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Opinion

Ifan Morgan Jones on leaving Nation.Cymru after six years

28 Dec 2022 13 minute read
Ifan Morgan Jones

Ifan Morgan Jones

Almost exactly six years after setting up Nation.Cymru I’m stepping down as a director to join the team at Newyddion S4C at the start of the New Year.

As I say farewell to Nation, this might therefore be a good opportunity therefore to reflect on our journey so far and anything I’ve learnt from the experience!

In 1945 E. Morgan Humphreys tried to put his finger on the difference between the Welsh language press in Wales at the time, which was national in character, and the English language press which was more regional.

The difference at the time, he said, was “enormous”.

“One was local but at Y Genedl [The Nation – the newspaper he worked for] the atmosphere of that office was national in the true sense of the word,” he said.

“The interest in the paper was wide and we on the staff felt that we had our place in the life of the nation, that we had a message that was worth telling and work that was worth doing from a national perspective.“

The role of Nation.Cymru was from the very start to try and bring some of that ‘national perspective’ that remains the guiding principle of the Welsh language press to the English language media.

My feeling when I decided to launch Nation.Cymru in 2017 was that our national political institutions like the Welsh parliament and government had more influence on our lives than ever before.

But what we lacked was a national public sphere that would act as a means for the public to discuss and scrutinise what was going on within those national institutions.

Nation.Cymru was launched based on the principle that there is a difference between a news service that reports on news from all over Wales and a national news service.

A national news service tackles issues of national significance, not just news of local relevance that happens to take place within the geographic boundaries of a nation.

Perspective

Looking back, I think Nation.Cymru has been a success in sticking to that original vision, as set out at the time in its welcome message.

And I feel (and hope!) that since that launch in May 2017, the discussion of national issues in the media has become more prominent.

Just one example would be the issue of second homes and holiday lets. I remember approaching the coverage of this issue with some trepidation when we launched in 2017. The last time it was brought up as an issue, some 20 years ago, those voicing concerns were accused of racism and the debate was shut down quite quickly.

Today, the Welsh Government is introducing legislation on the issue and it is, probably rightly, recognised solely as a matter of fairness in the housing market.

It’s hard of course to tell whether Nation.Cymru played any kind of seminal role in influencing a shift in perspective towards what might be called a ‘national public sphere’ in Wales.

At the very least, however, it has been part of a general trend in Welsh news media towards the development of this kind of uniquely Welsh national perspective on the news.

Perhaps it would have happened eventually anyway as a new generation grew up for whom devolution was the natural order of things rather than a bold experiment.

But we’ve led the way on covering a number of issues that have not just attracted a large audience but influenced other, larger news sites to follow our lead in covering them as well.

One note of caution however would be that any national public sphere that does now exist is still fragile – and almost certainly too small.

It feels at the moment that about 25% of the population is more energised by our national conversation than ever before while most of the rest are almost entirely excluded.

The contrast between the celebration of our identity at Qatar, where we proudly sang that we are ‘Yma o Hyd’ on the world stage, and the census results a few weeks later showing that both Welsh identity and the Welsh language were in decline was rather stark.

A national conversation should never become an (albeit bucket hat-shaped) echo chamber.

Buckets hats galore. Wales fans in the stands during the FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al-Rayyan. Picture by Nick Potts / PA Wire.

Interest

Having said that, I think that one of the main things I learnt from working on Nation.Cymru was actually not to listen too much to those who contacted us to give their opinion on the news service.

That sounds counter-intuitive for a news site set up to reflect the national conversation.

But what I eventually realised was that those who went out of their way to tell me what they thought – both good and bad – were usually those who were very engaged with the Welsh political and cultural sphere already.

They were ‘inside the bucket hat’, so to speak.

They would cry ‘clickbait!’ when we covered stories that our own numbers showed were extremely popular with a wider audience.

And they would cheer when we covered issues that even they themselves, as far as our numbers showed, weren’t bothering to read.

One advantage internet journalism does give you is that you know exactly what issues your readers are really interested in – and not what they say they’re interested in if you ask them.

I’m not talking about issues such as misleading headlines, celebrities or the Royal Family and so forth. Even if they had sent our hits through the roof, we never had any personal interest in covering them.

But, for instance, Nation.Cymru’s readers are almost remarkably and unexpectedly interested in trains and public transport in general – issues you might think were quite boring! One article about reopening a Victorian tunnel for a bike route alone was read by 60,000 people.

At the same time, some articles about hot-button political issues that seemed to be discussed ad nauseam on social media like Twitter kindled barely a flicker of interest amid a wider audience.

Because when you looked in detail you realised it was a handful of accounts within a Welsh politics echo chamber creating a lot of noise.

Negativity

One other related issue which struck me during my time on Nation.Cymru was the increasing importance and difficulty of safeguarding journalists’ mental health in a hyper-critical environment.

When I started my career working in print I would have a vague idea of what the readers thought of some of our articles through emails and letters sent to us, but those were quite few and far between.

Today the response is instantaneous and whatever the merits or lack of merits of individual articles the responses you do get (because usually only people with a complaint bother to post) are usually negative.

Whether in the comments or replies on social media, journalists have to put up with an endless flood of direct complaints and abuse towards them and their work in a way no other profession probably has to put up with.

E-mails saying you should be hung for being part of a Covid conspiracy may seem laughable at first. But however thick-skinned a journalist may be the constant drip-drip of negativity does have an impact.

One thing I certainly hadn’t experienced before Nation.Cymru was there are a few people out there who seemed absolutely filled with bile towards the very idea of the site itself and acted on that by relentlessly and personally attacking those involved in it.

How we as a journalism industry tackle the issue of online abuse going forward is going to be difficult, especially when it comes to safeguarding younger journalists who are used to living their lives online and who will find it harder to draw a dividing line between a professional social media profile and their own identity.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the information age is always to know what information to take in and act on and what to ignore, and journalists are at the cutting edge of that daily battle – both professionally and, unfortunately, psychologically.

The old Nation Cymru front page – when there was only room for five stories

Fuel

It’s fair to say therefore that running Nation.Cymru has always never been an easy task for anyone involved.

In fact I must admit that there have been moments when I personally regretted starting the site at all! Working on it on top of a full-time job as a lecturer at Bangor University, completing a PhD, and a side gig as a novelist was quite often a monumental slog.

A news site isn’t something you can put together and leave to run on its own. It’s more like a sandcastle that’s destroyed by the waves every day and you need to rebuild from scratch.

Week by week, day by day, on weekends, on Christmas day, on birthdays, when you have a pile of other things that need doing – hours of daily work needs to be put into laying the tracks in front of the Nation.Cymru Express Train.

You can’t even prepare a large bulk of news beforehand for the obvious reason that you don’t know what the next day’s news will be. When a story breaks, you have to be there to cover it.

Despite all these myriad challenges, Nation.Cymru has succeeded beyond anything I and others had hoped for when it was launched.

In six years it has grown from little more than a kind of blog posting 2-3 opinion pieces a day, to a site publishing 20-30 news articles.

What started as a website attracting around 100,000 readers a month now brings in between 1 and 1.5 million.

That’s a huge amount considering Nation.Cymru only covers Wales. Scaled up to the size of the UK as a whole and it would be one of Britain’s most popular news websites.

The launch and subsequent closure of The National Wales after a year – backed by a billion-dollar business in Gannett Media – demonstrates that there was nothing inevitable about this success.

So what kept it going?

Well, one added ingredient that has made Nation.Cymru a success has been the fact that it was never a commercial venture. The point was never to make money for anyone. If it was, it would have lasted six months rather than six years and counting.

It isn’t a financial reward but rather a belief that the site was essential that has kept it going. Most of those have contributed their news and opinions to Nation.Cymru have worked for free and those who have been paid have generally earned far less than they deserved.

Thousands of you have also supported us financially because you supported and continue to support the idea behind what we’re doing.

That desire to deliver a news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales is the fuel that has kept Nation.Cymru going since the start and will keep it going in the future.

Instinct

In that regard, the site couldn’t have kept going without a team of other people who saw the potential in Nation.Cymru and whose support I’m extremely thankful for.

My thanks, in particular, go to Mark Mansfield who stepped in as a CEO soon after the service launched, and who I’m confident will keep Nation.Cymru purring along long after I’m gone. It’s fair to say that Nation.Cymru would never have functioned as a company without the daily, thankless and unglamorous grind that he has done and continues to do behind the scenes.

A big thanks too to our culture editor David Owens whose sharp instinct for what our readers would be interested in was and is absolutely priceless. His unfailing good humour and kindness are all the more impressive for having survived many decades in one of the most jaded industries on earth.

One of the highlights of the last six years was definitely his 2022 Sports Journalist of the Year award for his work on the site.

A great deal of thanks also goes to Gareth Ceidiog Hughes who was the news editor for a year and a half and fed me stories long before that, and who had that same innate instinct for what political news would turn our readers’ heads, but in the political sphere.

Sarah Morgan and Jon Gower’s weekend culture offering also massively enriched and elevated the site above the kind of daily political mud-slinging I was happiest covering. If today’s Nation still exists in some form in 100 years I suspect it is many of those articles that will continue to shine timelessly like gems hidden amid the long-out-of-date daily chip wrapping.

We’ve had a lot of highlights on the site in terms of drawing attention to previously ignored issues, stories we felt did genuine good, and stories that drew hundreds of thousands of readers, but a lot of the best moments have been based around the camaraderie of the team we built to work on it.

But perhaps the biggest thanks however goes to my partner Llinos and my four children who have shown extreme forbearance for the fact that so much of my time outside of work has been taken up by plugging away at Nation.Cymru.

My nickname in my family is ‘dad dau funud’ because whenever I’m asked to do something around the house or with one of the kids my answer is almost always ‘dau funud’ (two minutes) because I’m in the middle of writing or publishing an article.

Although said in jest, at some point you have to realise that the kids will be going to university soon and that working two jobs is probably not in their best interests – or your own.

Time to spend more time with the family

Thanks for all the fish

Wales is a nation and a nation needs its own national news service.

But like nations themselves, news services reinvent and reconstruct themselves as their leaders, their thinkers, and challenges and events, come and go.

Nation.Cymru has been an all-consuming part of my life for six years. I won’t be the same without it. Nation won’t be worse – it may well be better – but it’ll definitely be different.

I’m excited to step back and see what comes of it.

Whatever it is, its continued survival however depends on your continued backing. Directors and editors will come and go – if Nation is to survive, it’s the readers who have to keep it going.

So if you want to see Nation.Cymru keep going strong, and continue growing, please become a supporter today.


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Hywel
Hywel
1 month ago

Very sorry to see you leave Ifan, you’ve been a steadying influence over the years, that has cemented the site in the gymuned Gymraeg. Delighted to hear you have serious readership numbers. Ymlaen a’r gâd!
Thank you, and all the best for the future.

Cynan again
Cynan again
1 month ago

Seems to be a certain amount of score settling hidden in that piece.

Chris Jones
1 month ago

You’ve accomplished a very difficult feat by founding nation.cymru of which you and your colleagues can be proud. Your opinion pieces and writing command respect. I will continue to support the site by paying for advertising. Good luck in your new job.

Sharon Morgan
Sharon Morgan
1 month ago

Llongyfarchiadau a diolch!

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 month ago

Diolch o galon Ifan a phob lwc am y dyfodol!!! 🙂

Jaz-Michael King
1 month ago

Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved for Nation.Cymru and Cymru itself. Best wishes on your next endeavours!

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

IMJ! I mistook you for an entrepreneur, launching a new platform here in Wales that would draw considerable interest. Sure thing you took some funding from the government or its agents to help you along but most of Wales’ industry and commerce does that as a matter of habit so no fault found there. Credit to you for creating this platform that has drawn a lot of people out to comment – at least I know where some good ideas come from. There was much that you published that I did not agree with, but I tend not to agree… Read more »

Cara
Cara
1 month ago

Diolch Ifan. Gwaith anhygoel a phwysig. Mae’r ffaith bod Nation wedi llwyddo cyhyd yn gamp enfawr. Llongyfarchiadau a phob lwc yn dy rôl nesaf.

Elin Owen
1 month ago

Pob lwc yn y dyfodol lfan a diolch am dy ymroddiad a’th waith caled ers 2017. Fe wela’i eisiau dy erthyglau diddorol a heriol. Efallai wna’i wylio Newyddion S4C fwy yn y dyfodol nawr!

Phil Evans
Phil Evans
1 month ago

Llongyfarchiadau ar dy rol newydd gyda S4C a diolch yn fawr am yr holl waith o sefydlu Nation.Cymru. Cytuno yn llwyr am yr angen ar gyfer gwasanaeth newyddion annibynnol sy’n adrodd o safbwynt Cymru. Dwi i wedi tanysgrifio ers cwpl o flynyddoedd nawr ac yn gobeithio a fydd Nation.Cymru yn mynd o nerth i nerth.

Good luck Ifan and thank you for all your work in establishing and running Nation.Cymru a hugely worthwhile independent news service for Wales.

Geoffrey ap.
Geoffrey ap.
1 month ago

All I can say is sincerely, thanks, I have made Nation Cymru part of my morning routine, breakfast is cereal and Nation Cymru, both equally essential.

Rob Pountney
Rob Pountney
1 month ago

Thanks & good luck in your new job 🙂

Arwyn
Arwyn
1 month ago

Da iawn a diolch i ti Ifan. Pawb a’i ran i chwarae ac fe wnes ti chwarae rhan pwysig gyda gras a safon. Pob lwc am y dyfodol!

Alun
Alun
1 month ago

Diolch am dy waith caled Ifan! Rwy wedi bod yn ddiolchgar iawn am y wefan yma dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf – a wastod wedi mwynhau dy erthyglau di yn enwedig. Pob lwc gyda’r swydd newydd.

Mawkernewek
1 month ago

Diolch fawr iawn Ifan!

Gary H
Gary H
1 month ago

Diolch o galon Ifan. Everyone who knows you is very proud of all your successes but nation.cymru was a genius move. Cyw o fryd sy’n well na phrentis, medden nhw, a dyna’r dyfeisgarwch cenedlaetholgar sydd mor nodweddiadol o dy deulu dros sawl cenhedlaeth. When the history of our real national awakening is written, nation.cymru will stand out as a radical step change in our national movement. The challenge now is to put a bit of kick in S4C’s digital stuff., but you’re well up to it.👍

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
1 month ago

Diolch o galon Ifan, am eich gwaith amhrisiadwy a phob lwc yn eich swydd newydd gydag S4C !

Cochyn Caerloyw
Cochyn Caerloyw
1 month ago

A fantastic ambassador for Cymru and Cymraeg. Nation.Cymru’s loss is very much S4C’s gain. Pob hwyl, Ifan.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
1 month ago

It is precisely Nation. Cymru’s reporting of the “hot button political issues” that has made it such a valuable and worthwhile project. The site has helped to fill a small but significant part of the shortfall in national Welsh news media and to inform and educate large numbers of Welsh citizens on important national issues. Although Nation.Cymru can’t take sole credit (nor is it claiming to), I think it is no coincidence that the Welsh Government has, for instance, finally addressed the Welsh housing crisis after extensive coverage on this and a few other online news outlets. This is only… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Wrexhamian
Benjiman Angwin
Benjiman Angwin
1 month ago

Nation Cymru has gently nudged folk toward the confidence seen in other small lands like Czechia, Israel, Hawai’i, Catalunya. Diolch yn fawr.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago

Agree; Confidence!

James Wilson
James Wilson
1 month ago

Relished your political wisdom & innate understanding of the context. Your columns always seemed to find the balance that chimed. Nation Cymru has pretty much created the template of a web based community supported ground up media – so thanks for the vision. S4c gain is a kind of loss to the wider Welsh political and social discourse

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
1 month ago

Pob hwyl at y dyfodol Ifan. Tipyn o gamp oedd sefydlu’r wefan hon a’i chynnal gyhyd. Diolch hefyd am dy sgrifeniadau deifiol ar brydiau i ysgwyd dipyn ar y wlad hon sydd mewn parlys marwol ers cantoedd.

Harry Williamson
Harry Williamson
1 month ago

Pob lwc butt!

O Rob
O Rob
1 month ago

Diolch yn fawr Ifan am dy ymroddiad di-flino

Cynan again
Cynan again
1 month ago

Interesting that one minor observation that scores were seemingly being settled in some bits of that article got censored.
And NC is claiming echo chambers are a “bad thing” whilst moderating the page into an echo chamber?
Nice job mate. Maybe it IS time for you to go. I know I am. Under my own steam though. Not through NC censorship. There’s really nothing for me here or, I think, in the Indy movement which seems to me to be stuck somewhere around the 1970s. I’ll still vote for freedom. But the orgs? Nah. No thanks

Last edited 1 month ago by Cynan again
Gaynor Jones
Gaynor Jones
1 month ago

Pob lwc iti Ifan, diolch am dy ymroddiad, gweledigaeth ac aberth. Gobeithio fedru di newid newyddion BBC Cymru i fewn i newyddiadura go iawn. Mae safon presennol y gwasanaeth yn erchyll ac yn gaeth i agenda BBC Lloegr; yn anwybyddu materion Cymreig ac yn anfodlon archwilio llygredd sydd yn bodoli o fewn y sefydliadau sydd yn ein rheoli ni a herio y bobl mewn grym

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

All the best Ifan. I truly hope N.C goes from strength to strength now you have established how important it is…

Andy O'Sullivan
Andy O'Sullivan
1 month ago

To buck the trend for comments as described by the retiring Ifan Morgan Jones, I’d like to thank him for his work establishing and maintaining this publication.
It can’t be an easy task, especially, unpaid, to keep a show like this on the road, better even, to pull in 1.5m subscribers.
Obviously, it’s something he has loved to do and has been excited by. Nevertheless, the drudge, abuse, the relentless nature of the beast, must be beaten, every day in order to just survive.
Well done that man!
A

john davies
john davies
1 month ago

Diolch am eich gweledigaeth a’ch ymroddiad. Thankyou for your vision and dedication.

Bobby
Bobby
1 month ago

Hi Ifan, why didn’t you yet publish a single story about the current multiple scandals inside plaid cymru? Every single word of your fluff piece is utter nonsense unless you answer. It’s hugely important news, the only possible reason for exclusion must be a political or friendship based one. Explain?

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Staying on is a national problem in Wales history and lMJ has judged this well – pob lwc yn y swydd newydd a diolch eto. He rightly highlights issues but of course the role of nation Cymru to cross ❎ the Party divide has worked well in the main The ‘ National ‘ newspaper 🗞️ experiment was brave but too linked personally with Mark Drakeford and supporting those in Cardiff Bays ‘ majority ‘ on their agendas. Nation Cymru enjoys a local link across much of Wales and should keep this focus – encouraging respect and understanding in developing a… Read more »

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