The genesis of Central Bylines lay in conversations within the European Movement Derbyshire about having some kind of local newsletter/paper looking at Brexit impacts. This looked daunting, especially if we considered a print version. Then we had conversations in an East Midlands chat about the increasingly successful Yorkshire Bylines, and thought this could be a model, so I contacted Louise Houghton.
And the rest is history, led by Aethelflaed‘s spear.
I got involved with Central Bylines in 2020. Then, it was known as East Midland Bylines. I did so because I felt I could make a contribution. I have written on a number of topics, including Brexit, the state of the UK, education and the arts, especially films with political themes.
Why films? I have always believed the idea that journalism should ‘inform, educate and entertain’. Films are first and foremost entertainment but political films illustrate the world around us in unique ways. Jean-Luc Godard said that “The cinema is truth, at 24 frames per second”. I’d like to think Central Bylines shows the truth too.
Choosing something special to commemorate Central Bylines’ third birthday has been a challenge. There is so much that is interesting and so much that is well-written, but I nominate everything from the Environment section of our website, to reflect its importance.
I joined Central Bylines in September 2022, attracted by the idea of citizen journalism, which is embodied in the entire Bylines Network. Since then, I’ve written a few articles, and edited many more. In March 2023 I took on the role of co-editor-in-chief with Richard Hall. With our local, national and international articles, we can give a voice to those who may never have written before, to those marginalised in society, and many more who wish to write about their concerns and opinions. To date, we have published over 1,000 articles.
The Central Bylines team were asked to nominate their favourite articles from the last three years. Two articles have been nominated twice.
A selection of articles
At the end of 2021, we had our first sense of the fallibility of the seemingly untouchable Boris Johnson. The news for the whole of November and December had been dominated by the Owen Paterson affair and we chortled along at the serious yet undeniably entertaining antics unfolding in the House of Commons.
But at exactly the same time, the NHS was starting to fall apart. June Roche’s account of her husband’s heart attack, the broken system they found and the suffering they both endured while they waited for him to receive the treatment he so badly needed, is a difficult but necessary read.
Johnson tried to turn the decline of this country into a game. The death of Jacob Roche serves as a reminder that it is anything but.
Judy wrote about her own mini odyssey to find an isolated village on a Greek island and the few remaining residents who still use sfyria – a language of whistles.
I share Judy’s fascination with languages, how they evolve, and how they die, albeit from a layperson’s perspective. I also love travel writing. This article delivered both so evocatively and vividly, it was like I could hear Panayiotis whistling his wisdom and feel the breeze easing the discomfort of the suffocating Greek heat.
June Roche wrote about her husband, who died after an overwhelmed NHS was unable to help him. He sat untreated in A&E for nine hours before being transferred. 36 hours later he died.
June’s article was remarkable not only for her unflinching description of the most personally harrowing series of events, but also for the extraordinary and selfless compassion shown for the NHS professionals on the front line as they unfolded.
It’s really hard to choose just two articles from the amazing diversity of topics that we publish. One thing that impresses me is the brave step many writers take in revealing their personal stories, especially when it comes to health. One of our regular writers, Lynda Tavakoli, tells the heartbreaking story of her father’s descent into dementia. Mark Vaughan interviewed a friend suffering from ME, a condition not often reported, and which has many parallels with long Covid. This article brings home the daily reality of living with chronic illness.
Richard Hall wrote an excellent review of a film I was sorry to have missed, and he has convinced me I must go to see Oppenheimer in a cinema as soon as I can! This review is a must-read, even if you’ve already seen the film.
Game of Thrones is not a series I watch so having this article by Lynda, as one of my first to sub-edit, helped me to learn more about the show’s background. I also appreciated how personal the review was as it strikes me as relatable and inviting.
Considering we are living in a social media-dominated world, Ian’s piece The woe of WhatsApp groups, was very topical and symbolic of the evolution of communication. He looks into the history of articulation and groupthink which I appreciated and I learned things which I can take and utilise in my own life – for example, how the human brain focuses on negatives rather than positives and the newfound effects of ‘unfriending’.
Back in February 2023 Barrister Paul Powlesland went viral with 3.2mn views live tweeting 30ft up a tree in Wellingborough. We decided to contact him. I included the very first part of our WhatsApp conversation between two of our editors which to date I still find rather amusing.
“Can we get in touch with him and see if he wants to put it all together?”
“We could try … but he’s up a tree at the moment so not sure how he’s placed to do it.”
In the end, having realised Paul was not best placed to do a write-up for us, we contacted Paul (still up the tree) and settled on reproducing his live Tweet thread. I love how the Bylines Network has turned elements of traditional journalism on its head and the ability to cover stories like this live excites me about the future of our publication.
For my second choice, I have again chosen an article based on the novelty of how it started. In our national writers’ group, I asked if anyone was interested in writing a collaborative article on BBC Question Time: perspectives on panel, audience and question selection bias and Mike, Steve and Paul all stepped forward. No one saw all three views apart from the editorial team until it was published; it was fascinating how different people took different views of the show.
I really value the breadth and the diversity of the articles we publish at Central Bylines (not to say there isn’t more room for growth in the area).
Can you whistle that for me? is a beautiful example how the chance reading of a Bylines article can introduce you to something completely new. Judy Copage’s article discusses the decline of a unique whistling language on an isolated Greek Island.
That sense of discovery and freshness of thought also spoke to me in Grant Sharkey’s Pyramid Scheme: the problem with Glastonbury. At Bylines we’re not frightened of challenging popularly held perspectives and Grant really has something to say in his music (and now a new musical) about all the kind of things you might be interested in too.
Impossible choices: The rucksack question OR you have thirty minutes… first appeared in Central Bylines in March 2022, when the exodus of refugees from Ukraine was under way. The issue of refugees becomes ever more pressing. Responses tend to fall into cliches: compassion for so much suffering; outrage at numbers arriving; policy announcement to control mass movement.
These obsessions all make it hard to see refugees as people – each an individual, not part of a collective. This article recounts a small number of interviews looking at what people would throw into a rucksack if they were given 30 minutes to leave their home and country, with no likely return.
The answers are surprising, thought-provoking and just for a few seconds put the reader on the spot. What would you take? What matters to you most when it comes to the crunch?
Citizen journalism gives you a voice, and we are always looking for new writers. Do you have something to say? We’d love to hear from you. We offer guidance and support if you’re not used to writing. Get in touch – email [email protected]