Ifan Morgan Jones, Nation.Cymru Editor
Three years ago this week, in January 2017, I made it my new year’s resolution to set up a English language national news service for Wales.
There was nothing original about this idea, of course. The first attempt to set up an English language news service serving all of Wales was made in the 1830s but failed due to the nation’s poor transport infrastructure (what’s new?).
In this digital day and age however, as many had pointed out, there was no good reason why Wales did not have a national English language news service.
Almost uniquely amongst the small nations of Europe, Wales does not have an independent national media service to call its own. And to fall at this lowest of hurdles would send no stronger signal that we fundamentally do not have what it takes to be taken seriously as a country.
Tired of talking about the theoretical possibility of such a service, however, I decided to just give it a shot and push the boat out into the water and see what happens. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t take off and no one would have lost anything.
The response was phenomenal – we raised £5000 in the first few weeks. And thanks to our readers and donators, Nation.Cymru continues to double its readership every year, now bringing in 200,000 readers a month.
It was clear from the outset that there was an unmet and uncatered for need for such a service and it has continued to explode in size every month since then.
Laying the groundwork for such a service has not been easy, however. Over the last three years, I calculate that I’ve worked over 2,000 voluntary hours on the site.
But every second has been worth it because I’ve been rewarded tenfold by the success of the site itself, both in attracting an audience and encouraging a lively debate about the future of the nation.
The site has also had an influence on what is worth discussing by other Welsh media, with the scope of the discussion about the scale of our ambition as a nation on other news sites expanded by the range of new voices features on Nation.Cymru.
However, for all the success Nation.Cymru has enjoyed, which was beyond my wildest dreams back in January 2017, it is not even close to what it could be.
The service as it stands accounts for less than 5% of what it can and needs to be to have the kind of positive, transformational impact on Wales that a truly national media news service could have.
Ultimately, however, all the shortcomings of the site as it stands (beyond mine as the fallible editor) come down to a lack of funds. Running the site voluntarily, on top of a full-time job, I simply do not have the time to spend commissioning and editing large numbers of articles and dealing with all the potentially interesting offers and story leads that flood into my inbox every day.
And while we’re massively thankful for our army of voluntary contributors, ideally we would be able to pay them and also commission articles by a greater number of people who do not have the time or resources to write articles for free.
Giving talented journalists the time they need to carry out any sort of investigative journalism – the kind sorely lacking in Wales today – is also prohibitively expensive.
There is massive potential here – the stories are there and the audience for them – but because the money is not there the potential is not being realised.
What we don’t want to do is go behind a paywall and lose 95% of our readers. There is no point maintaining the site if only the same small group of people already interested in Welsh news and culture will read it.
Much of the current money we do have to spend is due to support through the kindness of the Welsh Books Council. But such public money is thin on the ground, and ideally, no news site should be dependent on grants that, in the current financial climate, may not last forever.
Another way to raise money is advertising. Advertising has been a great success for us, but we only have so much room on our pages and don’t want to have to resort to intrusive pop-ups and pages that take a minute to load because of all the ads on them.
I have acquiesced to one ad within the text, like so, but think that’s quite enough:
Ultimately the only way we can continue to expand and improve the site is with your contributions.
We currently have 250 donors and we are massively thankful to each and every one of them for the money they give us. Some have donated more than a thousand pounds each towards the website.
But surely there are more than 250 people in Wales that want to see the development of our own national media and all the opportunities that would bring.
In contrast to the small number of donors, what we don’t lack for is readers enjoying our content. As already mentioned, in November over 200,000 people visited our site. If every one of those gave a small donation of £5 a month, we would be raising £12 million a year.
If just everyone who had attended the Yes Cymru march over the last year gave us £5 a month we would be raising over half a million pounds a year.
In the wake of another General Election dominated by London-based tabloid media in which the issues affecting Wales had barely a look in, the need for our own sources of news has been as great as ever.
But ultimately, unless our growing number of readers becomes a growing number of subscribers, the site will not develop any further.
The will is clearly there to see the kind of change that Wales needs – and it’s up to us to deliver it. An independent media, for the people of Wales and by the people of Wales, is a key cornerstone of that.
More donations would allow us to invest in the following:
- Reaching the huge new audience that currently isn’t receiving news about Wales
- The ability to invest in in-depth, investigative journalism
- Current affairs coverage that would hold Wales’ institutions and others to account
- Covering a greater number of topics such as sport, business and tech
- In-depth articles on Welsh culture and history
- Being able to tell the stories of the people of Wales from their own perspective
We know that money is tight at this time of year, and we accept that a lot of people won’t have the funds to donate anything at all.
But we’re not asking you to donate a lot of money, we’re asking for a lot of people to donate very little money.
And in another three years, when the website has expanded again, you will be able to look back and say ‘I was part of that’.
Together we can make a difference. Together we can give Wales the media that it needs. Please become one of our backers today.