Independent journalism – how you can help: by Whitstable Views

Where do we get our news?

These days, daily print newspapers are in decline. The process has been a long, slow one, starting in the 2000s and continuing ever since, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. In one month alone, April 2020, sales of national papers dropped by as much as 39%. Meanwhile, of those papers that survive online, many are hidden behind paywalls or are asking for donations.

The concentration of news in fewer and fewer hands has also been an issue over the years. Just three companies dominate 83% of the national newspaper market, while five companies control 80% of local titles.

These days most people are getting their news through social-media sites such as Facebook. This has impacted local newspapers in particular, which have suffered a double blow due not only to the drop in readership, but also to the loss of advertising revenue, which has largely migrated online to sites such as eBay.

Times

Whitstable Views started off as a blog for the Whitstable-themed articles of author CJ Stone. Most of the pieces originated in the Whitstable Gazette, from his column, Written in Stone, which appeared on a monthly basis from 2009 till 2020.

Prior to that, CJ wrote a regular column for the Whitstable Times, On Another Planet. That column started in the late 1990s but was discontinued in 2008 as the newspaper was downgraded in the wake of the financial crisis. The paper moved to Canterbury, merged with Adscene, became a free newspaper, then shifted to Margate before finally being shut down as a printed paper in 2017. It survives now only as a website, Kent Live.

A similar thing appears to be happening to the Gazette. It moved from a whole building in Estuary View to a small office in Christ Church college a couple of years back, where it continued to run news for the whole county, but with dedicated pages from the towns. It always included a couple of pages of letters but since the pandemic the local content has been severely restricted. That’s where CJ’s columns appeared, on the letters page, near the editorial, but, since March last year they have been discontinued.

His last official piece was Data Check, which appeared in the Gazette on the 5th March 2020. He wrote one last piece, I See You Neighbour, which is published on this site, but which never appeared in the paper. After that they let him go.

Disappointed

Another Whitstable-based author, Julie Wassmer, also wrote a long-running column, A Piece of My Mind, for the Whitstable Times before the print version of the paper folded. A great supporter of local journalism, Julie featured a regional newspaper in one of her crime novels (Murder on the Downs), in which one of the book’s characters mirrors her own views: “In the last 15 years, over 200 local newspapers have disappeared in this country, and more than half the towns in the UK have no local newspaper at all. I think that’s a great shame… A good local paper holds up a mirror to its own community, encourages accountability, exposes corruption… and wrongdoings of all kinds.”

In her “valedictory” piece for the Times, Julie wrote: “I’m disappointed that regional newspapers are all too often dismissed as the kid brother of the national press. Over the years, reporters and editors on local newspapers have fearlessly undertaken important investigations and campaigns, including the pardoning of Timothy Evans, who was wrongly hanged for the Rillington Place murders in Notting Hill (Darlington Northern Echo), and the resumption of the inquests for those who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, for which the Birmingham Six were wrongly convicted (Birmingham Mail).

“Investigative and campaigning journalism must survive — even if regional newspapers do not — but you can remain confident that I will continue to write and do my best to make public what some would prefer remained hidden.”

Platform

With that in mind, CJ extended his Whitstable Views platform to Julie for her to contribute as a guest writer and her first piece, Deeds Not Words, appeared in September 2018. Julie has since gone on to write a number of guest blogs, including this one: Rosie Duffield’s “Brand” Collapses, which to this day remains our most successful article ever — more than 25,000 hits and still rising.

It was after this that CJ put it to Julie that Whitstable Views might become a dedicated platform featuring the work of a number of people with views of interest to the people of Whitstable. Julie loved this idea and she and her husband, Kas, very kindly provided the funds for turning Whitstable Views from a free site to a paid one — in the interests of independent citizens’ journalism. The new site allows us to do many more things in terms of appearance, making it more jazzy, more appealing to the eye, as well as much easier to use.

That was in June last year. Since then the site has hosted blogs by 27 different writers, including one from Portugal. We won’t list them all, but you can be sure they are a diverse group of people, ranging from local Tory councillors to members of the Socialist Party. Go to the site and check them out: https://whitstableviews.com/. You’ll find a wide variety of subjects covered, from environmental issues to drugs, to CND, to the arts, to local photography, to pollution, to local history, to reviews, with, of course, a fair smattering of articles about the pandemic, as well as a number of important appeals.

One thing that needs to be emphasised: the site doesn’t create itself. It takes many long hours of dedicated work to make these pages as appealing as they are. We would also like to add our thanks to Neil Jenkin, who has been copy-editing the articles for a number of months. It takes a particularly finicky nature to want to fret over the length of dashes, the frequency of capitals and the position of commas in a sentence. Fortunately, Neil has such a nature, and the quality and consistency of the articles has gone up as a consequence.

Independent

One last word. Although we are happy to do this work, in order to give independent voices a chance to be heard, whether they be in Kent or elsewhere, and for the sheer joy of putting out articles on subjects that we think are important: there are expenses. WordPress costs money, as does advertising on Facebook. Our aim is that one day we will be able to pay our contributors.

So, it’s with this in mind, and with an increasing need for independent citizens’ journalism in these days of a declining news market, that we make an appeal to you for donations. As little as £1 will help. If you have an online bank account you can donate easily and directly using these details:

Name: CJ Stone. Sort code 07-01-16 Account number: 41241717 Ref: Whitstable Views.

Or you could use PayPal: user name christopherston@gmail.com. Make sure you mark it as a gift to friends and family as you go through the process, otherwise PayPal will take a cut. There are also buttons for fixed amounts on the donations page: https://whitstableviews.com/donate/

If you are a technophobe (we know some of you are), you could always send a cheque to:- CJ Stone, 49 Bluebell Woods, Shalloak Road, Canterbury CT2 0QB

Other ways you can help:

  • Make sure you share and like our articles on Facebook and Twitter, and whatever other social-media platforms you use.
  • Follow the site to get regular updates about new articles when they appear. Press the “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen and that will take you to the option to sign up. (It disappears as you move the text down, then reappears as you move it back up again!)
  • Leave comments on the site rather than on Facebook. Let’s get a debate going. All of our contributors are willing to engage with you if you leave a comment.
  • Finally, to all writers out there, we would LOVE you to make a contribution. Read our submissions page for details on how to go about that: https://whitstableviews.com/submissions/

Happy reading: from the Whitstable Views team.

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