West Leeds Dispatch: Get involved – and our future plans

28 December 2016

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Change is afoot during 2017 at the West Leeds Dispatch. Editor JOHN BARON explains how you can get involved…

Join our team

The Dispatch is put together purely by volunteers who give up some of their spare time to bring local residents a daily dose of what’s going on in their community.

We are exceptionally proud of working with you: our readers, local activists, community groups, residents and our regular writers and contributors. Together, in under two years, we have published over 1,300 articles from about 30 different contributors.

If your resolution is to get more involved in your community, why not become a writer for us? It’s fun and easy to get involved!

We welcome reports on local community groups, societies and organisations, sports teams, events and opinion pieces. In fact we welcome reports on anything that makes your local community tick! Photographs and videos are also welcome.

Drop us an email at news@westleedsdispatch.com if you’re interested – we’d love to hear from you!

We can offer help and support with your writing if you need it.

Future plans

We are very proud of all we’ve achieved at the Dispatch since we launched in May 2015.

We set up with the aim of plugging the gap between what was being covered in mainstream media and what was actually happening in our communities, even on what some might class a parochial level.

We aimed to give local residents a voice and cover burning local issues – and we think we’ve achieved that. We want to reclaim the news for local communities, rather than cost-cutting national corporations.

community reporters West Leeds Dispatch

West Leeds Dispatch community reporters session at Armley Junktion

We’ve also held semi-regular community news cafes where residents can meet me, as editor, and get involved in our journalism. We’d like to do even more of these in future but, again, this takes time.

We were one of only ten community news websites to be selected to take part in national charity Nesta’s Destination Local Audience Research project.

We’d also love to produce a monthlyprinted newspaper (we prduced a well-received pilot issue last year – it cost me as editor £450 out of my own pocket to print).

West Leeds Dispatch newspaper

West Leeds Dispatch newspaper

What’s clear moving forward is that The Dispatch just isn’t sustainable in its current form.

We’ve been clear from the start that I need help and support as editor. I reckon I devote at last 25 hours a week to The Dispatch on top of a full-time job and having a young family.  It’s A LOT to ask to maintain a website like this in lunch hours and evenings alone.

Those kind of hours aren’t sustainable and there’s a danger of burn out.

In 2017, we want to do even more than we have and to do that, we’re going to be focusing on recruiting more people to the Dispatch team (see our volunteers’ appeal above) and developing funding and structure to support what we do.

Social enterprise

In coming months we’ll be looking at developing the Dispatch as a not-for-profit social enterprise where we’ll aim to become ‘not for loss’ –

I currently pay for web hosting, technical support, running the site and transport costs out of my own pocket (£200-£300 a year).

We’ll explore the possibility of taking local advertising – as well as a readers’ voluntary contribution scheme of maybe £3-£4 a month.

The money will be used initially to offset our running costs and be re-invested into The Dispatch.

In the future there may be the opportunity to pay our voluntary team a small retainer to ensure no-one’s out of pocket. My point is that journalism of all levels costs something to produce – it doesn’t just magically appear.

We think becoming a community interest company is the best way to take us to the next level.

It won’t change the feel and tone of what you read, but allows us to be on a stronger footing moving forward.

Impress membership

We’ll also be making an application to become a member of new independent press regulator Impress.

We think this makes sense for a number of reasons.

  • It provides a mark of quality to our stories and makes us accountable if we slip below those standards
  • It provides us with vital an important support process if we were ever sued or encountered legal difficulties (we don’t have the resources of the YEP and I don’t want to lose my family home!)

Membership costs £50 a year.

Representative body

After much thought we’re also supporting the founding of a new representative body for ‘hyperlocal’ operations like ourselves.

A national voice is long overdue in this sector and will allow a body to tackle a number of issues affecting our sector, namely a lack of sustainable revenue streams, accreditation, legal support and advocacy.

The body is being facilitated by the Centre for Community Journalism at Cardiff University.

Have your say

We hope the measures we’ve outlined above give an indication of the direction we’re hoping to move. Ultimately they should improve what you read on the site and put us on a stronger footing as an organisation.

We’d love to hear what you think! Are we on the right lines? Is there anything different you’d suggest? Have your say in the comments below or email us news@westleedsdispatch.

 

 




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