In response to popular demand I have this week been working on a news site for the three South Camden Wards.
Following the touted idea of a much extended but more authoritative version of Save Bloomsbury, a number of local journalists contacted me to advocate the idea and offered to write for such a venture – for free.
Good and thorough journalism is vital for the health of an area. Save Bloomsbury does a decent job, but at the end of the day, it is most certainly a blog. No matter how authoritatively or accurately it reports on news here, it can always be dismissed as a ‘vocal minority’ consisting of just one person.
The Camden New Journal at least tries to cover South Camden, but certainly over time it has lost its focus and understanding of what people want to read about. I personally don’t care much about weekly instalments of Sir Keir Says even if it is related to the area.
The name Save Bloomsbury also limits what can be covered. Any time I venture outside the narrow field of interest: planning and what could be termed ‘Rotten Camden’, I receive a slew of emails asking: ‘how has this got anything to do with Saving Bloomsbury?’
But in Saving Bloomsbury there is only a limited armoury that can be utilised in battling the ills of the area. Journalism, political action, and legal action.
And the latter two options of political and legal action are prohibitively expensive for most purposes, while good journalism can be done for free. A journalist this week asked how much money would need to be invested upfront to create a news website: ‘£10’ I replied. ‘I’ll go halves then,’ he said.
But only reporting on Rotten Camden limits the influence of any news site. While most people are certainly interested in the things SB reports on, Average Joe isn’t interested in saving anything, yet still wants to keep up to date on what is happening in the area. We need a general purpose news site, which also takes a hard stance against Camden and its misdemeanours.
This is what I have been working on. So far it has been received positively by those given access to the full demo site. But there is still one major point of contention: the name.
Naming a news site that covers the three southern wards is difficult. Bloomsbury Times would perhaps be the most accurate name. But Bloomsbury is a strong brand in itself, and while it is indeed associated with literary excellence, it is also internationally associated with posh Georgian ladies walking around fancy garden squares with pooches and corgis.
Criticising a Labour council – no matter how right-wing the Council actually is – cannot be effectively done from a site which has Bloomsbury in the name. We who live here know that Bloomsbury is very much a mixed area, and the population of ‘posh’ people very much a minority. But that doesn’t matter much. Think of your first impressions of a Beverly Hills Times or a Belgravia Voice. Any criticism of a Labour Council under the banner of such names carries very little weight indeed.
What other names are available then? Everyone has their own ideas and there isn’t much overlap between them. Some will know of or even remember the Metropolitan Borough of Holborn, still embossed upon many of our lampposts, which covered most of what is now South Camden. Our constituency is also Holborn and St Pancras. The name Holborn to me sounds dark, grimy, and very much down-to-earth. Indeed it makes me think of Holborn Station which is so down-to-earth it is in fact underground.
My own feeling is that it would be easier to make people identify with Holborn as an area rather than change the associations of Bloomsbury with middle-class affluence. Deliberately vague in location, people from the Badlands of King’s Cross or the backstreets of Fitzrovia could more easily identify with such a name than with Bloomsbury.
All sorts of other names have been proposed, some unfortunately quite ludicrous. Bloomsbury Bugle, SCAN (South Camden Area News), The Trumpet, the Whine Cellar, West Central Weekly. Going down this road we may as well go with ‘Knowledge Quarterly’.
Feel free to give any ideas in the comments. Right now I am minded to stick with Holborn Times after a lot of thought, but someone out there might have a much better idea.
Moving on now to the writers for the site. It is unsustainable for there to be just me and a couple of other journalists writing for this site, for free, indefinitely. True to its history Central London is full of budding writers and armchair cranks who write in to the Camden New Journal at least once a month. But these writers deserve more recognition. I’m hoping that these writers can be mobilised, promoted to ‘journalists’ for our new venture.
Some think this absurd and even more unsustainable. But some of the world’s greatest sources of information are run in exactly this way. Think Wikipedia for example. Anyone can go on there and write anything they like, and yet it is perhaps the most authoritative source of information in the world. Think Google Reviews. You want to know what a place is really like and you judge it by Google Reviews, not some stuffy journalist’s opinion on the place. For anyone with experience in coding, think Stack Exchange – a moderated forum which is very much a bible for anyone with any questions whatsoever on anything relating to programming.
The key to these ‘crowdsourced’ sites is that they are moderated. People can write in anything, but a group of moderators – often themselves sourced from the ‘crowd’ – decide what to keep and what to delete based upon strict policy rules. This means that the best contributions are promoted while the worst are demoted or even deleted.
At first, the only moderator for the site would be me. But if the venture is successful and people become regular contributors, I plan to give them greater control over what is and is not published.
This method of ‘rewarding’ and ‘promoting’ contributors to open source projects is very successful. It seems petty just to have a ‘level’ or a particularly coloured ‘badge’ on your profile page along with more moderation powers. But it really seems to be an excellent source of motivation.
Key to motivating people to write for this venture will be making the site look and feel authoritative and worth writing for. Right now I’m spending a lot of time tweaking and improving the site to try and put it on a par with national publications like the Independent, Telegraph, and BBC. One of the weaknesses of the CNJ is their quite strange and simple website. This is also a weakness of SB itself – the way it is set up means I have minimal control over how things look. The HT website – or whatever it ends up being called – is set up so that I have control over every single pixel. This makes it more difficult to maintain but also gives it unlimited potential in terms of design and functionality.
While SB really only covers the misdemeanours of Camden, I want this new site to be more fully representative of things happening in our area of ‘Holborn’. There is a great deal more to the life of this area than just Camden Council’s shiteness – good and bad. If you have any stories about things that seem newsworthy, then let me know and I can put it up there. My initial policy is to include essentially everything that’s submitted, except for that which is ‘not local’, ‘overtly offensive’, or broadly speaking ‘already covered’. This being a website there is ‘space’ for everything, even if it is only a small ‘snippet’.
Please let me know of any ideas, suggestions, submissions, etc. I’d like anyone with an appetite for these things to be involved.