Pennsif’s Progress #563 – Don’t blame the media, become the media

In 1995 I set up one of the first online community networks in Britain.

The network grew quickly. 

To begin with it had what’s on listings, articles about local history, lists of local facilities like doctors and pharmacies and the like. I added a guestbook. And then I added the first service in Britain for finding old schoolfriends. The network grew even faster and started to attract an audience of ex-pats from around the world as well.

Results from local football games, and other sports reports were added. We started dabbling in match reports from main football team in the city.

The network grew even more.

By 1996/97 there was a growing number of these local community networks around the country. A meeting was called at Sheffield University for organisers, coordinators and editors of these networks.

I went. One lecture changed everything.The topic of local news was discussed. Real news had seemed too difficult for my network – you needed real journalists and all that jazz. That was best left to the professionals – the newspapers, the radio, the TV. They had real journalists who knew the law and wouldn’t get sued. They must be doing it right. Trust them, they are journalists

But the speaker at the conference had other ideas. He talked about ‘citizen journalists‘. That sounded interesting. I fancied being one of them.

“Don’t the media. Become the media.” he said. 

He knew what the community networks had at hand. With the web, with the internet, with our local online networks we had something very powerful.

We could make the news. We could become citizen journalists. We could become media. All by ourselves.

And so it came to pass. I became a chief editor. We got lucky and got European money. We contracted a real newspaper editor to train us. We employed real journalists as well. We built up a team. We went to courts and councils. We wrote the news. Lots of it. We became the primary online media for a whole chunk of the Midlands.

The traditional media didn’t like it. One little bit. They banned their journalists from reporting on us or even mentioning us.

We tricked them and got round the ban. Then we employed their journalists. They got more annoyed. They tried to buy us.

I declined.

Then social media came along. People started to look in other places. I moved to another place 200 miles away.

My little network grew to have a third of a million visitors at its peak. By then my focus was shifting elsewhere.

Wasn’t that just fun while it lasted. We were pioneers. We met Prince Charles. We arranged marriages. We got on page 3 of the Sun. That was fun too.

I learnt a lot. I learnt to be a journalist. I learnt to write news. I learnt to make news.

I learnt not to take no for an answer. I learnt to make our own stories. To set our own agenda.

I learnt to be the media.

And now I am back here again. In the same place, but in a different space. The crypto space.

The ‘real news’ is fake news. It is dumb news. It is daft news. And for the most part it is absolutely irrelevant news.

With the blockchain we can make the news ourselves. We can be the media again.

Here Comes The News. Tune in to my new news show on Thursdays, 8pm – 11pm UTC, MSP Waves Radio.