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Happy birthday to us – Lichfield Live is celebrating ten years of publishing!
Founded at the start of 2009 as The Lichfield Blog, the website in its current guise is still going strong a decade later.
The site was developed as a news portal serving the communities of Lichfield and Burntwood under the guidance of Ross Hawkes and Philip John.
Run entirely by volunteers, the site has covered a range of stories big and small in the past decade.
Ross said: “It’s amazing to think we’ve made it to ten years, particularly at a time when media is being challenged in so many ways.
“I’ve lost count of the times people have said to me that they don’t know why I bother putting so much effort into Lichfield Live because ‘no-one’s really that interested in local news these days’. Well ten years is all the proof we need that people do still care.
“We’ve had a number of highs and lows over the past decade but it’s been great to have the support of so many people, from the businesses that have stepped in to help fund our little corner of the internet over the years, to the contributors who send in their stories and tips.
“Our work would not be possible without them.”
Coming full circle
The site came into existence after journalist Ross decided to create something after he moved into teaching.
“I was moving to teach people how to write articles online at a university, so it seemed a bit odd if I wasn’t still doing some form of this,” he said.
“I didn’t want to jump into the freelance world after leaving newspapers full time because there are plenty of people who rely on that work for a living, so it didn’t seem right for me to do that.
“So I decided that I’d just start a blog instead. It was a bit like coming full circle for me. I’d started my first reporting job at the Lichfield Post newspaper so this was a strange sort of homecoming.”
Despite the early days of opinion and comment pieces, the site soon began to take on a more journalistic style.
“People were sending me things and asking me to put them on the site for them,” Ross said. “I’d never set out to become a news site as such, it was more just a place for me to stop my fingers from getting rusty!
“But people found it and seemed to value it and it started to develop an audience.”
With an increasing readership the site soon needed a more solid footing in order to continue.
It was at this point that Philip began to work with Ross.
“Phil’s been the real hero of Lichfield Live,” Ross said. “There’s been plenty of times when the site has been on its knees or we’ve had a major technical issue and he’s been the man who has put 50p in the meter or done some other wizardry – probably turning it off and on again! – to get things going.
“He’s been a real driving force behind the site since those early days, keeping me going and bouncing ideas around. I’ve even persuaded him to write the odd piece every now and then.”
Phil admitted there was something in Lichfield Live that made him feel compelled to join the team.
“What Ross did by starting this whole thing really excited me,” he said. “I really believe in the power of community and I wanted to support that.
“As a web developer I knew I could contribute so I got stuck in.
“I didn’t realise then the impact the site would end up having, with many relying on it for their news and to get their news out.
“I’m staggered that we’re still here ten years on.”
Stories, stories and more stories
Since its inception, Lichfield Live has published almost 17,000 articles across a range of topics.
Coverage of the Friarsgate saga and other major local issues have all helped Lichfield Live to make a mark on local community journalism at a time when other outlets have shuttered completely or withdrawn from the area.
“It just goes to show what a few volunteers with passion can achieve,” Phil said. “I’m incredibly grateful for all the help we’ve received over the years.”
Ross added: “It’s one of the reasons we’re still going I think.
“We were interviewed a lot about the website when we first started to develop an audience and we often used to get asked about what the purpose was. Truth is there wasn’t one then and I’m not massively sure there is now!
“Those who’ve contributed have played a huge part. At times when I’ve wanted to stop, it’s the knowledge that others are as passionate and want a platform to tell their stories that drives me on.
“But part of the continuation has been the changes to the local media landscape, both in terms of traditional products and the decision by other outlets to retreat to a more regional focus.
“I’m still quite pleased that we’re chugging along and writing some bits and pieces that people want to read. It’s probably for others to judge our purpose in the bigger picture.
“Lichfield’s media landscape has changed massively since the creation of the site. We’ve seen newspapers come and go and we’re seeing other independent publications coming to the fore which is great to see, particularly as we’re seeing a real need for scrutiny of decisions taken locally that impact on all of our lives.
“But I’ve never seen us as competition to anyone. We don’t bother about readership numbers or analytics too much – we don’t need the stress of targets. As long as the site is able to pay its way and not leave anyone out of pocket then all is great.
“That’s part of why we always took the approach of not over-filtering content. Yes, we edit work to ensure it’s of a certain standard, but we certainly don’t cherry pick based on whether we think a story is good enough or will gain enough page impressions. If it’s local, then that’ll do.
“From the outset we wanted to cover things people wanted to read – even if it was only one person. As a journalist coming from a commercial world where impressions were everything, that was a hard switch to make, but it has been a rewarding one.”
As Lichfield Live tears up a tenth calendar, are there plans in place for the next ten years?
“I’ve never thought more than a day ahead,” Ross said.
“We’re not a business as such, we don’t have any shareholders to please and as we’re all volunteers, long-term planning is not really something we can do.
“In terms of where next, we’ll probably just see where we go from here. As with all things, any future developments will all boil down to the appetite from us and others.
“Lichfield Live is as old as my eldest child and it’s become an integral part of my life. It’s also given me some of the proudest moments in journalism. But will it or can I go on forever with it? That’s a tough question.
“I’m not planning to stop just yet – and I hope Phil isn’t either – but if there comes a time when we can’t or don’t want to carry on then it’ll be a case of seeing where things are then.
“We’d love to put Lichfield Live in a position where it can be sustainable in its own right and live on beyond either of our attention spans – and we’re certainly starting to look in that direction.
“But it may be that we don’t make another ten years – who knows? If we do, then great. If we don’t, then we’ll at least know we were useful at some point for some people – and that’s enough.”
But while the local journalism rollercoaster continues, there’s no immediate signs of closure – particularly at a time when scrutiny of decisions that impact on the lives of local residents is in clear focus.
And Phil certainly believes there’s scope for Lichfield Live to grow.
“With local newspapers still struggling, what we’re doing with the site is only going to become even more important to our community and I’m excited to continue being a part of that.
“Who knows, we might even expand in the next ten years?”
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