2022 in Local Authority
A look back at our first full calendar year and what comes next
I’m breaking with the normal format of these newsletters to do a quick roundup of the state of this newsletter as we approach the end of the year. The regular Friday newsletter will be with you tomorrow (which will also be the last edition of the year), but today I’m going to take a look back at the past year, share our latest stats with you, and talk a little bit about what comes next.
I appreciate not everyone particularly cares about how Local Authority works behind the scenes, and if that’s you - it’s all good, I realise this is a bit deep in the weeds, feel free to skip this one and come back tomorrow.
But if you’re okay with a little naval gazing, let’s go for it.
With our final newsletter of the year tomorrow, Local Authority will have published 123 editions this year. That’s a lot! Given we only started publishing three times per week in August, it will almost certainly be rather higher next year.
January started with the first proper essay I’d written since launch, and the format stuck because (bluntly) it led to more new paid supporters than anything else I’ve ever written.
In February, I experimented with using Threads as a community discussion tool for a few weeks. They started fairly well but led to fewer and fewer comments on each one. I’d still like to find more ways to engage readers here in wider discussions, but I’m not quite sure what form that should take. Substack recently added a Chat section to their app which seems to work pretty well, but so few readers of Local Authority use the Substack app to do so that it doesn’t feel feasible.
The first time this newsletter was noticed enough by a wider audience for me to get yelled at for my analysis came with a March piece on Medway Council rejecting plans for the Kentish Wine Vault. The piece became widely shared in the neighbouring village Facebook groups and it turns out they had very strong opinions on this sort of thing. It was also the month that saw one of our first big exclusives as we highlighted the excessive pay rise that Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti received on his second job. That also became quite popular in local Facebook groups but thankfully the anger wasn’t aimed at us this time.
April saw a rather silly piece featuring an idea that the Casino Rooms in Rochester would be better as a Waitrose go incredibly viral within Medway, ending up as the third most-read piece of the year. Simpler, happier times.
A weird thing happened in May when we published our most popular piece of the year, which bafflingly turned out to be something behind the paywall. Our monthly analysis of local planning applications took a life of its own with the news of the Dead Pigeon taking over the Rainham Barclays. It was shared in all the right places so that it was seen by more people than anything else before or after. A bit weird as it led to most readers just hitting a paywall halfway down, but it drove more new subscribers than anything else this year. This just goes to show you can’t predict which pieces will be the most successful at all.
My favourite headline of the year came in June, with the incredibly satisfying Medway Council rejects Medway Council plan to put solar panels on roof of Medway Council. Perfect. No notes.
In July I got on my high horse about the horrific state of the private rental market in Medway, something I’m hoping I’ll be able to get down from one day. It’s a topic that I’ve returned to repeatedly in the months since, and I don’t imagine I’ll be writing about it any less in 2023.
August brought our first anniversary, and with it an analysis of how that first year had gone. A bit like the piece you’re reading now, but with slightly lower numbers.
After coming on board in September, Steven delivered his first big exclusive interview for Local Authority in October, sitting down for a very revealing one-on-one interview with Medway Council Leader Alan Jarrett, which picked up a lot of attention.
November saw our second most-read story of the year: our revealing of just how close Medway Council is to bankruptcy. The month also brought the news that the Royal Function Rooms was set to close, leading to a personal essay from myself about it, which led to more new subscribers than almost anything else this year for some reason.
I tried something completely new in December by publishing a Medway Gift Guide. This wasn’t the kind of thing I intended to write when I set up this thing, but connecting readers with interesting local gifts was fun, and it’s been incredibly satisfying to hear from the sellers featured that it led to quite a few sales in some cases. Which proves just how brilliant the readers here are.
There are loads more pieces I could include here, but that’s just some of the ups and downs from the first full calendar year of putting this newsletter together.
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Now, the part those of you that have made it this far are really interested in…
Local Authority in numbers
Assemble stats nerds, for here are our latest figures, as part of our ongoing commitment to be transparent about how this project is performing.
At the start of the year, the free Friday edition was read by roughly 600 readers. That has now grown to an average of 1,750 readers each week. Some pieces go a bit viral and reach even larger figures, but the average figure is still nearly three times higher than it was at the start of the year.
At the start of the year, we had around 300 subscribers and 70 paid supporters. Right now, we have around 950 subscribers who receive these dispatches by email, with around 160 paid supporters. Incredible.
These numbers are simultaneously both pretty small and pretty large. For what is a niche local news service covering an area with a population of around 280,000 (of which 60,000 are children), nearly 1,000 actively subscribing feel solid enough. It also demonstrates that growing this to a fully sustainable level is far from impossible.
We just about beat our (modest) revenue target this year. We’ve set the bar a little higher for the coming year, with a figure that should roughly cover all of the core running costs of this thing, as well as paying a small income for the time spent working on it. We need a little over 200 paid supporters this year to cover those costs, so fingers crossed that we’ll make it over the line.
Most read pieces this year:
Pieces that drove the most number of free subscribers this year:
Nothing says Medway like setting some pallets on fire and calling them jubilee beacons
Pieces that drove the most number of paid subscribers this year:
Where we’re going
So what does Local Authority look like in 2023?
Well, first of all, there’s not going to be much change to the core newsletter. The Friday one in particular seems to work fairly well and will continue to offer a mix of news and analysis of the week in Medway. This year we moved to a three-times-a-week format, featuring an extra paid edition each week written by myself and another by my former Political Medway partner Steven Keevil. Three times a week feels like the natural limit at this point, so the focus will be more on making those three editions as good as they can be rather than trying to publish more for the sake of it.
That said, we are looking at other ways we can extend the Local Authority Cinematic Universe. We’re kicking around some ideas, and don’t expect to hear anything in the immediate future, but we’re pondering the viability of some kind of Local Authority live events in 2023. This might be a terrible idea in which case you’ll never hear about it again, but let’s see.
Otherwise, the focus will largely be on growing the reader base of this thing. We’re pretty good at the social media stuff - the vast majority of new readers still come from Facebook or Twitter - but some more traditional local marketing channels are probably needed. I still bump into people who tell me they didn’t know this thing existed, which suggests we have some work to do somewhere!
As ever, thank you so, so much for reading this silly newsletter. I never would have imagined 18 months ago that I’d be writing this update to so many of you. It means so much that you’re here reading, subscribing, sharing, commenting, and sending us news, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.
Tomorrow will be the final edition of Local Authority of the year, as we take a week off for the first time since launch. The free Friday edition will resume on January 6, while paid supporters will start receiving content on January 2.
If you enjoy Local Authority, please consider telling someone about it, sharing it on your socials, or becoming a paid supporter if you haven’t done so already.
I love to hear from readers of this thing, and you can always contact me by hitting reply on any newsletter or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org - I try and reply to everything. Alternatively, drop a comment below if you’ve got any comments, feedback, or ideas for this newsletter.
Albums that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: A Moon for Digging by Garden Centre and Instant Coffee Baby by The Wave Pictures.