On supporting and growing community reporting


Including how to take community reporting and democracy education offline

Some of you will have seen my pleas for support for my community reporting and also historical research in and around Cambridge (Even though the button says ‘Buy now’)


…because freedom isn’t free, and neither is scrutinising democracy. Hence why I welcome the work of local journalists (i.e. the qualified ones) like Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News who stayed at Cambridge Guildhall till about 1am to report on the Cambridge City Council budget debate. I called it a night after 10pm – a good four hours after the meeting started. (See the playlist of videos here). Mr Thomas stayed for the whole seven hours – as did your councillors. In a nutshell, if budgets don’t get passed, bins don’t get collected and the councils get taken over by Whitehall commissioners.

There’s also Ben Comber of the Cambridge Independent, alongside Hannah Olsson of BBC Cambridgeshire who between the three of them cover as much as they can on local politics. They are the trained professionals – of which we have fewer and fewer of due to cuts to local journalism resulting from changing viewing/reading habits.

“How do you/we support independent journalism and community reporters?”

My thinking on this stems from a bit of a Twitterspat last night which upset a number of you online and off. I won’t link to it, but one of the reasons I kept going before blocking is that I’m interested in the concept of people following journalists that they rate, as opposed to the news organisations that they work for. There are some journalists who I will stop what I’m doing to read what they’ve posted (eg The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman), while there might be other writers for the same publication or organisation whose output I consider to be little short of carbon and/or oxygen thievery.

At the independent end, Laurie Penny has raised a significant amount of support for her work. She’s the first person I’ve become aware of who has reached that significant level of crowd-sourced independent financial support to free herself from the restrictions of editors and managers – and thus has the freedom to follow wherever the evidence leads her to.

“Is the model difference for hyperlocal journalists and community reporters?”

I don’t consider myself a journalist because I’m not qualified in the field. What I have is extensive work experience in the field that I comment and report on. In Cambridge too, community reporters bounce off our qualified and salaried counterparts and vice-versa. Sometimes this might as small as a retweet on a feed, to inclusion in a live online website news feed (See the Cambridge News on the council budget here). It might result in a prominent newspaper article (such as described here) through to being an interviewee on TV or radio.


(This is why you always ask people you are filming to spell out their names alphabetically before interviewing them – forget to do so and they can end up spelling your name wrong – as the BBC did with my surname here).

Note with the broadcast media, they have to be balanced in their political coverage. With limited broadcast time, quite often it’s better for them to go to a non-party-political informed voice (i.e. someone who is either an expert in the field or someone who has followed the news item/subject area in detail).

Women are under-represented as commenters/interviewees in the media in many fields. Therefore the BBC has launched a scheme to get more women involved. Have you specialised in any of the subjects/themes listed here? If so, email expert.women@bbc.co.uk because in Cambridgeshire at least, we need far more women providing expert analysis on all things local government and more. I would rather listen to you than hear the sound of my own voice!

“How do you hold accountable freelance or independent reporters?”

I have an informal agreement with the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations to film meetings of the Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, and meetings of the Greater Cambridge City Deal Assembly and Board meetings. Where I am paid to film something, I declare it in the description on the videos, and also assign the intellectual property to them as commissioners rather than to me. This means that if any third parties want to use the footage, they need to acknowledge the people that paid me to do the filming and editing.

For those of you that have contributed financially to support me, first of all

***Thank you***

Secondly, I’ve also been thinking about some offline gatherings – not least to share what I’ve learnt filming and observing on your behalf. Furthermore, one of the things that is broken in the mainstream media is feedback loops. At a local level, dealing with that broken loop is much easier than at a national or international level. Not least because you are much more likely to know who supports you on a personal level. Interestingly enough, it’s that personal support from across the political spectrum that is the ‘disciplining invisible hand’ to keep things as impartial as possible when filming/reporting. This means separating news from analysis from opinion.

  • News: There was a budget meeting at The Guildhall on 23 Feb at which executive councillors gave summaries on their plans for the next year
  • Analysis: Councillors debated whether Cambridge should have a youth council as part of their democracy outreach to teenagers. This compares with South Cambridgeshire District Council which already has a youth council.
  • Opinion: I think Cambridge should have its own youth council like South Cambridgeshire.

The first is simply reporting what has happened. The second is where you are asking some questions on what has been reported. “How does this compare with A, B, C?” is one of the most straight forward Qs you can ask and answer that would fall into analysis. The third is where you are making a subjective opinion. It’s also why I don’t like seeing the phrase “It is recommended…” in council reports. I’d like to see council officers being more confident and taking ownership of the reports they write and the recommendations they make.

“I am a professional council officer who is suitably qualified in the field of [Planning/Housing/Transport etc] and I have written this report. To deal with the issue above, I recommend [A, B or C]”

It just gives me more confidence that someone is taking ownership of the issue at hand.

“Talks, workshops and seminars – on local democracy and local history too?”

These are what I want to organise for the spring following the success of the first ‘democracy in action’ workshop I convened that was hosted by FECRA at St Phillip’s Church on Mill Road in Cambridge last year. To summarise, the workshop got all of us to illustrate what our neighbourhoods looked like, and also what our city looked like. We examined how the local institutions served us in our neighbourhoods and had an impact on our lives. We then looked at the money trail and the lines of accountability, ensuring that we all had a basic understanding of how our village/town/city functioned, and how it related to Parliament and Government before we started looking at how ordinary residents might influence things and hold those in office to account.

I want to run these ‘Democracy in action’ workshops again – but I need your help to do so

I’ve got the workshop template and the materials to run the workshop. What I don’t have are the venues or the strong links inside the wide range of community groups in and around Cambridge to bring those people together for such workshops. So:

  • Do you run a community group, organisation or network in/around Cambridge?
  • Would those that form the above like to learn more about how our democracy functions with a view to taking [positive/constructive] action afterwards – action that helps strengthen our communities and our local democracy?
  • Could you book a venue and convene such a group of people for such an event?

If so, please drop me an email at antonycarpen [at] gmail

[Also] I want to run some local history workshops – but again I need your help to do so

I want to share the findings of the group of women I am calling the Cambridge Heroes – the women that shaped modern Cambridge. Basically because I can’t shut up about how wonderful the likes of Florence Ada Keynes and Eglantyne Jebb were for our city.


Cambridge Hero: Eglantyne Jebb, who wrote the first social scientific study of poverty & multiple deprivation in Cambridge, in 1906.


Cambridge Legend: Cllr Florence Ada Keynes – our first woman councillor elected in 1914, and our second woman mayor of Cambridge – who also oversaw the building of the modern guildhall in Market Square.

Again, if any of you are able to book a venue and gather a group of interested people, please drop me an email.

Many bridges, one Cambridge, it’s your city.




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