In common with areas up and down Britain, my hometown of Llangollen in Denbighshire lost its dedicated local paper many years ago.
True, it still has a decent paid-for local weekly which is part of a regional conglomerate. But thanks to constant budgetary cuts and Covid, they certainly don’t have the resources to get into truly grassroots news coverage, like we did when I started out as a junior reporter in Manchester over half a century ago.
Born of boredom
So I was thinking to myself on a July afternoon back in 2012, why don’t I have a go at creating my own local news outlet? Not, of course, anything on newsprint – that would be far too expensive and risky to do these days – but a little news medium of the airwaves.
After all, I reasoned, I know enough about writing and presenting news. Following many years as a reporter and sub-editor, I’d even ended up as a weekly paper editor over in neighbouring Cheshire.
Unfortunately, after 18 years at the helm, I’d ended up on the redundancy scrapheap. But I’d kept my hand in by re-inventing myself as a freelance public relations writer, a role in which I’d spent another couple of years by the summer of 2012. Although that job kept me quite busy I had days when I wasn’t too engaged, so I was looking for another way of filling my spare time, but in a journalistic way. A free-to-view news blog seemed just the thing.
I knew a bit about the mysteries of the “interweb” from my time as an editor but not enough to spring out fully formed as an online publisher. That’s where good old Doctor Google came in. He not only briefed me on how to start my own blog, but helpfully pointed out that he himself provided the technical means to do it.
Google runs its own quite sophisticated blogging platform and, even better, guided me through each of many steps. These included laying down how many blog pages I wanted, how they should look, and whether or not I wanted Google ads to appear in the gaps around the news. I could even stipulate the overall colour of the thing, and chose a rather vivid orange to make it as eye-catching, or eye-watering, as possible.
Another crucial factor was the name of my new blog. I toyed with something solid and old school newspapery like Llangollen Herald, or Tribune, or News, but plumped for something I reckoned was a bit more “online” and down with the kids. Yes, I called it Llanblogger for Llangollen blog. Which meant it did exactly what it said on the tin.
Now I had the blogging platform all set up what I needed was my first story. That came later the same day when I went for my usual walk along the towpath of the Llangollen Canal and spotted that the entire waterway was blocked by a fallen tree, holding up waterborne traffic in both directions. That would do it, especially when illustrated by a picture I’d taken myself.
On the subject of photography, I’m not a trained photographer – as I tell everyone whose picture I take for the blog – but I try my best. Actually, most of the time, my pics aren’t that bad, after I’ve removed the lens cap.
And there were some that were memorably very decent. Those were the ones I took with my new, fancy bridge camera, acquired specially for blogging purposes, a couple of years in.
I’d done my blogging for the day one wintry evening a couple of years back when I got a call from a friend in town. They said that a massive fire was raging in a rambling old house just a few streets away from my home. I snatched up my camera and dashed round there. The street on which the house stands was one seething mass of flashing blue lights, snaking fire brigade hosereels, and emergency service personnel.
To gain the best vantage point I jumped up onto a gravestone in the churchyard overlooking the scene. I began snapping madly away at the flames leaping many feet into the night air from the roof. Then I dashed home, downloaded the pictures, and was gobsmacked to see that they were brilliant and perfectly conveyed the high drama of the scene.
Tragically, this was a fatal fire in which the occupant died. I quickly pulled together a story and blogged it together with my pictures within about half an hour, thus beating all other local media. Some of them begged to use my words and pictures themselves. It was just like the old days earlier in my career: a real scoop. A very sad one.
Service to the community
The stuff I blog every day – first thing between 6.30 and 7am – is hardly ever that dramatic. But I’ve had my moments and a few more scoops. Like the time I was first, courtesy of good local contacts, with the fact that a national supermarket chain was pulling out of its plan to occupy the new store it had built in the town. And how, somewhat relatedly, a local factory would be closing with the loss of a substantial number of jobs.
However, most of the time the blog is devoted to good, solid, very local news. This includes advance plugs and then ‘crits’ of the productions from our many local amateur stage groups, the weekly list of planned roadworks, a monthly Citizens Advice column, coverage of council elections, and so on.
In fact, I hope I’ve managed to turn the blog I invented from scratch into a weekly paper of the airwaves. This while employing the same techniques I learned as a youngster and perfected as an editor to imbue it with balance, fairness, and definitely no sensationalist reporting. I’ve been rewarded with a regular daily number of page-views around the thousand mark, which can treble or quadruple depending on the level of interest in a particular story.
In 2019 I proud to say that I was also awarded with something a little more tangible when the Town Mayor of Llangollen presented me with one of his coveted Civic Awards. The framed certificate testifies that, through my blog, I had performed “Services to the Community”. Not bad for something I first put together to while away a boring summer afternoon, then?