2023 in Local Authority
A look back at our year and where we're heading
As we reach the end of the year, we’re breaking with the normal format of these newsletters to do a quick roundup of the state of Local Authority. 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, feel free to skip this one and come back on Friday.
But if you’re okay with a little navel-gazing, let’s go for it.
With our final newsletter of the year tomorrow, Local Authority will have published 175 editions this year. That’s a lot and rather more than the 123 editions we published in 2022.
The big hit of the year came early, as January brought our most read piece of the year. Proving you can never underestimate the demand for fairly mundane content on social media, our Friday edition that led with the news of Medway getting its first Waitrose was shared all over the place and blew up. On my birthday no less.
In February, we held our first reader survey to get an understanding of who reads this thing. In it, we discovered that the average reader is a straight pensioner with a degree who lives in Rochester and votes Labour, which may or may not be a surprise to you. We’ll conduct another survey next year and see how things have changed as we’ve grown.
March was a fairly quiet month, but we did publish our deep dive into the stats to reveal just how few crimes are solved in Medway. It’s the kind of statistical analysis I’d like us to do more of going forward.
In April, we launched our crowdfunding campaign to help us take this thing to the next level. Your generosity helped us raise more than we ever expected, with over £3,500 being raised. These funds allowed us to pay for various equipment and services that help us do our jobs better, join professional organisations, run a series of live events, and lay the groundwork for future expansion. Some of these things have taken longer than we would have liked (the perils of doing this alongside other full-time jobs) so the fruits of this are still yet to be fully harvested, but we’re looking forward to commissioning more unique Medway journalism in the new year. None of the above would have been viable without the support of our generous donors.
We also held our local election debate in April, allowing readers and attendees to put questions to then Medway Council Leader Alan Jarrett and Leader of the Opposition Vince Maple. 250 people turned up on a weekday evening to hear local politicians talk, something we remain astounded by. We’ll be holding similar events in the coming year for the upcoming General Election and (strap in) the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner election.
For a local news outlet with a fixation on politics, May was a big month for us, as not only did we have a local election to cover, but it saw the first change in administration in Medway in two decades. We spent the night covering the results as they came in at Medway Park, having a full ward-by-ward breakdown delivered to our readers before most of them were awake on Friday morning. Shortly after, we published a more detailed analysis of the results, and our local election coverage saw a surge in paid supporters, seemingly eager for detailed coverage of local politics that isn’t available elsewhere.
May also saw big changes to our interview output. First of all, we obtained the first substantial interview with the new Leader of Medway Council Vince Maple within days of the result, and secondly, we switched to a weekly format later in the month. We started with an in-depth discussion with Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, and since then, Steven has interviewed leading Medway figures in politics, art, sport, and lots more. The feature has gone well, with lots of readers commenting that they enjoy the classic newspaper-style Sunday interview as a highlight of their weekend.
It took until halfway through the year, but June was the month some of the more ‘colourful’ parts of the internet came for us. What triggered this? An article on Medway introducing School Streets, a harmless policy which, contrary to some parts of the internet, isn’t part of a globalist conspiracy. Steven scored another great interview this month, sitting down with Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to discuss the state of crime and policing in our towns.
We won our first awards in July, taking both awards we were nominated for at the Kent Press & Broadcast Awards. Nearly half a year on, it still seems wild that we can beat the established Kent media with what is essentially a side project for us, but somehow we did. Local Authority won Kent News Website of the Year while Steven won Kent Columnist of the Year. Later that month, we held our first Medway Question Time event, only possible thanks to our crowdfunders. It saw several Medway figures tackle questions from the audience in a format that, for legal reasons, absolutely isn’t the same as a popular BBC current events show with a similar name.
August saw us publish the article that led to more people unsubscribing than anything in our two-year history of doing this. The piece in question was an interview with Medway Pride Radio and trans activist Shea Coffey. Read into that what you will. In happier news, we also celebrated our second birthday with a party, which also saw us launch our Medwayish project, offering unique Medway gifts and products by local creatives.
Big news stories dominated September, with our piece on the ongoing Local Plan saga driving large numbers of new subscribers, and our breaking of the news that Medway Council was ‘very likely’ to declare bankruptcy in the near future.
The first of two new columnists joined us in October, with Ben Hopkins writing about the latest goings on at Gillingham Football Club, something that the editor of this publication (me) would usually be oblivious to.
November saw our second new columnist, with music writer Stephen Morris coming on board to write about the Medway scene, starting with a phenomenal review of Billy Childish and the Singing Loins at Medway Little Theatre. I also published my favourite article of the year in November, a deep dive into skateboarding culture in Medway. This kind of piece was new to me, but I enjoyed the process so much that I’m working on similar ones for the future.
We also launched our referral scheme in November, offering paid subscription time in exchange for sending new readers our way. Quite a few readers have started sharing Local Authority using their personal referral URL, and some are very close to the first reward. Please continue to share in local Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats, or directly with friends as it’s a great way to bolster our tiny marketing budget.
As ever, December has been a fairly quiet month, though interestingly it did see a piece only for paid supporters reaching more readers than any other. My look at the ‘down from London’ myth that Londoners are filling up our towns went a little bit viral, leading to a large number of non-existing subscribers landing on the piece.
There are loads more things I could include here, but that’s just some of the ups and downs from the past year of putting this publication together.
Now, the part those of you who have made it this far are really interested in…
Local Authority stats
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 1,750 readers. That has now grown to an average of 3,200 readers each week. We’ve seen large growth in the number of readers of our free articles on the web, even as direct subscription growth has been steady.
At the start of the year, we had around 950 subscribers who chose to receive our articles straight into their inbox and 160 paid supporters. We currently have around 1,600 subscribers who receive these dispatches by email, with around 300 paid supporters.
We’re fairly happy with those figures, particularly the ratio of paid supporters to free subscribers. We need to find ways to accelerate growth as we enter 2024 though, as we are ambitious about the future of this project.
We beat our (fairly modest) revenue target this year. We are now in a position where all direct costs (hosting, fees etc) are covered, and we can have a small marketing budget as well as pay ourselves a modest sum for some of the time we spend working on Local Authority. It’s not close to being a full wage, but it is more than we could manage previously.
Most read pieces this year:
Pieces that drove the most number of free subscribers this year:
Pieces that drove the most number of paid subscribers this year:
Where we’re going
So what does Local Authority look like in 2024?
From the start, I’ve promised that the main Friday edition will always be free, and that will continue. That being said, I am starting to question whether or not a single news story edition each week is best given how many stories are coming through our inbox at this point. I’d also like to integrate a little more lifestyle and culture content, but I’m not wholly sure what form that will take yet. Weekly interviews will continue, as will all of our current monthly features. So for now, there will be no changes to the format, other than perhaps publishing four times on more weeks than we do currently, but there might be some small tweaks as we head into spring.
We do have some fascinating stories for paid supporters in the pipeline right now, on topics as diverse as allotments, roller derby, our high streets, baseball, and in-depth dives into old favourites like housing and planning.
We intend to continue our series of live events, with more Medway Question Time events and election debates in the coming year. For those less politically obsessed than us, I’d like to explore occasional social events for our paid supporters. We have some incredible readers of this thing, and who knows what powers would be unleashed by putting them in the same room?
Otherwise, the main focus for 2024 is growth. We’re seeing from other local news projects around the country that it is possible to make journalism fully sustainable, and we are on our way there. But at the moment, we are constantly butting up against the reality of time. No one working on Local Authority can do so as their main job. We are all working round day jobs, which limits the amount of time we can spend on this. We are ambitious about the future and want to spend more time and resources digging into the stories that matter, but to do so, frankly, we need more readers, particularly ones willing to become paid supporters.
Right now, we are currently offering 20% off annual subscriptions to Local Authority. I know it’s a costly time for many, but if you are in a position to support our work and want to help us hit the ground running in 2024, please consider becoming a paid supporter.
Similarly, we are offering the same discount on gift subscriptions, so if you’re looking for a unique gift for someone with an interest in Medway, and want the added bonus of not having to go to Bluewater this weekend to find something, we’ve got you covered.
As ever, thank you so, so much for reading this thing. It’s been two and a half years, and I’m still amazed that Local Authority is now an award-winning website with thousands of readers. 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.
Friday will be the final edition of Local Authority of the year, as we take our annual week off from publishing. The free Friday edition will resume on January 5, while paid supporters will start receiving content around the new year.
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 - we 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: Grace and the Bigger Picture by Johnny Foreigner, Ruin Music by Yr Poetry, Laurel Hell by Mitski, Midnights by Taylor Swift, and Every Scene Needs a Center by Tullycraft.