I’m Mike Rawlins and I’m going to tell you a little about Pits n PotsWhereWhyWhenI’m originally from Manchester and moved to Stoke-on-Trent 13 years ago.I’m not a journalist nor do I have any aspirations to be one.
Some of you may be familiar with the small town of Stoke-on-Trent
Pathfinder..Government gave us £3.5m to finish pulling down the rest of the houses.
Not only grim because of the ‘regeneration’We had an elected Mayor but did it so badly that we were told we had to choose a different method of governanceThe Elected Mayor gor arrested on alleged corruption charges along with another councillor and prominent local businessman We chose Council Leader and CabinetWe had 9 BNP councillors at one point in the halcyon days.
Some of the explosives used in the IRA bomb of 96 came from here.
Why do I do it?I often ask myself that question.
Tristram Hunt MP.Quite contentious at the time as he was parachuted in to the city to stand in Stoke-on-Trent Central after Mark Fisher stood down. Locally people in the constituency Labour Party thought it should be a local person who stood.One life long Labour supporter decided to stand against Tristram and was expelled from the party.The Sentinel wrote a whole 11 lines about Tristrams maiden speech.
In actual fat ~Tristrams speech was around 1360 ish words.Pits n Pots published it in its entirety.
I got involved in the site in October 2008 and told Tony that he should move it on to a more robust platform after some problems with the BNP membership list being posted on the site.On the 1 December we moved to a self hosted WordPress installation.When we started off we were just copying content from the Sentinel in many cases (with attribution I might add) and allowing people to comment on it more freely.As time went on we started to write our own content.
We agreed very early on that we would have some basic principals when it came to interviews.
9 days before the national press. Or in the case of This Is Bristol some 95 days….
It’s well known that the BNP don’t have any firm policies, at least non that I will talk about…We allowed their Stoke-on-Trent branch secretary to post and comment on PnP, once he had posted an article we challenged it.We broke the BNP in Stoke-on-Trent..
2009 was an interesting year, if you were planning to start a local website focussing on politics you would be hard pushed to pick a better time.Mark MeredithRoger IbbsMo ChaudryDimensions swimming pool.Many other councillors were asked to go to local police stations ‘by appointment’ for questioning.All that kept us going through to the end of the year
On December 1 2009 we moved from WordPress to a new Drupal installation.Visitors going up
2010 the EDL came to Stoke for a day out.We live blogged it throughout the day.500 people watching the stream at peak, just under 1000 viewers on the day and it has since be watched a further 1000 times.The YouTube videos had over 100,000 views in the 2 days after the protest.
April 2010The BNP launch their general election manifesto in the council chamber.
Updated the platform and the theme
A few of the people we have interviewed
We moved from 60 councillors in 20 wards with election by thirdsTo 44 councillors and 37 wards3 x 2 member wards1 x 3 member ward35 x single member wardsAfter the elections we started to coast along.
In November 2011 I started talking to the Journalism Foundation.I get E-mails on a weekly basis asking me if I’d be interested in some venture or someone having a project that I may be interested in.On this particular day it was some guy called Simon Kelner….
On 28th March 2012 we launched the new look Pits n Pots, returning to Wordpress.
In April 2012 we ran a print edition of 50,000 copies of Pits n Pots.This was distributed across the city of Stoke-on-Trent50,000 copies is roughly one for every other house.The Journalism students from Staffordshire University created the paper, doing everything from researching, interviewing writing, photographing and laying out the publication.
I’m not working on location based content.
We have 6 large parks, one in each of the 6 towns.We have more green space than any other city in the country approx 1/3 granted a lot of the green space is made up of slag heaps from the mines but beggars can’t be choosers
Where, Why & WhenMike Rawlins - Society of Editors – Manchester 10 May 2012
Stoke-on-TrentIt is only when you get a little further north, to the pottery towns andbeyond, that you begin to encounter the real ugliness of industrialism--an ugliness so frightful and so arresting that you are obliged, as it were,to come to terms with it.
LongtonThe pottery towns are almost equally ugly in a pettier way. Right inamong the rows of tiny blackened houses, part of the street as it were,are the pot banks—conical brick chimneys like gigantic burgundy bottles buried in the soiland belching their smoke almost in your face.
Why?..• Interest in local politics• Freedom of discussion – The Sentinel used to censor comments rather than moderate them – BBC don’t actively encourage comments• Want to see the City improve• Local media were not interested in local politics• Lack of council coverage from local media
December 2009 Changed platform from WordPress to Drupal • 1900 unique visitors • 6000 page views
The EDL come to town • Live blog of the day • 500 viewers at peak • Pits n Pots YouTube channel was second highest news channel for 3 days. • ITV were number one.
BNP Manifesto Launch • Nick Griffin MEP comes to Stoke-on- Trent to launch the BNP General Election Manifesto. • Describing the city as ‘the jewel in the BNP crown’
June 2010 New theme and site make over. • 2500 unique visitors • 10,000 page views • 2700 articles • 30,000 comments
Interviews• Joan Walley MP• Mark Fisher MP• Tristram Hunt MP• Rob Flello MP• Mike Natrass MEP• Nick Griffin MEP• Ed Milliband MP• Ken Loach• Baroness Warsi• George Galloway MP• Edwina Currie• John van de Laarschot (Stoke-on-Trent City Council Chief Executive)
Local Election 2011• Boundary changes• Increased number of wards• Reduced number of councillors• Moved to whole elections• April & May were our busiest months ever• 12,000 unique visitors• 30,000 page views
August 2011 Tony Walley leaves Pits n Pots I took a break to reassess < 1000 unique visitors
Sustainability• Can Pits n Pots or any independent local website become sustainable?• What business model(s)?• More contributors• Paid Staff?
Holding Power To Account• Return to scrutiny of the council• More scrutiny of the councillors• More investigative content• Better use of data in content
Championing the cityStoke-on-Trent like many cities across theUK has its problems.We are critical of the City Council.We should balance that with being achampion for the city and promoting thegood whilst exposing the bad.