Letter from Bill's Mother's - Fri 15th Sept
I've finally got round to a post about what I'm actually up to here, as It's Looking A Bit Black Over Bill's Mother's approaches a year of publishing.
Long ago, when I started this publication, my friends at the Sheffield Tribune told me I ought to tell readers about myself, and why I decided to launch It’s Looking A Bit Black Over Bill’s Mother’s.
But I’m a Sheffielder, in particular a south Sheffielder, born near the Derbyshire border, and blowing your own trumpet isn’t really what we do.
Nevertheless, last week I trialled a new post for full members only, and so I thought it was about time I took my editor’s advice.
Readership and free subscriptions have been growing nicely, but that’s not sustainable on its own. So I’m now trialling a weekly ‘Latest from Bill’s Mother’s’ post, for our full members only.
I’ll still have the free Sunday post for now, but our steadily (yet slowly) growing band of full members will get a full listings service, along with a few news pieces and short features arriving in their inbox (or Substack app) first. They’ll also get a few special features, and access to all the 94 posts I’ve written over the last eleven months.
Like these below (opened up temporarily for all subscribers so you can see just some of the features hiding in the archive):
Night photography of the Peak District.
The growth in night running, and one woman ultrarunner’s inspirational story. (I’ll have more on Jennie’s latest adventures at the weekend, all being well).
So here’s why this publication exists. I grew up playing in the fields and woodlands of our city’s Derbyshire border country, and it was only when I lived in Manchester for a while that I realised it’s not that normal for city dwellers to have wild places a few minutes from their back door.
I’m of the generation and background that could go out on a summer morning with my friends to spend a day wandering and building dens and climbing trees, and only return home when we felt hungry and the afternoon light began to change.
I trained as a photojournalist here in Sheffield, and turned down proper job offers down south so I could try and carve out a freelance living writing and photographing for local newspapers and magazines, often covering the outdoors and the Peak District, because that’s what I loved.
We all got computers and film scanners and thought the new world was going to be amazing. But then after those exciting early years of the networked planet, when nearly everyone was nice to each other, Web 2.0 arrived, along with its global shopping warehouses and data-scraping social media swamps.
The digital pioneers gathered bucketloads of investment bent on a business model of what they liked to call disruption, which disrupted humble writers and musicians and photographers so much that most of them could no longer make a living.
In my early years as a photographer and feature writer for the Sheffield Telegraph and others, newspapers could pay their journalists out of advertising revenue, and readers buying their local paper to find out what was going on in their city.
Then Facebook and Google hoovered up those advertisers, and the utopian digital philosophy of ‘information wants to be free’ meant that no-one wanted to pay for stuff you could read on a screen.
Social media stepped into the gap, so folk could tune into an ever narrowing feed of unverified opinions that the monetised algorithms reckoned would interest you more than the local newspaper. For free. (But not really). Local papers did their best to survive, trying different models of raising income from comment-worthy stories, while jobs were cut, and advertisers dried up.
It’s said that local newspapers are cornerstones of democracy, so an informed electorate can make their choices wisely. We’ve seen where learning from social media has led us over recent years, so maybe more of us recognise the importance of genuine local news written by trained people trying to get their facts straight.
For me, local journalism is more important than ever. And the new model, pioneered by the Sheffield Tribune and the Mill in Manchester, is really just the old idea of hoping enough locals are willing to pay a few quid every month to read proper local news and features.
It’s the only way we can make this kind of reporting succeed: it takes me at least a day and a half, usually a lot more, to put together a week’s posts for It’s Looking A Bit Black Over Bill’s Mother’s. Unless I’m able and willing to toil at my keyboard for a fraction of the minimum wage, I can only sustain that level of work if enough people stump up £4 a month to become paying readers.
An old quote about local reporting is: “finding things out and telling people about them.”
For me, that means learning about the wild world around Sheffield, and the running and walking and cycling folk who are such a big part of the Outdoor City, as well as quizzing our leaders, and then telling you about things going on. With your help, that’s what I really hope to keep doing.
Here’s the button. £4 a month, or pay annually and get a month free. You’ll be asked for two factor authentication for security, and you can cancel any time. Thanks.
And finally, a couple more archive stories of the kind you can access when you’re a full member. Thanks for reading.
What kids get from playing outside.
Remembering the legendary railwayman and wildlife recorder Austin Brackenbury.