During the ‘Stop Brexit’ years, I had honed my social media skills helping nine West Midlands Pro-European Facebook pages hit a reach of millions a month leading into the 2019 election. With a clear majority for the Conservatives, it was clear where the general direction of travel was, and the right wing were not going to stop at just Brexit.
Another concern was the mainstream media, owned by offshore billionaires, with no interest other than upholding the status quo, and satisfying commercial interests.
I needed to find a new outlet for my skills and the call came at the start of August 2020 from an old friend of mine from the Pro-European network, inviting me to join a Zoom call hosted by Bylines Network Director Louise Houghton and it all took off from there.
We initially set up as West and East Midlands Bylines but shortly after merged and became Central Bylines in February 2021 with Simon Ferrigno as our first editor-in-chief. We are incredibly proud of the use of Æthelflæd as our logo designed by Jayson Winters. Anna Girolami, another founding member and one of our most prolific writers, states: “Æthelflæd is an obvious feminist icon. There is no glass ceiling she didn’t smash or rule book she didn’t tear up.”
We now have an editorial board at Central Bylines where three of the five members are female, with Judy Copage holding the joint editor-in-chief role along with Richard Hall. Anna Girolami, a founding member and Lauren Bayliss complete the complement. Lauren has gone onto be the youngest editor-in-chief at North West Bylines aged just 24 and is a key member of the Bylines Network staff.
Jayson Winters is a great supporter of our efforts to produce excellent images, and his talents in producing images and graphics did not go unnoticed by the Network directors who asked him to join the core Network team as operations manager and chief technical officer.
The Bylines Network has recently filled two important posts – an inclusivity coordinator and an education coordinator. Inclusivity is an important aspect of what we do, and we are determined as a group to give a voice to the underrepresented.
To date the Bylines Network has around 100 young writers and has accommodated almost 50 formal student placements. Our new education officer’s role is to reach out to regional universities to offer students a chance to come and write, edit, upload and get involved with our social media. It’s a great opportunity to get published, and is a boost to their CVs. One of our students has recently joined a national newspaper.
As the Bylines directors state: “Both roles are essential to our strategy of improving participatory democracy by representing a broader range of communities and reaching a wider audience”.
My social media role
Apart from wishing to find a platform to hold our government and others to account, I also joined to allow those who might not have a voice to be heard. In my social media role I take great pride in finding people that might be suffering from unfair price hikes in vital medicine, or first-time buyers who been caught up in the cladding crisis, for example. It is very satisfying to connect people sharing the same cause with an article from the Bylines Network on a specific and often niche subject.
On a lighter note, I also take joy in connecting fans of a given author, such as travel writer H V Morton and indeed the follow-up replies about a fan’s plans to follow his footsteps around Wales, or a love of post-industrial revolution art. It’s this interaction with our followers that sets us apart from nearly every other publication.
What the Bylines Network achieves
The Bylines Network is made up of ten local Bylines. You can read about how it all started in this article by Mike Galsworthy.
In these days of the onslaught of AI, a world where Ofcom allows ‘Conservative Party love-ins on GB News and TalkTV’ and fake news, local publications like Central Bylines are absolutely vital.
Many national newspapers are biased and local stories in the local press no longer exist, with the sad demise of 300 local publications closing in the last decade.
Our writers dictate what we publish, and this is the beauty of the Bylines Network. We can hold the government to account for their actions over the PPE VIP lane, or sewage being dumped in so many of our nation’s rivers or climate change, but equally give a voice to local community projects or charities.
In essence this is what the Bylines Network is about – speaking truth to power. We punch above our weight with many articles reaching 1,000s of reads a month on their own, and a social media reach on Twitter for example of over 10mn a month.
In the Network our record read for an article has been set by Yorkshire Bylines with an incredible 210,000 reads on their open letter to the BBC which is still going up by the day. Not bad for an organisation run by citizens, for citizens, and this clearly shows that citizen journalism works.
The Bylines Network recently held our second national meet-up, with everyone from all across the UK, from Scotland right down to Kent and the west of England. There really is a family feel to what we do and it was so good to see people in the flesh as a change from Zoom meetings.
It was a full day of discussions of where we are and where we are going. Incidentally, we noted we were white and predominantly aged over 40. We hosted the meeting in Birmingham, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK, yet at Central Bylines, we have very few writers from the BAME community for example, and the same could be said for young writers.
We were also pleasantly surprised when it was announced that one of the directors had been approached about advising on setting up a similar Bylines Network in Australia. From such humble beginnings, we are now being asked to advise on setting up similar citizen journalism schemes internationally.
I hope you can see why it’s important that we have citizen journalist publications like ours. If you support the idea of our citizen journalist network, free from the political ideologies of owners, please consider donating to our Crowdfunder. Whilst none of our writers or team members are paid, we do have a limited number of core staff and operating costs.