As bitternepark.info celebrates its fifteenth birthday, editor Guy Phillips looks back on how it all started, at some of the highlights, and reflects on the challenges for the future.
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It seems unbelievable that bitternepark.info is celebrating its fifteenth birthday.
I remember discovering with amazement, in those pre-WordPress days in the early noughties, the free content management software that still powers the site today.
Having been involved with printed publications way back when, it was a revelation that it was now possible to publish without the burden of print bills, distribution costs, or having to paste up, make up or even hand code every page.
And it’s surprised me that a tentative, (supposedly) part-time, postcode-centred publishing project largely run by one person would eventually reach thousands more readers than some of the print publications I’ve been involved with. Numbers now often touch circulation figures for some niche national magazines and frequently exceed the population of our ward.
That’s perhaps because the site’s often covered topics way beyond simple ward boundaries (Bitterne Parkers are of course part of a bigger city picture), and been rewarded with a growing readership from ‘the outside’ too: from music to arts to politics, and from simple signposting during the lockdown to telling you where you can buy food and petrol on Christmas day, we’ve dabbled in all sorts.
Some worked, and some didn’t!
The site even branched out into ‘radio’ from 2012, with a brief flurry of live audio streams featuring local musicians and poets. And the Sunday supplement-style Bitterne Parker interviews proved particularly popular. Both have been highlights for me - of course along with our April fools.
Story from April 1, 2020: Average speed cameras for Manor Farm Road
The onward march of social media has brought challenges, opportunities and frustrations. Social media takes yet more time to run, but can help the site punch above its weight; it gives, by driving thousands of essential clicks and ‘ad eye balls’ to the site, while taking revenue away from local via its own sophisticated advertising platforms; and it has made it even easier for communities to network by setting up their own groups – which has provided the opportunity to refocus slightly, and invest the always limited time available into what’s different and works best on bitternepark.info.
The site is by no means unique. There are some 100 independent news sites or publications which are fellow members of the Independent Community News Network in the UK, and others besides, each offering genuine, local content, often holding power to account - and frequently shouting loudly and showcasing their respective areas. Together they enjoy massive readership.
And while each is different, they almost all share similar challenges, with funding and sustainability generally at the top of the list. The collapse in advertising, through the rise of social media giants, and now Covid, is a well documented story running through the media landscape - from community to national level.
So how does this end? With a big thankyou. And a plea.
The thankyou is of course to all our readers, advertisers, contributors and supporters, and all those who have helped over the years, from those sending in news tips and pictures to sorting out server glitches or other types of support. Without you, the site wouldn’t have made it this far.
And the plea is unfortunately another ‘if you like it, please support it’ appeal: if you like it, please advertise your business; and if you can, please support the site through a voluntary subscription for just a few pounds a month. The details are below. While some readers support, the vast majority don’t, and we need to change the ratio.
Thank you, Bitterne Parkers.