By Bruce Morris
The last week or so has marked a change in the short life of Mt Albert Inc.
The idea with the site was always to create an online version of a community newspaper – partly to compensate for the lack of local news in the Central Leader and the Herald, but also to establish a trusted source away from the rumours and gossip of social media.
To make that work (and build traffic and a reputation) required a commitment to provide daily news – and the site has done that since launching back in September, under the ownership flag of the Mt Albert Residents’ Association.
Every week day since then (apart from a holiday shut-down over Christmas-New Year), Mt Albert Inc has carried a local story of some significance or general interest to our suburb.
All of those stories have been fresh to the website and would not have been told if the task of delivering local news and information had been left to a traditional media handicapped by cost-cutting and diverted by the search for clicks.
For a one-man editorial operation (with some valued help from two or three old colleagues), it’s been a real commitment for a volunteer: seven months of near full-time effort since September, preceded by six months of preparatory work… from concept, through funding rounds, website design and learnings, content creation and the endless business of trying to unearth someone to share the load.
From the word go, finding a well-seasoned journalistic associate with the time and inclination to pitch in as co-editor was always going to be difficult… and so far it’s proved too great a hurdle. People like that, living in Mt Albert, don’t grow on trees.
It’s also a little frustrating that the potential real richness of a community website – where readers contribute and share – hasn’t been achieved. The hopes for content support (in terms of pictures and stories, especially intelligent one-off opinions and personal stories to add depth to the history pages) have not been realised.
In my opening editorial, I ended by saying: “In the end, it’s up to you and whether you accept the responsibility as a citizen to stay well informed. We hope you’ll come along for the ride.”
Since launching, the site has tallied more than 90,000 page views over its active five-and-a-half months – not bad from a standing start with a zero marketing budget – and a range of important and interesting stories have been tackled. But staying well-informed doesn’t seem that vital to everyone.
In the future, as we meet local issues like Unitec, Chamberlain Park, St Luke’s Mall, the future of the pool and the impact of the Unitary Plan, who will you look to in a day-by-day sense to keep you in touch with what’s happening?
Certainly you can forget about the traditional media, which has virtually abandoned local news in Auckland. That leaves us at a local level with Facebook – and that surely isn’t the answer if the question is: “Where do we find important news that we can always trust?”
Where is all this heading?
Well, hopefully it leads to a couple of experienced journalists – perhaps retired and looking to give a little back to their community – dropping me a note to say, “Count me in!” That would be brilliant, allowing the site to continue to deliver four, five or six fresh stories a week – a mix of the existing blend of news, human interest and opinion.
But I’m winding back, partly because I’m having trouble with my eyes but also because there are other things to do in retirement.
Unless some experienced help arrives, Mt Albert Inc as a one-man band will from now on do just what it can.
I hope you’ll still pop in to see what’s fresh because what you find will not be seen elsewhere. It’s just that there won’t be quite the volume of the past few months.
I also hope that you will look to involve yourself in the work the Mt Albert Residents’ Association does on your behalf. It’s MARA’s role to keep you in touch with local issues, but you need to give your support to let the group reach its potential as an effective conduit for important information.
It’s not hard: go to their page on this website, send them your email address and start getting informed.
Even better, pop along to their monthly meetings (second Tuesday of the month at the YMCA) – and think of standing for the committee at the June AGM.
Everyone talks about building a community, but that doesn’t happen when people sit back and leave it to a handful of others. It’s time to step up!