We’re on a March to Nowhere:

Why the Gwdihw campaign will fail – and how it could succeed

The Save Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent campaign has featured in a parliamentary question at St. Stephen’s Palace, has gathered twenty thousand signatures on its petition, and has the backing of politicians from at least two parties. On the 19th it will climax in a bloody great march and a closing gig from a Welsh superstar.

Fantastic.

Then Guildford Crescent will be demolished – possibly after being derelict for some time – and be replaced with student flats and car parking spaces.

In decades to come Cardiffians will point proudly at where it used to be (though with declining accuracy) and tell their yawning children yet again about the day they marched to save it, and how wonderful Gruff Rhys et al were to come along and sing.

This is the most likely future. It can, however, be changed.

The Parliamentary Question

Kudos to Jo Stevens, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, for mentioning Gwdihw’s closure in Westminster. However, she didn’t refer to the developers by name, nor to the other businesses that are going to be knocked down. (Nor, as far as I can work out, has she yet brought it up with the committee that Andrea Leadsom, sliding around the question, suggested she refer it to. Feel free to check. My search term is here).

The way she sought to use the Guildford Crescent demolition was to seek a debate on new powers for local authorities to block unwanted developments. Hardly something the neoliberal Conservative ‘majority’ in the Commons is likely to go for at a time when every whisper of rebellion is an existential threat to the Government, and principles in that party are reserved for arguments over Brexit.

So, well done to her for trying, but this will make less than no difference.

The Other Parliamentary Question

… is whether action taken via the Welsh Assembly is capable of preventing the landlords from forcing the businesses in Guildford Crescent to close at the end of this month.

The answer is “no”.

Whilst Mark Drakeford has asked Cadw whether the buildings could be listed, and has made them aware of the urgency of the case, this doesn’t prevent the owners from getting rid of the tenants – as is made clear if you examine that big silence in his response to Jenny Rathbone during FM’s questions Tuesday 8th January 2019. The tenants have been given notice to quit at the end of this month.

If the buildings are successfully protected, but the businesses are not, there will simply be empty buildings there. When they fall into disrepair, there’ll be people – quite justifiably – calling them an eyesore and begging for them to be redeveloped. At which point, with a development plan somewhat upsized to take account of lost profits and mortgage interest forfeited during the waiting time, the Rapport family will be happy to oblige.

Update: Those last paragraphs were annoyingly prescient. The buildings have now been given a three-month stay of execution – timed just nicely to dent attendance at the march. But the leases on the buildings have not been extended; and the council leader Huw Thomas has explicitly stated that there is nothing the council can do about this. He’s wrong. He has the option of committing Cardiff Council to a policy of deliberate legal obstruction of the Rapport family’s businesses; of refusing to meet with any of their representatives except on camera, and of ordering strenuous health and safety audits of all premises in Cardiff that the Rapport’s businesses control.

The Petition

Petitions do not work as a strategy designed to apply political pressure. In fact, the larger the number of people who sign them, the less they work.

You can confirm this by quickly considering how many you personally have signed, and how few of those have been successful. But if you’d like a historical reference have a look at the Parliament for Wales campaign of the 1950s, with its half a million signatures. Whilst it was being collected, it made waves – but upon being handed in it became a huge nothing. Megan Lloyd George was promised faithfully that it would not, upon being delivered, be ‘left to rot behind the Speaker’s chair’. It would be a surprise if its fate was even that dignified.

This doesn’t mean petitions are simply useless. They can work as a political tactic to build organisation and commitment from the ground up; if those collecting names and signatures are not interested in total numbers – but in recruitment and activity. If you’ve ever wondered how all those tiny left-wing groups continue to exist, here’s the secret. The petition gives a contact for an individual, and also acts to remind them that they have publicly stated that they genuinely care about an issue.

Twenty thousand names is an impressive number. So impressive that it’s a pretty safe bet nobody is ringing any of those people up to give them campaigning jobs. After all … how would you select fairly? And we can be beyond certain that nobody has even thought of calling them up to ask them how to proceed or to make sure they’re coming to the demo.

I wrote that last paragraph before checking out the petition site. It’s on change.org here. You’ll notice that this doesn’t easily permit the kind of information collection necessary to really use the petition for anything more than impressing people with total numbers.

The Politicians

Cross-party campaigns, within a party system, work less well than one-party campaigns. Whereas when one party makes an issue their own and identifies with it totally, they have no short-term reason – or possibility – for essential backtracking or compromise. This gives their support for their chosen cause an extra effectiveness which would otherwise be lacking.

This has been the basis of UKIP’s success. Whilst as individuals they are as liable to stupidity, corruptibility and bad decisions as any other politicians, there’s never been any ambiguity about them wanting out of the EU – and they do not suffer from the dilemmas facing other parties who seek to gain or retain votes (and members) who voted Leave. Even winning votes and seats is a side issue for them. Because of this they’ve been successful far beyond their real support.

Somewhat similarly, a focus on independence brought the SNP into government in Scotland – and came close to winning Indyref 1. It has been a generation since the SNP was essentially about anything but independence; whilst the Labour Party shifted to the right in a misguided and unnecessary attempt to gain English votes, and then failed to read the new Scottish political landscape following devolution. Had Labour in Scotland been a Scottish party, a working-class party or a socialist party – rather than an uncomfortable blend of all three in thrall to a British Unionist media – it would not have collapsed so spectacularly.

In the case of Guildford Crescent, politicians from both Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party have – quite sincerely – shown that they wish to save it. This means that the issue is not the exclusive preserve of either party. Either (or both) could gain in voting or organisational competition as a result of the campaign losing.

When the Crescent is knocked down, each will be able to blame the other. Labour politicians will complain – correctly – that Plaid and associated supporters of Welsh independence used the episode to attack Labour. Plaid politicians (and most other commentators outside the Labour Party) will complain – also perfectly correctly – that Labour was substantially at fault because it controls Cardiff Council and has followed a stupid, ugly and exploitative pro-developer agenda for a generation.

The right within Welsh Labour (as usual) will be silent or vaguely but uselessly supportive until somebody wanting the save the Crescent makes an unguarded and angry comment about the developers, and will then persecute that person for that comment with the aim of landing a blow on Corbyn via either Jenny Rathbone or Mark Drakeford.

As a result of all these factors together, the support of these politicians will come in the form of sincere words – but not words that will grab widespread publicity or decisively shape governmental or commercial action with sufficient urgency to stop the closure of the businesses of Guildford Crescent.

The March

Marches do not work as a strategy designed to apply political pressure. The bigger and more genuinely popular they are, the less they work.

Yes, this is exactly what I said about petitions. This is because it’s true. The march against Blair and Bush’s war in Iraq brought at least a million people onto the streets of London in an astonishing display of peaceful unity and solidarity. With a gig at the end of it, btw.

Did it stop the war? No. Did it delay it? Did it fuck.

It was more like a green light to a Grand Prix driver.

More recently, the Great March of Return has not been achieving much – in the short term – for the people of Palestine. They are bravely and uselessly dying by the hundreds. Admittedly, in proving to the world who the aggressors are, the marchers have finally destroyed the moral authority the State of Israel used to hold. Because of their heroism, they may even have dramatically reversed the tide of history.

But in the case of Guildford Crescent we are not talking about a people driven out and oppressed for seventy years, harassed daily by checkpoints and fanatic settlers, being shot by snipers whilst armed with nothing more than stones and flags. We’re talking a gentle walk, a nice day out, treats for the kids and a gig at the end of it. The head office of the landlords, M.A.Rapport, from which you can see Guildford Crescent, is closed on Saturdays.

There won’t even be anyone there to shame.

Political marches really only work in achieving their stated objectives when they ‘go wrong’. The exceptions – if there really are exceptions – occur either as a result of marchers causing perceptions to shift over years, or because the extant political power depends upon myths of consent that are suddenly unmasked. The Crescent has days, not years.

And, let’s be blunt, in this Disunited Kingdom there is no myth of consent left to destroy.

The Gig (and the campaign name)

I am a musician. Please bear that in mind over the next few paragraphs as I say nasty things about my chosen ‘career’.

Music is not that important. It never was as important as musicians and DJs make it out to be, but during the era when buying recorded music meant buying a physical product, it was far more central to life in western societies than it now is. Because of the value and relative scarcity of the product – and the decisive role of the musician in making the product – musicians were culturally powerful. Their sounds and words (and less often, their actions) impacted far beyond their own sphere, touching a majority of the population

That era lasted from, at a generous estimate, the late 1940s to the late 1990s.

The Super Furry Animals hit at the end of that period – but not quite big enough for half the band to have name recognition amongst the general public. Indeed, even Gruff Rhys, consistently interesting and worthwhile though his subsequent output has been, is closer to being a Welsh cult figure than an international A-lister.

In itself, therefore, this gig will achieve nothing. If it were headlined by Tom Jones or Charlotte Church, there’s a slim chance that the threat of major traffic disruption and a vast unruly crowd could achieve what the march will fail to do. As it is, the crowd at the end is unlikely even to spill out onto the road and feature on the traffic news.

Worse than achieving nothing, though, it will serve to dissipate the righteous anger driving people to go and protest in the first place. It is as if they are to be rewarded for going on a protest and sent home feeling good about themselves – instead of being hassled, harried, cajoled, pushed and seduced into taking action that might actually be effective.

Worse again, Gwdihw are now in a process of “open dialogue” with Cardiff Council, are busy looking for new space and are seeking to become a community business. Most people, understandably, will see these things as unambiguously good. After all, what could be wrong with a community owned music venue emerging from this?

Firstly, this means that they are no longer committed to keeping the existing buildings open. If the campaign is to ‘save Gwdihw’, then it is already well on the way to succeeding. Although what results is likely to be a version of Gwdihw where the central people will not have to turn a profit in order to keep their jobs, and where ‘community commitments’ and funding targets will come ahead of the quality of either the music or the promotion.

More importantly, this means that those seeking to save Gwdihw have no reason to campaign hard to save Guildford Crescent, or the other businesses based there. Given that their futures now depend upon good relationships with Cardiff Council, they will not be rocking the boat. The extent of their solidarity with the Thai House and Madeira restaurants will be sharing social media recollections of great meals of the past.

We can already see the compromises coming in the name of the campaign: “Save Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent”. Three businesses are to be affected, but only one of them is specifically named in the title of the campaign. The campaign’s twitter account does not yet tell us more about what’s going to happen to the Thai House, Madeira, or why we are supposed to have stopped caring about the shape of Cardiff itself. The campaign has secured the approval of BBC Radio DJs because another music venue is closing – not because rapacious landlords are trying to squeeze the last blessed drops of character out of our capital city.

You may think I’m being overly cynical in that last paragraph. The sell-out, however, is already here. The death of Guildford Crescent has been accepted as virtually inevitable by those who think they’re campaigning against it, and that’s being stated without even a mention of the fate of the other businesses or the buildings themselves:

In the words of the Save Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent Campaign

I’m – genuinely – not blaming these people. They’re looking to make the best of a bad situation for their city and their musical communities. They are putting huge amounts of effort into doing that, by methods they are fairly expert in. And Minty of Minty’s Gig Guide has been putting up a great fight, with a determined and powerful case against a rude interviewer on BBC Radio Wales this morning. But ranged against them, inter alia, are the combined powers of international capital, a local politics dominated from planning officials to councillors by the placepeople and mindset of Blairism, and a Welsh devolution settlement that turns big political issues into dull and arcane points of legal procedure. Like most people who are prominent in a given community, they have been given no reason to question whether what is good for them personally is good for their cause.

Besides, until now, nobody has come up with a better plan.

Well, What Would You Do?

Anyone whose political beliefs lie outside the mainstream is used to being shut down with this formulaic and brainless response:

Well, what would you do?

The intention is asking this is rarely to arrive at a plan of action for doing things better. It is to render criticism of existing habits, power structures and powerful people invalid, and to make the person doing the criticising furnish details that can be picked at, and rejected, piece by (grindingly tedious, legalistic, uninformed, and conventional) fatalistic piece.

If that’s not your intention; I have three answers for the question.

Firstly: let’s not take that detour. If you found yourself feeling depressed and powerless because of the case I just made – but also find yourself rejecting the suggestions I give below – then it’s on you to come up with ideas that could work.

Secondly: I’m doing it. By writing this piece. Nobody’s paying me. It’s not going to make me any friends, and it will lose me some. Given the size of Wales, and the fact that I’m offering a harsh critique of music scene figures who are big players in it, it’s also likely to affect my future. If you want to condemn me for writing this instead of ‘taking action’, feel free to spend a full working work on whatever action you think would be more appropriate.

Thirdly: here’s some ideas. Together with yours, there’s a chance.

How Guildford Crescent could be saved

Publicity – Online

Currently the Save Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent Campaign has a Facebook page, a Twitter handle (@SaveGwdihw), a digital petition. An open letter to the Rapport family on the same page has half the number of signatures; and has brought no response. There are also some relevant, short and virtually unwatched videos on youtube (here and here). And there have been sympathetic longer pieces by walesonline and Harry Harris.

That’s it.

A fully-featured, real, website is needed. With links to all of those. Amongst the thousands who want to keep the Crescent there is at least one webdesigner – or company – with the skills and facilities to put it online within hours. There are also people with the skills and commitment to keep it updated. There are also organisations and individuals with spare webhosting or the money / publicity power to make it happen fast.

The most obvious organisations are the businesses affected. If it is indeed the case (as the campaign states) that they have been “thriving” in Guildford Crescent for years, there is no good reason to rely on doing internet campaigning on the cheap. Other organisations that could viably and quickly offer help are the Music Venue Trust and the Musicians Union, who are already involved.

Individual action from people with clout could also be a good, quick step to getting a site up and running. These obviously include the four Cardiff MPs (Kevin Brennan, Stephen Doughty, Jo Stevens & Anna McMorrin), the four Cardiff constituency AMs (Jenny Rathbone, Mark Drakeford, Vaughan Gething and Julie Morgan), and the sole non-Tory and non-UKIP list AM (Neil McEvoy). Useful action could be as simple as a suggestion from any of them that a dedicated site is necessary. They know themselves what other action they could take in this direction.

However, there is no reason that a dedicated website should not be set up independently of the existing campaign, and independently of politicians. This would be ideal. I’m hoping that one of the small number of people who read this decides that it’s their job to make it happen.

Similarly, there is a clear and obvious possibility for youtube, vimeo, instagram etc users to engage a wider audience by filming and uploading clips relating to (amongst other things) the Crescent’s history, proposed demolition, the politics and culture of development in Cardiff, and the growing global anti-gentrification movement.

Likewise, there is not currently a single podcast dealing with the Guildford Crescent demolition and the associated political and cultural issues.

In the case of video material (as for social media) standard does not matter that much. Tagging, sharing and fast repetition do. But in particular – we’ll look more at this now – establishing links far beyond the obviously relevant will be necessary for anything to succeed this late in the day.

Action – online

Whilst we’re on the theme of video and social media, lets consider other possibilities for online action, as distinct from simply publicity. All these ideas are inspired by the Rapport company website:

https://www.rapportlondon.com

Most to some extent operate on the presumption that large companies are dependent on their brand identity, and that the Rapport brand is heavily tied into associations with “luxury”.

Part of Rapport’s luxury identity is about history – a peculiarly “British” version of history. That’s why, despite being headquartered in Cardiff, their pricey watch business has a logo and address designed to make you think they’re from London. It’s also why this eminently memeable video doesn’t mention Cardiff, despite picturing the company HQ and workers in Cardiff.

Rapport’s Story of Time

So, action point 1 is … make a meme featuring Rapport’s own advertising and subvert it.

The only human both pictured and named on the front page of the site in Max Chilton. He drives fast cars for a living. Naturally, on the Rapport site, he’s not driving. But they are seeking to place themselves as a luxury retailer by the use of his name and image. This would be undone if he was to withdraw from his publicity arrangement with them, or express discomfort – however mildly – with their actions regarding Guildford Crescent.

Why would he do that? Maybe he’s just a nice guy who likes old-fashioned buildings and Thai food as well as fast cars. It might be worth asking him about that (action point 2). Also:

  • He races in the IndyCar series. It would cause serious embarrassment to him at work if even a single Welsh betting shop stopped taking bets on those races, and told their customers why.
  • His most recent car is sponsored by Shredded Wheat. That’s not the kind of product that really wants drivers tainted by toxic associations with heartless developers.
  • The team he races for have a slew of partner companies, several on this side of the Atlantic.
  • On the Rapport website, he extols Rapport’s “attention to detail” and says that, like him, they “put a lot of time and effort into what they do”. If he doesn’t yet know he’s working for a Cardiff property developer, rather than a London watchmaker, he should – in the interests of detail – be told.

Perhaps this seems unduly personal for your tastes. Fair enough. Let’s get structural. If you head to the bottom of the “RapportLondon” front page you get to an almost hidden “links” bit. The bottom one of the links on that page is https://www.thewalpole.co.uk/ If you’ve not heard of Walpole, and you have an egalitarian bone anywhere in your body, you’ll be both fascinated and appalled.  

So here’s action point 3: take contact details for any company that is a member of Walpole and ask them to dissociate themselves from the Rapport company’s approach to development in Cardiff. If they don’t reply, write again praising them for their tact. If they reply saying they have no connection with Rapport pass that on too. If you get lucky enough to be told they’ve never heard of Rapport watches, especially, pass that on. Luxury, after all, is about fame – not obscurity.

There also several member organisations that really should not be members at all, given the worldview and lobbying policies of the Walpole. If, once you’ve done the research, you find yourself agreeing, then use your social media addiction and publicly tell them why. But… action point 4: make sure to let them know how you found out about them, and pass on your information to other campaigns with the request that they also mention how that research started.


Publicity – offline

The story of Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent, mostly in that order, has been essentially absent from other media – bar the Western Mail and South Wales Echo versions of the walesonline stories noted above, and some (very nice) placards that have been made for the march on the 19th.

Despite (and because of) thousands of people signing the petition, there has been no mass leafleting – whether that’s through doors, in the city centre, at other music venues, outside Cardiff City FC’s ground or to the rugby crowds.

Nobody has taken out a paid advert. Anywhere.

There has not (to the best of my knowledge) been a single piece of graffiti. Anywhere. Not even in places where it would be legal.

So… action point 5 Make leaflets, or flyers.

action point 6 Do a leaflet drop or handout. There’s going to be a lot of people on your side, so you shouldn’t have to do it alone.

action point 7 Take out an advert.

Other offline action

Action point 8 Shift your bank account (or don’t). Rapport’s holdings in Cardiff are largely mortgaged by Lloyds, as you’ll see with a quick survey of their info at Companies House. Walesonline give a very broad hint about this in the picture accompanying the article. If you bank with Lloyds, consider switching. Soon. If you don’t, spend a little of their time talking to them about switching, before turning them down.

Action point 9 Call them. The office number for Rapport watchmakers is proudly displayed on their website. Don’t be rude – you’re unlikely to get through to anyone with decision-making power. But do feel free to take up a great deal of their time. After all, their employer has decided to demolish a part of your community.

Finally

Action point 10 Meet with other people you know who want to safeguard the businesses and buildings in Guildford Crescent; few enough people that you can have a proper conversation. Go somewhere quiet and private. Switch off your phones and your computers.

Focus.

Talk to each other honestly about why you care about this, and how much you care. Talk about the time and effort you’re willing and able to spend on it, and how to make that time and effort effective. Are the things the existing campaign is doing enough? Are the ideas suggested here useful, or just nuts? Are there better ideas for action? Is there, in fact, anything to be done?

Then, if you are going to act, talk over the help you can give each other with whatever you decide. Make commitments to each other to take the action you’ve agreed. Then stick to it.

Advertisements

Wales deserves (more) new media

Wales’ independence movement can’t afford to restrict its media to a single website and a single editor.

Ifan Morgan Jones, editor of nation.cymru, has put out a New Year message in which he defends the website he runs, and exhorts Welsh independence activists to get away from ill-tempered arguments on Twitter and meet each other in person.  On the way he demands unity from independence activists, referencing the way that Welsh political projects tend to ‘split like amoebas and scatter off in every direction’.  The particular type of unity he wants is for other pro-independence media outlets not – at least for now – to exist.

Of course, amoebas reproduce themselves and increase their total numbers by splitting.  If this actually happened to pro-independence political projects we’d be independent in no time.  Especially if they really went in every direction instead of just the two that amoebas are generally held to go in.

But there’s a number of issues with nation.cymru that go deeper than simply bad metaphors.  I’m going to look here at paragraphing, the nature of local news in Wales, the alleged importance of diversity and the concept of what is newsworthy.

It may seem pernickety at first, but the length of a paragraph matters, just as the clauses of a sentence matter.  The paragraph length in nation.cymru – for every single article I have read on it – is shorter than for any other online publication I have read that’s written for adults.  The piece I’m responding to does not have a single paragraph longer than two sentences.  The two sentence paragraphs could have been made into single sentences by replacing the full stop with an alternative punctuation marker.

All the external sites mentioned in Morgan Jones’ article have greater paragraph lengths than nation.cymru’s.  This might have been coincidence, so I checked elsewhere.  A first Guardian article was the close to the paragraph length favoured by nation.cymru – but the single sentences used were substantially longer and included meaty quotes.  Maybe, I thought, nation.cymru was – consciously or unconsciously – going more for a tabloid style?

Holding my nose against history’s foetid stench, I visited The Sun‘s homepage.  The first paragraph of the first article came in at three sentences.  Now in deep distress and increasingly troubled by my conscience, I glanced at The Daily Mail‘s homepage.

Et voila!  Nation.cymru is operating by the style guide of the Daily Mail: one-sentence paragraphs; quotes excepted.

Why does this matter?

It matters because diversity is not simply a matter of people saying different things.  The way they say things also matters.  

Academics in the social sciences tend to write longer paragraphs because they are trying to be more precise; as well as to demonstrate that they are capable of thinking and expressing themselves in a joined-up fasion.  Writers of literature – who good academics and rhetoricians copy – also like to use the variation between long and short paragraphs to indicate differences of mood,  meaning and seriousness.  Traditionally, short paragraphs indicate ideas that are easy to absorb, whilst denser ones signify a greater essential difficulty that will repay some effort in unpacking.  

Anyone who operates with these literary understandings is excluded  by nation.cymru – or is having their writing hacked to pieces by editing guidelines predicated on the presumption of a less literate readership than The Sun’s.

Overwhelmingly nation.cymru’s audience is people who are actively interested in Welsh politics and culture.  They have a higher boredom threshold than Sun readers.  Because of the high correlation between Welsh-speaking and support for independence, and because being equally fluent in two languages makes you more likely to be relatively literate in both, we could expect greater tolerance again for literary style in a Welsh national publication.

Talking of which… By virtue of its name, nation.cymru has a focus on news and views related to the entire nation of Wales.  You perhaps wouldn’t suspect from this that there has been an explicit editorial decision to actively discourage local news from the site.  But there has. Here’s what you’re told if you head to the contact page:

“There are […] a number of commercial local news providers who we have no interest in competing with.”

As a Welsh nationalist, I find this pleasant accommodation with extant media in Wales shocking and disturbing.  I desperately want to know about local news in Wales from a Welsh perspective.

A Welsh perspective, preferably, that is not built solely around local papers terrified of offending – or unmasking – those who provide their advertising revenue.  A Welsh perspective rigorous enough that it forces local news organisations to compete by doing journalism.

Even if you don’t think that journalism should be about rocking the boat, local news is the way that national news happens; whatever nation you’re in.  Nations are composed of their parts – all the way down through the cities and the country and sea and hillside and to the village and the valley and the pub and the individual citizen.   

Today’s school football star is tomorrow’s Gareth Bale. And (hypothetically, obviously) a corrupt traffic warden taking a bribe in Wrexham is tomorrow’s Mail headline if there’s a stringer or journalist or photograper on hand to get the story.  Without attention to local detail there is no real national news, and no possibility of it ever happening.

Having excluded so much of what is normally considered as news from nation.cymru, it is perhaps unsurprising that Morgan Jones doesn’t see much worth covering in the Welsh independence movement.

… no faction within the Welsh national movement voluntarily produces  much newsworthy content on its own.

With the stuff that most of us call news being excluded from the site, it’s logical therefore that the biggest single category is “opinion” (52 pages), which, at the moment I write this, has twice as many pages as “news” (26).  The most frequent single contributor to those opinion pages, incidentally, is Ifan Morgan Jones.

Nation.cymru exists by virtue of the widespread desire in Wales for a news site, and yet most of what it publishes is opinion.  Because of this, the insistence on publishing a ‘diverse range of views’ serves to legitimate all of them – it turns them from views into news, even though they’re in the opinion section.  If it were to function primarily as a news site, then a diversity of views would be irrelevant – those reading to discover bias would be reading on a deeper level, and in the light of information that wasn’t already available elsewhere.

Newsworthiness itself is of course a contested idea. But primarily it is defined for most news audiences by what the news organisations they choose (or try) to trust define as news.  By setting the parameters of Welsh news so narrowly, nation.cymru has decided that most of what happens in Wales is not newsworthy – in exactly the same way that Wales itself is rarely newsworthy as far as British media organisations are concerned.

For Welsh nationalists, socialists in Wales, environmental activists, aspirant journalists and writers who want to make their living in Wales, anyone else seeking to make a political impact in Wales, and most sane people, what is newsworthy is far broader.    

If a new shop opens or bank opens or closes – or threatens to – in a rural area, it is news.  A surplus food organisation holding an event is news.  The identity of the buyer of the old Con Club in your town is news.  The line-up at the club or pub you go to every Saturday night is news.  Kids making threats to shoot their fellow school students is (surely!) news.  Landlords collaborating with social housing organisations to keep rents up is news.  If you’re monoglot, what is happening in Welsh language politics is – or definitely should be – news.  Releases of books about Wales, or by Welsh authors, are news.  Historic buildings being destroyed to make way for flats is news. A music venue in our capital being destroyed to make way for flats is news.  Councils failing to investigate breaches of minimum wage law are news.  Cities and towns where homelessness and begging are routine are news.  Elected politicians making repeated claims of a political culture beholden to lobbyists are – if anything is – news.  Massive out-of-town housing developments, anywhere in Wales, are news.  Suspiciously close relationships between councillors and developers are news.  Local bands, whatever language(s) they perform in, should be positively encouraged to send their press packs – because they’re news.

And dog shows, celebrities being spotted on a night out in Cardiff, and what colours are in vogue this season amongst the student fashion designers of Wales are news; if that’s your bag.  

All of these issues could get coverage in any major British newspaper, with the right journalist or stringer chasing the story, and an editor who felt it could be framed to the advantage of the paper’s perspective.  

But these things are off nation.cymru’s radar.  These issues are too local, too investigative, too chaotic, too superficial or too small.  They involve being interested in the “daily 24/7 grind of news”.   But nation.cymru – officially – is not interested in the kind of grind.  Apparently:

“Any kind of news that can be communicated by press release, such as emergency services news, or responses by political parties, are already well-covered by other media.”

Of course, in Wales right now, those kinds of news are not in fact “covered well”. They’re reprinted straight, or featured as near-quotations without interrogation, background or sceptical perspectives. We get state and charity-led tabloid churnalism without the leaven of competent headline writers or paparazzi. Because when your country exports its journalists and all your ‘newspapers’ are monopolies, there’s no need to do real journalism questioning the press releases. In Scotland, by contrast, it has become routine to see these kinds of stories become the basis of further stories from investigative sites, fact-checkers and a pro-independence newspaper.

These self-imposed restrictions absolutely determine what nation.cymru is like as a website. Without longform investigative pieces, the stylistic variety offered by real paragraphs, press release news, fact-checking or local news, there’s not much left to do but write opinion pieces and argue – in an excessively staccato manner – over what Wales would be like if we could be independent.

Right now, Ifan Morgan Jones is one of the most powerful single individuals in Welsh political life.  Before you scoff…  The independence movement is reading what he writes – or sharing it – and he is central in setting the limits for what it will consider to be news.  Since his September 18th editorial backing Adam Price for the Plaid Cymru leadership, it may also be possible to regard him as a kingmaker.  

Left-wingers, whether or not they are nationalists, also read in the hope of picking up a crumb of solidarity or information.  Intellectuals concerned with contemporary Wales now scan their twitter feeds for its opinion pieces – even if they find the tabloid style halting and irritating.  After all, so far there hasn’t been anywhere else to go.  But now he’s attempting to halt the creation of another Welsh media service, sneering at the poor quality that will come from abandoning the website he launched, and seeking – like all leaders uncertain of their power and seeing it ebbing away – unity behind himself.

Of course, he is a leader – he’s achieved something very important by demonstrating that there can be an independent Welsh media in English. Nor is there anything wrong with principled leadership, when it is held in check by either democracy or competition.   But nation.cymru as it is currently shaped manages to be both risk-averse and dangerously polarising: its layout forbids subtlety, its guidelines exclude real news, it has no competitors, and it is not democratically accountable.  

Were it only one of several Welsh news organisations none of this would matter. It would either prove itself, change to fit the new landscape, or die.  So I’m happy that there’s plans brewing to bring about more Welsh media outlets.  Local and investigative stories we’re now missing will have a place to go, prospective writers and contributors will not be hamstrung by patronising misconceptions of what Welsh readers can deal with; and the energy and edge of competition will invigorate both new and old Welsh independent media.  

Just like an amoeba reproducing, an independent Welsh media divided will be one with twice the life.