At 12.57 exactly this afternoon, one shrewd reader looked up the East Anglia Bylines home page and didn’t realise they were making history. Well, history for us. So congratulations to that unknown seeker after wisdom, and our profound thanks. You were our one millionth reader. That’s quite some milestone to reach in under two and a half years.
But we’re not just celebrating the number, although that is phenomenal. We’re also celebrating that so many of you believe in our citizen journalism and are willingly giving us your support by reading what we have to say and amplifying our voice on social media.
Over the course of the next ten days, we plan to republish ten of our articles from the last two- and a-bit years. Some are our most read, and some reflect particular themes which have hit a nerve with our readers. While some are of their moment, others have a message that remains relevant.
How we started
During the 2020 lockdown, the first of the Bylines launched in Yorkshire. Its aim was to influence community-level debates towards a more moderate politics, inclusive democracy, and a closer relationship with the EU.
Over the next few months, several more Bylines launched around the country, but there was nothing covering the east of England. That was addressed in July of 2021 when we were able to launch East Anglia Bylines, thanks to a brilliant and dedicated editorial team and enough writers to make us a going concern. We were seventh in the Bylines Network ‘franchise’ that has since grown to ten, covering most of England as well as Scotland and Wales.
Our aim is to champion democracy in action by giving you a voice and holding those in power accountable. Because we’re free from government or corporate influence, it means our journalism remains unbiased and true to its purpose. By empowering citizen journalists, we’re able to provide a platform for local news and opinions and to examine the impact of national issues on our region.
Our journey to this point has been largely smooth sailing, thanks to learning from the Bylines that launched before us, and a dedicated Bylines Network core team who have given us both immeasurable support and wise guidance.
The role of citizen journalists
Citizen journalism has a long history with a notable historical example from our region in Thetford’s Thomas Paine, who helped spark the American war of independence. It makes him not only one of the first, but also one of the most influential. Not being part of ‘the establishment’ gives citizen journalists a unique opportunity to tell their story about their communities and the things that matter to them – an everyday voice that is so often unheard.
In the digital age, online news and opinion has proliferated and is frequently associated with poorly researched, often low-quality writing. But as citizen journalists we pride ourselves on ensuring all our output is evidence-based and thanks to our editors, is of a high standard. To keep us on track, we are regulated by IMPRESS, the independent press monitor. As far as we’re aware, no other country has a nationwide group of high-quality citizen journalism publications like the Bylines, so we’re unique.
It never stops!
We are constantly welcoming new writers, many of whom have never written formally before. Our dedicated team of editors works closely with them to ensure they have a positive experience as they get their work ready for publication. We’ve watched as some have flourished, becoming more confident and needing less help. And now, we’re starting to work with students, giving them a voice and potentially helping some kickstart a career in journalism or communications.
We’re proud that our citizen journalists have broken some national stories. One example was on the day before the local elections in May – the first elections requiring voter ID. We were tipped off that local authorities were briefing presiding officers responsible for polling stations to turn away voters with no ID without recording their visit, which is illegal. It’s a good illustration of how something that may seem trivial can have major ramifications once it’s known about.
Achieving the milestone of a million reads
Reaching this milestone would not have been possible without our dedicated writers. Producing over 1,200 articles is no mean achievement for a small team of volunteers, all working in their own time. We are grateful to them for that work, and to you, our readers, for giving us your support by visiting our website, and then coming back time and again for more.
To have reached a million reads in such a short time is an impressive achievement. Our stats show that many of the people who land on our page read more than one article while they’re there. Readers new to us can see the variety of our output. This is a good indication we’re fulfilling our goal of reaching further into our local communities.
People frequently tell us that East Anglia Bylines is their go-to publication for local news. But not resting on our laurels, we’re always looking for new ways to get our voice heard and are now on six social media platforms, including Facebook where we post to over 150 community groups.
A look back to some of our best stories
We’ve selected ten of our mostly widely-read stories to republish, in case you missed any of them. They include:
- the government hiding useless PPE in containers all around Suffolk, as they kept pouring into Felixstowe during the pandemic
- the latest iteration of freeports and how their operation poses a risk to democracy
- how the “15-minute city” planning policy was captured by conspiracy theorists, leading to 200 angry Thetford residents marching in on a town council meeting
- a 200 year-old Essex oyster business which was almost wiped out due to Brexit
Each of these articles had a story to tell. They didn’t just resonate with our readers at the time – many of our most-read articles continue to draw readers months and even years after publication.
Is citizen journalism for you?
We’re incredibly grateful to our contributors, readers and supporters who have all been a part of our journey. In a short time, we’ve reached a huge number of people, and we couldn’t have done it without you, and your faith in us.
Since July 2021, we’ve continued to grow steadily. This means we’re always on the lookout for new writers, editors and people who can amplify our voice. Here’s how you can play your part.
- Writers: you don’t need to have formal writing experience. Tell us your idea for a story and we’ll take it from there. Email: [email protected]
- Editors: as we grow, we need help to craft the articles. Editing experience is ideal, but experienced writers can also make great editors
- Financial support: there’s a background cost to running the Bylines. Please consider helping us by giving us a regular donation from as little as £2 a month, or a one-off donation, by visiting our donation page
- Subscribe to us: sign up to the Bylines Network newsletter. We won’t bombard you with emails – just one a month
- Help us get heard: even if you aren’t able to give us your time, then consider sharing our social media messages, linking to our articles, and, posting relevant ones in local community groups. You can follow us on Twitter/X, Facebook, Mastodon, Instagram, Threads and under the Bylines Network banner on BlueSky.
East Anglia Bylines is a collective effort of volunteers dedicated to helping make the world a better place. Together we champion ethical journalism, craft a media landscape that mirrors our collective aspirations, and shape the future of responsible storytelling. Come and join us.