By Bruce Morris
[October 19, 2018]: On October 2 last year, Mt Albert Inc stepped into the online world with stories trying to fulfil a promise to deliver local news, information and backgrounders the Herald and Central Leader had long since abandoned.
It’s interesting to flick back to that opening week and look at a range of stories that had been told nowhere else – from the plan to create a farm centre at MAGS to the news that no school would be built on the Unitec land.
Then there was the opening assault on the owner of the burnt-out shell of the old medical centre, the final interview with Mt Albert’s first mayor, Frank Ryan, an introduction to the people behind the new Albert’s Post, the fascinating war-time story of Jeanette Amies – and a stack of backgrounders on everything from history and big issues to schools, doctors and politicians.
Many months went into gathering and writing much of that launch material – along with pictures to go with them – and learning the intricacies, limitations and frustrations of running a website.
Since then, Mt Albert Inc has published around 200 stories of interest and concern to this community, and all of them now sit in an archive rich in local – and national – revelation. In time, the most important of them all may be the commitment given by Jacinda Ardern that the Unitec housing development will be “gold standard”. Politicians always need reminding of their promises.
At the beginning, I laid out the site’s ambition and finished the column with this:” … it’s up to you whether you accept the responsibility as a citizen to stay well informed. We hope you’ll come along for the ride”.
The same column repeated a plea I had made many times, in one form or another, in the planning stages and since then: “Is there a co-editor (or two) with journalism experience out there? A WordPress wizard I can call on from time to time? Someone with the credentials to follow up an advertising lead?”
The response then was as deafening and disappointing as it is today and, after months of filing several stories a week and often daily, I’ve done my dash in this role as a community volunteer.
In that time (with a couple of breaks where traffic naturally came to a halt because there was nothing new to see), the site has registered around 150,000 page views and 130,000 unique visits, which I guess isn’t too bad for a budget outfit with no marketing backup, run by an old bloke in his retirement. (Certainly an advance from an earlier project: a long-running website to keep locals informed over the quite specific Asquith Ave Housing NZ development.)
I’ve had some help here and there, and it has always been appreciated. Thank you to those people, most of them old newspaper colleagues, and thank you, too, to the local board for providing the grant and giving oxygen to the concept of a hyperlocal news site.
But the lack of general support (and an eye condition which is causing me problems) means this phase of Mt Albert Inc’s brief life is over.
Hopefully there will be another phase; the reservoir of hundreds of thousands of words and an archive of 1000 or so pictures will sit there until a fresh face concerned at the decline in the coverage of local news and information – and the growing influence of social media – is ready to have a go. When that happens, I’ll be very happy to help on the technical side and perhaps pitch in as a part-time contributor.
Meanwhile, to those who came along for the ride, thank you for climbing on board. I’m sorry the journey was so short but hope you found it worthwhile.
- If you have a strong background in journalism and are interested in volunteering to build on the first year of Mt Albert Inc, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org