I have, perhaps foolishly (Ive been warned never to speak to journalists), agreed to speak to a reporter regarding threat of closure of the site by Scarborough Borough Council. Anne tells me she intends to try sell the story to The Morning Star and The Guardian.
In the interests of transparency and to ensure I am not quoted out of context, here are the questions from Anne, and the answers I have given. You may or may not see them in the national press in the near future.
Anne’s questions are in italic, with my answers in normal text :
I would be grateful if you could give me a statement based on the following questions.
The site has been described as having a pioneering, publish and be damned approach to citizien journalism. Do you agree with this description?
Pioneering we certainly are, Real Whitby is a community contributory website run by local volunteers.
The site aims to give everyone a voice on what happens in our wonderful town.
The site stats have grown from a small readership of a few hundred people a month to an average monthly readership of 22,000 unique individual people (and growing fast) over a period of 2 years.
Love us or hate us (I’m sure there are people from both camps out there) the public are coming to Real Whitby in good numbers and on a regular basis.
Our contributors, editors, columnists (call them what you will) and commentators serve up information of a public interest in a way never before seen in Whitby.
We use modern technology and social media to discuss local issues as and when it happens.
Local happenings are on peoples screens as it happens, this is the way of things in this the age of the internet, with or without Real Whitby it will now continue in one way or another, unless of course the public’s right to free speech is removed.
On Facebook, Twitter, or whatever comes next, people will discuss politics and Scarborough Borough Council. If The council chooses to try silence everyone its going to have a busy time ahead. Perhaps they should start listening to people and doing what the public wants, instead of trying to gag them and force the councils defunct policies on the un-wanting public. This is not a dictatorship.
This is 2013, people have a voice through social media, councils need to move out of the stone-age and learn to engage with the public who are out there discussing these issues as we speak.
Councillors who are sat waiting for letters to arrive in their pigeon hole, or for an email in their inbox are behind the times, A new breed of councilor must come forward now, ones willing to serve the public, and willing to get out there and engage using modern technologies, the dinosaurs are extinct.
In this sense we are pioneering in every sense of the word.
“Publish and be damned” ??? I seriously hope not. We take things very seriously, and if anybody ever highlights an article or comment thought to be beyond what is deemed reasonable in terms of the public’s interest I will certainly take a very good look at it and remove it instantly if necessary or after taking advice (legal or otherwise) if required. Real Whitby does not operate a publish and be damned attitude. I know where your quote has come from and people are entitled to their opinions, but quite frankly, that is nonsense.
A problem we have is that everybody has a point of view, and when points of view conflict people start wanting quite reasonable comments or articles removed from the site.
Everyone appears to have their own versions of the law and what is acceptable, there are thousands of pocket book lawyers out there.
That’s human nature I guess, but I’m very clear on one thing, if I find anyone has gone beyond what is acceptable it will be removed and we would also take serious any request from councils etc to review articles or comments on the site.
This has always been our policy and We certainly don’t want to operate outside the law of the land and I take this matter very seriously. I strongly maintain that there is nothing illegal on our website, either criminal or civil as suggested by the council.
Scarborough Borough Council are very aware of our site and policies and they have the right to reply on the site, as well having access to our email and telephone numbers to discuss anything they may not be comfortable with.
Until last weekend the council had never (not once) contacted us with a complaint about site content. To date they have never contacted us with a specific complaint about any specific content on the site.
How many hits per month does the site get?
We have Google Analytics installed on Real Whitby. Underneath Is some Of The Data It Provides
March 5th 2013 to April 4th 2013
24,114 Unique People
April 4th 2012 – April 4th 2013
190,712 Unique People
Are the sources, provenance of information checked by the editors of Realwhitby?
Real Whitby is not a newspaper, we have no printed version on paper, it is an online community contributory website which invites contributions from the people of Whitby. Real Whitby does not have an editor like a newspaper. Real Whitby is open to all members of the local community in one way or another. We invite articles letters etc via email which we may publish ourselves.
Real Whitby also has an open commenting system which invites readers to comment on the matters/information/articles/letters being discussed on the site.
Then we have a team of volunteers who write regularly for the site.
These people have full access to the sites dashboard from where they can publish their stories, thoughts, events, letters, articles etc.
I guess you could call these people “editors” if you wanted to. Real Whitby uses WordPress Software, and each person with access to publish posts on site has an “editors account”. You can read more about what rights this gives them in terms of running the site by visiting the following link : http://codex.wordpress.org/Roles_and_Capabilities
We expect that all people with an editors account check their sources and ensure that everything they publish in the public interest is factual. Any articles found to be incorrect will be rectified or removed. Anyone publishing lies, defamation etc would be warned and may be deleted from the group of people with editors accounts.
To date Scarborough Borough Council has never contacted us about the content of a single specific article or comment on the site. They have made broad sweeping statements about the site but as yet they have never been specific. With 1300 posts on site and 6400 comments we can not assist them unless they are specific with their complaints.
What was lacking from the breadth of local media that persuaded you and collegues decided to set up the site?
A lot. Whitby is one of the most remote parts of the UK. We have one newspaper, The Whitby Gazette, which has a large Conservative bias and refuses to tackle many local stories, unless they are about conservatives, sheep rustling or horses in peoples gardens. Even national publications like Ian Hislops Private Eye has published more topical articles about Whitby in the past few months than the gazette. A site like Real Whitby was much needed to tackle the issues that Johnsons Press wont allow their journalist to touch.
What do you consider the sites successes to be and what purpose do you feel it fulfills for Whitby and Scarborough?
The site has had numerous success, these are just my thoughts and observations :
- The individual people of Whitby now have a place to communicate and discuss local issues.
- 24,000 people came to the site in the last month. Not bad for only 2 years online.
- http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/save-our-whitby-piers-petition – 1800 signatures, 1800 facebook likes, 9000 page views. The site made a significant contribution to having the west pier reopened. People pressure forced SBC to act.
- Our articles about the Goth Weekend have a massive following and the goths join in many of the onsite debates.
- Our picture galleries are viewed by readers in over 100 countries world wide and are amongst the most viewed posts on the site.
- We tackle stories that Johnson’s press wont let their journalists touch.
Does local media (Whitby Gazette/ SEN/ local radio etc)effectively hold local politicians to account?
I don’t read the sen or listen to local radio. I have never seen the gazetet hold a politician to account. Maybe you could ask them if they think they do ?
Is there a media mafia in Scarborough / Whitby ?
If so, what impact does that have upon contentious political decisions or conduct of officers, elected members?
They never challenge local politicians.
What impact will the planned closure of the Whitby Gazette have?
I wasn’t aware the Gazette was closing down, thats news to me. I know they have sacked their editor and it has been mentioned they may close their Whitby office and move to Scarborough. Personally I believe the Gazette should keep its Whitby office as it has so many years of history behind it, the local rag should also be based right in the middle of the town. Moving to Scarborough is a nonsense decision, but would you expect any better from Johnsons press. They have some amazing staff doing a great job but the chiefs seem to have little respect for them.
Real Whitby have made a number of serious allegations, particularly around the Savile allegations. Do you believe that a child sex ring in Scarborough was organised by Jaconelli and Savile along the East Coast, and if so what evidence was there of that?
Real Whitby has made no allegations about Saville or others. Real Whitby is a community contributory website with hundreds, perhaps thousands of contributors. Various contributors to the site have made posts onto the site about some of the stories in the press and about information available on the public record. We have also had people like councilors willing to go on record about Saville et al. Do a site search for Trevor Harrington, or Councillor Geoff Evans, they have spoken openly about their own own knowledge.
Each person who has written about these matters has done so under their own names, if you want to ask them this question I am sure they will be happy to help.
I am aware that operation Yewtree is in touch with the people who have written about Saville and I think the investigation is ongoing. On a personal basis I have never written a single word about Jimmy Saville. With regards to my personal beliefs, There is so much information out there, on tv, on the net and in the national newspapers I really dont know what to believe, I hope most of it is untrue (for the sake of the victims) but sadly it sounds like a lot of peoples lives have been effected in a very bad way. Do i believe Saville was a sick man who harmed children ?? yes I do, that makes me feel sick to the core, my exact thoughts would not be printable.
Will the sites editorial policy change?
The site is evolving all the time. It will likely evolve and change in a number of ways as we go forward.
What sort of support have you had following receipt of the letter from SBC?
Massive support, both on the site, on facebook and via email, from readers, friends and family. Town Councillor Ian Havelock has even added the matter to the agenda of the next Whitby Town Council. Im told the agenda item is as follows :
This Council deplores the use of: Scarborough Borough Council Legal and Support Services in order to:
- Restrict the right of individual electors and residents to freedom of speech
- Restrict the right of individual electors and residents to publish both opinions and comment concerning the business of SBC
Thanks, I look forward to meeting you tomorrow.
First Published April 2013