This time last year, we launched our very first edition of Yorkshire Bylines. At that time, we were just a small group with a passion for progressive politics. And a passion for Yorkshire of course!
Fed up with a daily digest from some outlets too keen to regurgitate the government line, we wanted to explore the possibilities of citizen journalism, using Byline Times as our inspiration. But we also wanted to hear local stories from local people. We had no idea how powerful this would be.
In our first four months of operating, we recorded over a million hits on our website and today that number stands at over 2.5 million (4 million, once you include the wider network). We quickly established a unique readership (monthly circulation) of 200K and have broadly maintained this ever since.
Our aim was to publish well-written, fact-based articles on topical stories that would be of interest to people in Yorkshire – with a healthy dose of analysis thrown in. This approach has helped us gain a reputation for trustworthy and engaging content and – despite it being entirely voluntary – has helped us attract a steady stream of excellent writers.
What does that look like in practice?
The Yorkshire Bylines team
Well, we have 191 writers at last count, of whom the majority work in non-journalism professions from all walks of life – from doctors to teachers, economists to lawyers, single parents to politicians. Approximately 23 percent of our citizen journalists are retired, and bring to their writing a wealth of experience and expertise – including the delights of juggling remote learning for grandchildren during lockdown.
And between 15 and 20 percent of our contributors are students or recent graduates, many of whom study journalism at university. This has been one of the most exciting aspects of the experience so far. As word got around about how rewarding it was to write for Yorkshire Bylines, our student numbers grew – and many now volunteer with us on our podcast and social media teams too.
Today we offer formal student placements with several of the Yorkshire universities, providing a programme of work experience that includes writing, editing, social media promotion and WordPress skills. As a Yorkshire Bylines family, this also means we can introduce the student writers to the more experienced members of our team, who can offer invaluable help and support as well as encouragement for their future careers.
Of course, we also have some more ‘high-profile’ writers, now too many to mention by name. This includes academics, political commentators, former MEPs (of many political persuasions), peers and MPs, and current and former professional journalists. Without exception, we’ve found that our ‘Byliners’ are keen to help and share our vision for the future of our country.
The Bylines Network vision
That vision is one of hope and of welcome. It’s a vision of our country as seen during the 2012 Olympics, which now seem so very distant to the country of 2021. A country that will once again be proudly internationalist, proudly inclusive and proudly democratic – resuming our role as world leaders.
Information is key. We want to offer an alternative to some of the mediocre reporting that has been evident in the last few years, and that has failed to hold the government to account for many things. And often fails to listen to, and tell, the stories of people who live and work here in Yorkshire.
Since starting Yorkshire Bylines a year ago, we have launched additional titles across the country – in the North East, West Country, West England, Sussex, Kent and Central (East and West Midlands and beyond). This next year we will continue to grow, starting with East Anglia and the North West, but hopefully soon into Scotland and Wales too. For this, we need your help.
The Bylines Network – now over 500 volunteers, plus many thousands of readers and supporters – is published by March for Change Campaign Ltd, which also runs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus. We rely on your donations to do all this. This year we’re running a crowdfunder to raise enough money to employ a full-time editorial assistant. If you’re able to contribute, please click here:
From small acorns, mighty oaks grow. We think we’ve got a great brand, and a great model for the citizen journalism of the future. Join with us as we celebrate our first anniversary and together, we can look forward to great things.