It was one of those ideas that came from yet another conversation about the future of journalism. You know the discussion, the internet is killing journalism, newspapers are cutting back, journalists are relegated to regurgitating press releases, and how do we make money. That was how Inside the M60 was born.
Inspired by the likes of local sites such as The Lichfield blog, as it was then, and the excellent Ventnor blog, we decided to do a great independent news site for Manchester. The name came from a colleague, the platform was to be Word Press, and within three months, as the local and general election campaigns started, it was up and running.
We launched at the height of what was going to be the most close run election in years and one of the first interviews we did was with Lib Dem candidate John Leech, who was involved in what one could only describe as a one of the dirtiest campaigns in the country. For some reason we never secured an interview with his Labour opponent, despite numerous requests.
On election night we were refused entry to Manchester Town Hall by the City Council, but after much discussion, they relented. Since then, we have built up a strong relationship with Manchester City Council, with them now granting us regular access to councillors and events. Election night was a long one, with the count going on well passed its forecast hour and the Withington result ending in a fist fight between rival supporters.
Since then, we have established ourselves as a credible source covering local politics. We were there when Manchester City Council announced some of the biggest local authority cuts in the country, quickly analysing who was going to be hit and scooping the BBC with the first interview with council leader Sir Richard Leese. We were at the heart of the campaign to stop the closure of local baths, attending meetings between the protesters and the council as impartial observers. We were there for the student demonstrations, providing live coverage of the protests against tuition fees, which saw a minority of protesters dash two miles back into the city centre to try to smash up the Arndale Centre. We were there when Vince Cable visited
Levenshulme, when the scene of the baths closure turned violent.
There have been other small highlights, such as our campaign to stop a University clearing away a local fruit seller from a main street, as well as helping to publicise a campaign to stop trees being felled in a leafy neighbourhood, and attempts by Manchester’s NHS to close a surgery in one of the most deprived parts of the city following the sudden death of a long established doctor. We have also turned our hand to business, focusing on the numerous not for profit organisations, many of which face an uphill struggle in these times of austerity.
It hasn’t all been bad news, we tweeted from the first Manchester day parade with the local paper playing catch when we realised we were there live, Droylsden and FC United’s glorious FA Cup run as well as numerous cultural events.
How did we do it? To be honest I am not sure, except to say that it was bloody hard work. At times it felt that we were tied to the laptop or mobile 24 hours a day, with twitter and email constantly chirping away in the background, but we have always been ready to race to the site of news at the drop of the hat.
That question of how “hyper locals” can make money and become more than just dedicated amateurs has yet to be answered. However I take heart from the fact that even the major players are still grappling with the issue, and by and large, few if any are making money online. With probably the deepest and longest sustained recession in 80 years, the sad reality is that we could be faced with areas of the country not having access to local information.
Whether Inside the M60 or sites like it dotted around the country are a solution, it is probably too early to tell. However, sites like ours with their commitment to local issues and campaigns are a part solution, and it is, in my opinion, where investment should be going.
A grass roots, old-fashioned journalism is still the future not the past.
Nigel Barlow is co-founder of Inside the M60