I’m not a big believer in cosmic forces and fate, but it is difficult to argue sometimes that life has a funny way of presenting itself.
I write this as it seems Caerphilly Observer has hit a few significant milestones at roughly the same time.
Our print edition, which comes out today, is our 200th and follows hot on the heels of us being named News Website of the Year at the Wales Media Awards, held on April 30.
I launched Caerphilly Observer online back in 2009 – when I was living and working 200 miles away in Brighton.
The reason I started was because I felt there was a gap. I wanted to find out what was going on back home but couldn’t.
It was also an opportunity to learn new skills and as readers responded, I couldn’t help but think there was potential for it to become my full-time job.
I moved back to Wales in 2011 to be closer to family and it really was a case of now or never.
On my stag do that year I vividly remember having a conversation with my father where he asked me if I was doing the right thing.
He wasn’t being discouraging – just showing the right level of concern in what was a huge step.
I told him it was something I had to do, and if I didn’t try I would regret it.
There have been times when I wished I hadn’t started it (usually when we get threatened with legal action), but overall I haven’t regretted it – I’ve loved it, and still do.
Following the initial success of the website, I launched the print edition back in May 2013 with the help of Jan Withers, a former advertising sales colleague at the now defunct Campaign (where I started my career). Together, with her husband Barry, and the help of others, we managed to produce and deliver that first edition without really knowing what lay ahead.
We received funding to help produce our first four editions from Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Caerffili Cwm a Mynydd Rural Development Programme Partnership, but after that we were on our own.
We made enough in advertising revenue to fund a fifth, a sixth, etc and we haven’t looked back.
From a dinner table and a laptop, we are now a well-established news service employing local people and informing our community.
The last 12 months or so have been a real struggle. The effects of lockdown meant that a significant number of advertisers dropped out and there was a lot of uncertainty.
Crucially some stuck by us, so thank you to those, and we managed to secure some emergency funding from Welsh Government and others.
However, it was clear the model of advertising-funded journalism had a weakness and so we launched our membership scheme where readers can support us financially and in a strange twist of fate, to go with our other milestones, we recently got to the 100 mark.
We want to continue this so we can become stronger and invest more in local journalism. Members can support us from just £3 a month and that money does make a difference.
- Young tennis coach presented with national award
- Paedophile jailed for nine years after string of child sex offences
- Man suffers puncture wound in chest after forestry assault
- Price beaten in final as he returns to darts action after three months
- Support announced for businesses still affected by ongoing restrictions
There’s one other achievement I need to mention and that is our recent award of a BBC contract.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC funded scheme where the broadcaster, out of its licence fee, pays news organisations to employ reporters to cover council news. You may have seen stories written by such reporters published by us. The two covering our area at the moment are employed by the South Wales Argus, and as part of the service we get access to their work.
I am very pleased to say that we have been awarded the latest contract for this. It means we will have a dedicated reporter to cover Caerphilly County Borough Council (as well as Newport Council).
The contract is due to start in July. It is a really big deal for us and again makes us a little bit more resilient for the future. We’ll be advertising for a reporter for this service very soon.
Twelve months ago I could not have imagined that we would have readers happy to pay for our service and for the BBC to select us for a contract.
I was too busy worrying whether or not we would survive.
Several grants later, and a lot of work, we are now in a position to kick-on and really develop and grow our service.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us on our journey to make Caerphilly County Borough a more informed area.
Stay informed with quality, independent, local journalism…that matters
We believe the public should be informed about their community, coherently and with context. However, running a professional news service comes at a financial cost.
We are asking readers for their support to help us develop and grow our service.
Our membership costs from just £3 a month and in return, you can use our website without adverts.
Become a member – cancel anytime