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.