Bristol 24-7
Today sees the launch of a new news website for Bristol - the creation of former Western Daily Press and Independent journalist Chris Brown.

Starting his career on a work experience placement at the Independent, Brown was tasked with organising the paper's Decriminalise Cannabis March in 1998.

"We got about 15,000 people into Trafalgar Square, so no mean feat. My 15 minutes of fame is leading the march from Hyde Park with Howard Marks who was, naturally, smoking a huge joint in front of a large number of Met Police officers," he recalls.

His efforts led to a junior news desk job, before progressing to the education features section. He joined the Western Daily Press as a freelance features sub-editor in 2002 and by 2006 was promoted to deputy backbench editor.

But the new site, Bristol24-7, realises a personal and professional ambition for Brown, who applied for voluntary redundancy in April this year to turn his dream of an online newspaper for Bristol into reality, he tells, who caught up with Brown pre-launch to ask why he decided to go it alone and what his plans are for the independent news site.

"My ultimate goal for the site is that it will be the first port of call for residents and visitors for news and information to make their lives in the city more informed, more productive and more fun," says Brown.

"I'm no part-time blogger - to achieve those goals I have to commit myself full-time. So, I have to make the business side of the operation work. It's where I have the least experience, but where I have some of my greatest confidence. Once the business is supporting myself, then anything is possible."

What made you decide to launch Bristol24-7?
[CB] I first came up with the idea more than three years ago during the Aim Higher redundancy process at the Bristol Evening Post and Western Daily Press offices here in Bristol. I had always been interested in how the internet could be used by publishers, but the intensity of the situation (we came very close to voting for an all-out strike) sparked something in my mind.

It seemed bizarre that by 2005/6 a large media organisation, with its relatively large resources, barely acknowledged the existence of its websites - let alone invested in them - and was more interested in cutting staff numbers back to protect profit margins, rather than use the talents that it already had at its disposal to build its future publishing strategy (i.e. to use the power and scope of the internet to transform itself into a 21st-century publisher). It was then that I had the idea for what an online newspaper could look like.

My ideas have changed and developed since then to create the website that I will now build from. While traditional media organisations have started taking the internet more seriously, my experience is that the internet is still a 'bolt-on' to the newspaper production operation - rather than the centrepiece of the future.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I have believed since I came up with the idea that I can produce a better online newspaper than the traditional media groups; do it at a far lower cost; and develop it faster and more intuitively to the demands of the readers.

What can we expect from the site?
To begin with, Bristol24-7 will publish two forms of news, sport and current affairs. First, I will produce as much original content as I can - I am a journalist first and foremost, and want to express my skills as much as possible.

I hope to use as many forms of presenting this reporting as possible - video, graphics etc - because the technology is available now for people like myself to publish in as many different forms as possible without needing hugely expensive equipment or software.

Second, I want Bristol24-7 to be the first place people come to to find out what is going on in the city. So, I will be fleshing out the news and sport coverage by being a kind of hybrid news aggregator. I will write short articles to promote the best coverage of news, sport and current affairs that can be found on the net, providing links to the original sources, but also offering readers other sources of information surrounding the story so they can find out as little or as much as they want.

My own content and that that I have aggregated will be a mix of straight news, in-depth reporting and more features-led stuff - what goes on the site will be determined by my skills as an editor. I'll either make the right or wrong calls, but hopefully readers will let me know soon enough what they think of my decisions and will suggest better stories on the day.

I'll be adding new features as I go along, depending on demand and my abilities.

How do you plan to support the site?

I will be looking for sponsorship of the site as a whole and for new sections that I build into it as it develops over time. That will provide a good financial base to run the business from.

But the day-to-day business will be digital marketing services for individuals, businesses and organisations of any size - from building great-looking, easy-to-use, affordable websites, to social networking campaigns, email marketing, SEO etc.

My premise is that traditional media publishers are passive in what they offer businesses - too much of the business is based around getting businesses to pay large amounts of cash to place an ad on a newspaper page - and hope for the best in terms of results. I don't believe that offers solutions, and it is solutions based on transparent results and value for money that businesses (particularly in a recession) are crying out for.

Which is why I feel that advertising business will not return to newspapers once the recession is over - it's not just the better value for money that digital marketing offers businesses now, it is the proactive approach which looks at exactly what a business wants to achieve and uses the new technology to make it happen that will rule the day. Businesses that work with me may well advertise on my site - but only as part of an overall package and only if an ad on my site helps them achieve what they want to achieve.

Do you think there is demand in Bristol for such hyperlocal reporting?

It depends what you mean by hyperlocal - I take it to mean reporting on a micro level (a street or a small community). Bristol24-7 will be for the whole of Bristol. I think there is certainly demand for Bristol news - the Bristol Evening Post website is attracting at least 200,000 unique visitors each month, with most visiting to read news stories.

I would certainly like to see more people joining the online community to set up and run their own hyperlocal website - these are the sorts of people who really know what is going on in their particular patch and I would love to promote them on Bristol24-7. Perhaps there is a chance for me to help people set up their own hyperlocal sites - the technology makes it so cheap and easy to create great looking websites, there is no reason why people cannot take on this challenge.

All I can say is that everyone, and I do mean everyone, I have spoken to about my plans have all said the same thing. They are genuinely interested by the idea and think Bristol has been crying out for something like Bristol24-7 for ages. Time will tell to see how successful it will really be, but I genuinely believe in what I am trying to do and am really excited about how far I can take it. So I'd be a fool not to at least give it a go.

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