Setting up Nation.Cymru

My new year’s resolution for 2017 was to do things rather than talk (or tweet) about doing them.

As a first step towards that goal on the 1st of January I bought the domain name Nation.Cymru with the intention of setting up a community-driven national news website.

This sounds very grand, but it all depends on you. I'm not going to be able to do anything without your help.

We’re all aware of the problems currently facing the commercial Welsh media. With a small and comparatively poor population (within an UK context), the Welsh media market simply can’t compete with the London press, a problem further exacerbated by the decline of print sales.

In order to close the ‘democratic deficit’ that exists in Wales, we need to create a Welsh public sphere. Such a national public sphere exists on the pages of the Welsh-language press, in magazines such as Barn, Golwg, O’r Pedwar Gwynt, and websites such as Golwg 360.

There is a danger however that these publications are largely preaching to the converted – the Welsh-speaking middle class. These are the people who already care about our nascent Welsh democracy.

The English-language media in Wales has, unlike the Welsh-language press, always been regional in nature. And if the national media are essential in creating a ‘national community’ as Benedict Anderson claimed, what kind of community are created by the Daily Post, Western Mail and Cambrian News? Communities called North Wales, Mid Wales and South Wales, I’d wager.

Of course, only some 5% of the Welsh public make use of this regional press at all. The vast majority get their news from media organisations based primarily in London. I could point you to a swathe of academic papers that confirm that seldom do these news outlets cover Wales, but I’m sure I don’t need to.

The result is that the people of Wales have little or no understanding of what their national political institutions do. That’s bad for democracy, and bad for governance, too.

Miroslav Hroch explained the progression of a nation as one from A to C. A is the background work done by historians who discover a nation’s past; but the most important step is from B to C. From something discussed by the intelligentsia into an identity common to the man and woman on the street.

Since 1999 we’ve been wavering somewhere between this B and C. The 2010 referendum confirmed that the people of Wales fully supported the Welsh National Assembly. But the conversation about where Wales should go next is still in many ways stuck on B, because, lacking a proper national media, there is no real medium through which that conversation can take place.

The digital revolution has progressed to the point where there’s no real excuse for that. What the rise of the SNP, Brexit and Trump had in common was that even though their success was covered to a great extent by the commercial and publically-funded media, a lot of it was and remains negative coverage – they actually built up support through community-run websites and social media. There are examples of these kinds of websites in Wales already, but they are diffuse. We need to stop singing in the shower as individuals and come together as a choir. No, we don’t want to be the next Trump, or Brexit. We have no interest in ‘fake news’. And Wales is not Scotland. But we do want to see the people of Wales wake up to the existence of devolution, that it’s important, and that they should be paying attention to it.

Welsh-language content will also be included on the site, alongside the English – but it will be different Welsh content to what is offered in English, rather than a translation. The idea would also be to normalise the sight of Welsh language content alongside the English and the idea of Wales as a bilingual nation. Some extra content within English language articles could also be provided in Welsh where appropriate, as is the case in some bilingual newspapers in Spain.

This clearly won’t be a 24/7 news service to begin with as I have a full time job and no funds to employ anyone. However, in the age of social media I’m no longer convinced that a 24/7 news service is required, as very few people depend on a single news portal for their news. One or two good articles, given prominence on social media, can be much more effective than 30+ press releases that are identical to other news sites.

It will clearly take a while to build the website into something to be proud of. But my feeling is that it would be better to start somewhere, with limited content, and to build from there, than to do nothing at all. Nation.Cymru will be a non-commercial news site with any money made from adverts etc re-invested in the site or, if possible, used to pay contributors. I would very much appreciate it if you could voluntarily contribute articles and idea to the website once it has been set up. There are so many intelligent, eloquent people out there that are passionate about Wales, that if everyone contributed the occasional article we could keep the website ticking over quite nicely, and ensure that the burden does not fall on any particular person or persons. The trick is to pool our efforts.

The first thing we need, however, is some hard cash. It’s going to cost a few hundred quid to get the site off the ground in the first place, in terms of paying for hosting and building the website.


If you would like to contribute, please visit this Go Fund Me page. If everyone who has told me they want to see this kind of website donates a £1, we’ll reach the required £250, or beyond, in no time at all.

Comments

  1. It should also be remembered that most regional print media is owned by a small number of conglomerates, usually based far from the regions they cover. How many truly local papers are there anywhere in the UK at any larger scale than a parish newsletter?
    See www.trinitymirror.com/documents/brands-page/tm-print-portfolio-25-october.pdf. In Cornwall for instance the daily "Western Morning News" (which tends to mainly cover Plymouth and Exeter) and the weekly papers "The Cornishman", "Cornish Guardian", and "West Briton" are all owned by the same company, formerly "Cornwall and Devon Media", which was owned by the same group as the Daily Mail via Northcliffe Media (which also owned Pravda in Slovakia at one point), though Cornwall & Devon Media seems to now be a dissolved company All of the newspapers are now owned by Trinity Mirror. There is a common online presence for the various weekly papers in Cornwall now called "Cornwall Live". As an example of its output the dictator of Cornwall is listed as #1 most powerful person, with a link to an advertising feature for one of his housing developments.
    Perhaps an online national weekly paper could be a way forward, since unless you can do it 24/7 it is not possible to compete on immediacy with the mainstream media, or Twitter. However, something that always comes out on a particular day of the week people may start to develop a loyal following for.

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    1. Thanks for the message. I agree that a lack of independence between titles is also a problem. It can also be a problem when radio stations and print titles are owned by the same company, and they're not allowed to do stories about each other. The answer is a news website completely free of any obligation to make a profit, owned and run by the people of Wales. I think the way to compete with 24/7 news is not to compete. People don't need to see new stories posted on a website every five minutes, and everyone covering the same stories. What we need is quality not quantity.

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  2. Daliwch ati....Go for it......The world is built by our mindset.....and it is built by action directed by words....not words alone......(also team up with people to get funding....no man is an island)
    Ymlaen

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  3. Da iawn Ifan cyfle i godi ymwybyddiaeth o sut mae Comisiynwyr yr Heddlu yn ffitio i mewn a chydweithio a awdurdodau cyhoeddus eraill yng Nghymru. Gad fi wybod pan wyt ti'n barod am stwff.

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  4. What sort of format do you have in mind? Would it be published in a blog format as and when articles are written, or as an online newspaper, perhaps initially weekly but with an aspiration to daily once the manpower is available?

    The Cornish Language Partnership (now Cornish Language Office) publishes a newsletter (now at new link), in some cases there were articles in English which had a summary paragraph in Cornish (and occasionally the reverse), so that the language was always visible even if it wasn't a Cornish language publication.
    The more recent ones have tended to be fully bilingual, however with a format with parallel text it can be difficult to concentrate on the second language rather than be distracted by the English text particularly for a learner. The alternative would be to have two versions of the document, but then the trouble is that English language readers do not have visibility of the Welsh language.

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    1. I'm not a big fan of bilingual content. By that I mean printing a Welsh story with an English translation next to it. The danger is that if everything Welsh is also available in English then there's no motive to use Welsh.

      In terms of layout, it will look like a new website. Something like this http://thehill.com/

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  5. Hi Ifan,

    This is a fantastic idea. I know this because I, like loads of other people in Wales, have also had it and talked about it lots of times. The signal difference is that you've done something about it.

    Your comment on bilingual content is also spot on. It certainly pinpoints the reason I have never learnt Welsh to a functional standard, and I know that is also applicable to many more people who wouldn't admit to it publicly.

    Two more things I'd like to add, both relating to the online nature of your enterprise:

    1. If you're restricted to taking payment online, your potential support base will be narrower. Even though it's easy to get the impression that everybody now has a bank account and can pay via the internet, it's not the case. In particular, you'll lose potential support from benefit recipients (who can often only open useless 'basic accounts' whilst on benefit), or anyone whose earnings are primarily in cash rather than transfers (such as hand car-wash workers, street musicians, anyone working off the books etc).

    Arrange a real-world payment system and those people - including me - can get involved.

    2. Although starting as an online presence is relatively cheap and practical, newspapers carry tremendous political and cultural power. This is not just the case on the day that they publish, but because they hang around in sheds, magazine racks, cafes, hairdressers, fireplaces, libraries and the memories of print addicts and academics for weeks and generations after their publication date. Sure, you can't do it yet, but it would be foolhardy to rule it out for the future - especially given the impact of The National on the Scottish political environment and (probably) on potential investors in the media sector.

    This point also bears on what you say about a 24-hour news service. Sure, it can't happen yet, but if New Jersey can host a multiplicity of news radio stations with only twice our population, there's no reason Wales couldn't and shouldn't. Rolling news and 'breaking news' set agendas and force people to consume mainstream media - even when their considered political perspective is to regard such media with suspicion.

    Once again, good on you, and thank you for starting work on what so many people have just wished for.

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