altogether certain what will happen if we hit the target. But I know I’ll be very disappointed in our city if we don’t.

Sign my pledge at PledgeBank

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12 thoughts on “I will commit £23.32 per month to a citizen-run news service for Leeds that offers quality writing with a determinedly local focus but only if 35 other local people will do the same

  1. Hi Matt

    Thanks so much for doing this and I very much hope it succeeds. I’m busy thinking of other potential ‘subscribers’ and hope some people may get together to pool the contribution.

    I think – hope – that this sort of initiative and the huge and thoroughly deserved appreciation for John and Sarah shown since the sad news will encourage the Guardian to do everything it can to keep the idea going. It’s no secret that the G is facing great financial challenges, but the bods down in London – how I wish some of them could be dispersed to other parts of the UK! – very much rate the work Local has done and genuinely want to do what they can if a way forward emerges.

    There have been lots of good ideas and yours is one

    All warm wishes

    Martin W

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  6. Good luck with this. I’d love to help out but it’s s bit much for my pocket. How about some other means of fundraising for the people who would like to donate a one off sum of a few quid but can’t make a regular financial committment?

    • Thanks Mel, I know the pledge is a big ask. My instinct is that we need a small, stable core of committed subscribers to show we’re serious. But I’d love to explore ways for a larger group of people to participate at lower cost. Martin’s comment above suggests some people may get together to pool their contributions. Maybe you know a few people or a local organisation who could join the pledge as a group?

  7. The real challenge to this project is, I think, to find a representative ‘community leadership group’ to provide management, supervision, support and most importantly perhaps editorial leadership for a community journalist.

    The power should not reside with the individual but from come from an inclusive coalition to whom the journalist is responsible. This will provide them with strength, and legitimacy. The leadership group should of course have the power to hire and fire their reporter(s) and to generally hold them to account.

    Recruiting and forming this group in a way that gives the project legitimacy, strength and vigour is perhaps another challenge facing the campaign to develop this project?

    • Hi Mike,
      You’re right to highlight this point.
      In my pledge I say the service should be “citizen-led”. We’d need to explore the best model to make this a reality. However I’m not going to think too much about it until we reach the target of 36 subsribers.
      In the mean time I encourage pledgers and other interested parties to set out their ideas and expectations as comments on the Pledgebank page (http://www.pledgebank.com/citizenleeds).
      If enough committed people want to make this happen the governance will follow.
      Regards, Matt

      • I hope that you are right, as governance can be tricky for investors and I have seen several projects fall over when it comes to sorting out ‘rules and regs….’

        Will the project actually be ‘citizen-led’ or, in practice, ‘investor-led’? Who will be welcomed to the steering group?

        How will journalists be recruited?. How will their performance be judged? What does quality look like to this project?

        How will long term viability of the project be developed (an area that the present incumbents fell down on somewhat)?

        My point is that the financial contribution is in some ways (and for some people) the easy bit.

        The hard bit is developing a sustainable and sustained operation…that works in terms of a great product, great marketing and sales and great financial management and governance.

        Perhaps a little development work to flesh out some more of the broad principles would help to attract further investors and clarify things for those who are already on board?

        If this were to be taken forward as a social enterprise (After ‘The People’s Supermarket’ why not the ‘The People’s Paper’)I suspect that some further development funding could be unlocked….and many who could contribute time and effort, but not cash, could also be bought into the project…

        I appreciate just how much time and effort will be required to get this baby off the ground. If I can be of any assistance…

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