A former Fleet Street journalist has launched a new hyperlocal community journalism project in Stonehouse, Plymouth to provide local people a platform to tell their own stories.
The project includes the introduction of a community newspaper, The Stonehouse Voice, featuring stories of local residents sourced by Alan Qualtrough, who has held editorship roles with the Sunday Express and regional titles, the Western Morning News and Plymouth Herald.
It has been made possible by a £5,000 grant from Power to Change, an independent charitable trust that supports community businesses across England. This will fund four editions of the bi-annual newspaper over two years.
"This is not an opposition to local media, it’s just very different. It's giving local people a voice to tell stories," said Qualtrough.
"I sympathise with the difficulties of regional printed media, they’ve been cut to the bone and they’re understaffed."
Born out of an arts project, Qualtrough, a Plymouth resident and owner of a local print studio, has turned to local knowledge to write about social enterprise and the creative scene on their doorstep.
"It’s a mix-and-match of stories, some which needed to be done, covering the local trust community scheme and some regeneration topics. We have ended up with a full news agenda."
An editorial board designs the news agenda and then finds local voices to host those discussions. Some of the stories have featured a psychotherapist on stress and ill-health, and a historian on the history of Stonehouse.
"It’s in their words, although maybe it’s not the way we write news, actually it’s quite powerful because it gets right to the point of what they’re doing," he said.
He has then set-up workshops to go through key writing techniques, including three workshops at launch, a further three around story gathering and story writing, and then two workshops around newspaper design.
"We can have a new approach to what a story is and how we go about sourcing and writing."
Doing this, he has even discovered trained journalists not working in the industry and recruited them into the project.
"It’s interesting to see the potential talent on our streets," he added.
But how does he separate those looking for some PR and those wanting to comment on local agenda? This is where Qualtrough said his industry background comes in useful, as he provides oversight and edits the pieces.
"Simply put, I know the difference between PR and journalism, and I’ve been looking out for that. I don’t think we stray too far on the side of PR, we are mainly on the side of community journalism, and that’s my judgement to begin with," he said.
But when so much talk around print is doom-and-gloom, Qualtrough said that it makes sense to introduce a newspaper into areas where not everyone has access to web and mobile.
"I want it to hang around. Our advertising is so cheap that local cafés can afford it. The printing costs are well-covered by advertising, and we haven’t really started selling yet."
The project is reliant on volunteers, including himself. However he looks to sustainability initiatives, including the prospect of an 'Arts Council for News', to take advantage of.
“I’d like some of that money," he said. "We are not-for-profit and we are here for social reasons."
Once the newspaper is up and running, his future plans include ratcheting the newspaper up to printing quarterly and then monthly, and establishing a digital presence on its web equivalent Our Plymouth.
Qualtough is not the first former Fleet Street journalist to turn their hand to hyperlocal reporting, with veteran Sun reporter Lawerence Hatton launching a new monthly tabloid in his home town in Derbyshire, England.
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