After being made redundant, local newspaper editor David Jackman set up the hyperlocal site, www.everythingeppingforest.co.uk. Writing an article in an updated edition of the book "What do we mean by local? the rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism", Jackman says: "On leaving the newspaper world I knew I did not want to sever my ties with the people, places and news that had been my life for more than 21 years."
"Redundancy is a word no-one wants to hear. However, after 21 years and two weeks working on my local newspaper that is what I had to experience.
My venture into local journalism began on the Monday after the 1987 hurricane when I started at the then West Essex Gazette in Epping, Essex, having successfully applied for the job of trainee reporter. My first story was about a garden shed which had been blown into a neighbour’s garden during the hurricane.
It was not much of story, just a couple of lines, but when the newspaper came out on the Thursday morning I had my first ‘I wrote that’ buzz. I can still remember my first front page by-line, for a report about a fatal crash in Waltham Abbey when an elderly man died after being struck by a vehicle while out shopping.
In my early days as a journalist I was one of a team of four reporters based in a small upstairs office off Epping High Street. Two receptionists downstairs would call us down to see people who wanted to submit news items – be it a jumble sale report, wedding picture or obituary. Among the callers one day was a teenage local schoolgirl – Kate Silverton, now the BBC newsreader – who brought in a picture and a report on an Operation Raleigh expedition she had been part of.
In addition to the editorial team at Epping, there was another team of reporters based in Loughton and even more on the ‘sister paper’, the then Citizen Series based in Harlow, plus umpteen more at the main offices in Walthamstow.
Journalism – in the pre-Twitter Days
How times change. We used typewriters and carbon paper. Couriers would call in regularly throughout the day to collect the copy – articles for the three editions having been typed on different coloured paper – to take to Walthamstow. Photographers beavered away in the dark room. There were no digital cameras, email nor Twitter in those days! We eventually entered the modern world of technology when a fax machine was installed. Computers? Not yet. When they did arrive we had floppy discs but email was to be still some time off!
And then there was the landmark day when we were told we were going to be able to have a colour picture on the front page of each edition! The only drawback was that we had to decide about three days before deadline what picture was going to be used! These changes in technology make me feel old – but it just shows how much technology has developed in a quarter of a century.
Being a local reporter on ‘my’ local paper was a job I loved. Having lived in the area for all but about four years of my life – I am now 47! – I knew the area and many local people, and I was interested in what was happening on my doorstep. I covered many big stories over the years including the Korean cargo plane crash near Stansted Airport in December 1999. Like a typical newshound I still remember learning about the disaster while flicking through the Ceefax news pages on the television at home. The highlighted ‘breaking news’ type headline appeared and I was off!
Over the years my reporter role allowed me to meet many people whom I would not have had the opportunity to speak to had I been in any other profession – there were sporting stars such as Sally Gunnell and Frank Bruno, any number of politicians, and even royalty. I was invited to be introduced to Prince Charles when he visited the Abbey Church in Waltham Abbey to view the restoration work carried out after a man went on the rampage with an axe in the church and through the town.
On the morning after the attack I thought it would be good for the newspaper to launch an appeal. Within an hour or so, and after opening an account at a local building society branch, the Abbey Church Appeal Fund was set up – and it did not take long for the donations to start pouring in. Helped by national publicity, the appeal eventually raised more than £12,000 for the church with contributions received from as far away as America. The money went towards the cost of restoring the damaged organ.
From the role of trainee reporter I was promoted to chief reporter and editor, a role which I was to have for some 14 years. Over the years new editions were launched: at one point we had four Epping Forest editions covering the Epping area, Ongar area, Loughton, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill, and Waltham Abbey. But then having seen the newspapers grow in their ‘localism’ came the decision to cut back change pages and eventually to have just a single title covering the whole of the district.
Each year I would represent the newspapers and highlight journalism at school careers nights. I would often be asked what qualifications you needed to be a journalist. Having quoted the NCTJ requirements I would often add ‘and you need to be a bit nosey’. You need to be inquisitive and be keen to find out what is happening on your doorstep. And, I guess, that was me.
In my early days in newspapers the reporters would make weekly visits to the local funeral director for contact details for bereaved families so we could approach them about writing an obituary. I guess today that no longer happens with journalists likely to be told that such information cannot be given out because of ‘data protection’. Many families we contacted were only too pleased to talk about their loved ones and to have an article, however short, published in ‘their’ local paper.
We would have ‘press calls’ at the local police stations several times a week when the officers would try to decipher the crime report forms and give us snippets of news. We did the same with the fire stations. Press calls were regularly made in person and over the telephone just before deadline each Wednesday morning. We would regularly attend parish and town council meetings and report them as if we were the clerks getting ‘nibs’ (news in brief items) on every issue that was discussed, from dog waste bins, litter and allotments to occasionally issues that developed into a front page article.
In those days there was no internet, no 24-hour television news. On many occasions over the years would a story break after deadline and you had the frustrating wait until the following weeks to publish anything about it. In those days you did not have Twitter or Facebook to feature any ‘breaking news’ or to seek witnesses for your story or encourage readers to send in their comments or pictures.
How Citizen Journalism is Transforming the News
The internet and social networking has certainly transformed the way we get our news. It means everyone is a potential reporter. With cameras on mobile phones they are not just a reporter but a cameraman and indeed a video film crew. Anyone can publish news within seconds. This is progress but in some instances it has resulted, I am sure, in the loss of personal contact between journalists and their readers. Reporters can be tempted to rely on social networking to make contact instead of getting out and about meeting people face to face.
Today Facebook followers, Linked In connections and Twitter followers have replaced the tattered pages of a reporter’s contact book, brown at the edges through constant use. After 21 years working on the same series of newspapers, and having lived in the area for so long, I was fortunate to be able to say that many of my ‘contacts’ were also my friends.
When redundancy loomed several of them said to me that I should launch my own newspaper. It did not take me long to decide that such a venture was a non-starter. How would I fund such an idea as a one-man band? Many other questions went through my head. Unless I had a whole team of staff how would I get advertising? Who would print it? Who would deliver it? The list of unknowns just grew.
But then I thought about a website. Surely for a few hundred pounds I could have my own site. Register a domain name and off I go. And that was pretty much what happened. I sought some initial ideas by searching the internet for ‘community websites’ and was faced with pages and pages of links. But one thing struck me. Many of the sites had not been updated for months. It seemed people thought it a good idea initially but then, for some reason, had lost interest.
Launching a Local Community News Site
And so I was struck by the obvious – that if a local community news website was to be anything like a success then it needed regular content. I had no experience of web-building but I already had contact with local web designer Bob Moeser, whose 5BelowZero business also provides computer repairs. It was through the repair side of his business that I had got to know Bob.
A telephone call to Bob one evening was to be the beginning of my hyperlocal business. First I had to come up with a domain name – ‘Your Epping Forest’ perhaps and various others along the same lines. Eventually I went for ‘Everything Epping Forest’. That was what I wanted the website to be – everything about the area; its news, its events, its clubs and organisations and its businesses.
I was conscious at the time that there were news items, however small, which were not being covered by the local press. I wanted an easy to navigate community news website. Nothing complicated, just a handful of pages – news, what’s on, local clubs and organisations and a Local Business Directory. As the site developed, a sports page, job vacancies page and Food and Drink section followed.
Within a few days a dummy page was ready and on 18 November 2008 – and with the news page featuring a good luck and welcome message from local MP Eleanor Laing – Everything Epping Forest (www.everythingeppingforest.co.uk) went ‘live’. I sent out a launch email to my long-standing news contacts and was up and running. Here was my new business venture which was enabling me to continue to do what I enjoyed.
On leaving the newspaper world I knew I did not want to sever my ties with the people, places and news that had been my life for more than 21 years. I had never really seen my job as a job, to me it was more of a hobby for which I was paid. That first day Everything Epping Forest registered 235 visitors. I soon got into the habit of regularly checking the stats for hits and visits. Some people would call that sad, but to me it was simply being enthusiastic about my new venture.
I received numerous emails of support from former colleagues and news contacts as word spread about Everything Epping Forest. I had business cards, flyers and leaflets printed and a friend in Epping, who is a keen walker, offered to deliver a flyer to every household in the town. I attended council meetings, went to local events and took pictures. Many of the events I covered were not featured by my old paper. I would encourage people to submit short reports about their fundraising ventures, however small.
Receiving encouragement and positive feedback gave me that same ‘buzz’ that I had felt in my early days in newspapers when I was given a by-line or had an ‘exclusive’. It was great to know people were visiting Everything Epping Forest for their local news and information. When I introduced myself at events it felt odd initially when people said: ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard of Everything Epping Forest.’ I would get that ‘buzz’ again when someone would tell me they liked Everything Epping Forest and had added it to their list of ‘favourites’!
Shortly after Everything Epping Forest was launched I received a telephone call from Sky News which was putting together an item on the ‘demise of local newspapers’. They wanted to feature Everything Epping Forest as a community hyperlocal site which was seen as an example for the future for providing local news. Several weeks later and I had a similar call from BBC Radio 4 which wanted me to appear on the You and Yours programme which was also featuring the future of local newspapers.
Fifteen months after launching the Epping Forest site I decided, having also worked on a local title in Harlow, to launch a ‘sister site’ Everything Harlow (www.everythingharlow.co.uk). Early in 2012, I was approached by Archant London, the regional media publisher whose stable of newspapers include several in the area. Committed to community magazines and A5 titles, they were interested in getting involved with Everything Epping Forest.
Expanding the Business
It was seen as a unique partnership, a one-man band hyperlocal journalist teaming up with a major publishing name. And so in May 2012 the Everything Epping Forest monthly magazine was launched. Its arrival was featured in several articles in the ‘trade press’. The initial single edition grew to three, covering most of the Epping Forest local authority area with some 30,000 copies delivered door-to-door each month. In May 2013 a fourth edition covering the Woodford area of east London was launched and in June came a new Everything Harlow title in partnership with the Everything Harlow website.
The third in the ‘trio’ of my ‘Everything’ websites came in late 2012. Aware that many local schools and organisations were creating plenty of ‘good news’ that was not being reported in the local press I launched Everything Local News – a media service to prepare and circulate media releases on the clients’ behalf. Later came the Everything Local News website – www.everythinglocalnews.co.uk – the ‘home’ of the media service which features downloadable PDF versions of each release.
As well as circulating the releases to the relevant local, regional and national media each client has their own database of contacts who receive the release and pictures at the same time as they are emailed to the media. I now provide media support for two MPs, four schools and several business groups, other organisations and charities.
Redundancy is never a good thing but it can certainly open new doors. Being self-employed means you are your own boss. Whatever you achieve is down to your efforts. Any holiday means you have to pack your laptop along with everything else. Running the ‘Everything’ news sites and media service has enabled me to continue to do the job I loved. As I jokingly tell people: ‘News never stops!’ Because of that, the work can bring added pressures – but the pressure never seems to be too much when you are doing something you love.
I hope other journalists who have to experience redundancy do not think it is the end of the world but that it can simply be the start of something new and enjoyable."
- David Jackman began his career in journalism in October 1987 having studied at Harlow College. He spent 21 years working on the West Essex Gazette Series of newspapers, the Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford Citizens and the Epping Forest Independent until he was made redundant in 2008. He then set up the hyperlocal sites Everything Epping Forest and Everything Harlow and the Everything Local News media service.
What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler, published by Abramis on September 1, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 or as a special offer to readers of this blog £15.00 from email@example.com.
- See also, Paul Robertson: 'Agonising over the internet - is the regional press fiddling while Rome burns?'
- See also, Neil Fowler: Government must help the regional press - which should start charging for online.