Penblwydd Hapus Nation.Cymru – a voice for all of Wales
If you look back at the past, say half century the history of the media is one of appearances and disappearances. There was Sulyn, the short-lived Welsh language Sunday newspaper, launched in 1982. It had a tabloid format and, almost to editor Eifion Glyn’s surprise, carried ‘showbiz’ stories about Welsh bands disbanding.
In independent broadcasting there is a ticker tape of companies that came and went, such as TWW (Television Wales and the West) and Harlech TV which changed its name to HTV with the advent of colour and also because it was considered too Welsh for some of its viewers. Flush with advertising money HTV built studios at Culverhouse Cross so impressive-looking that sending an annual company report with a photo of them on the cover helped secure an interview with Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, at a time when all other media outfits the world over were being scorned.
In the late 1980s there was the digital television service BBC Choice, with marvellous content from Wales chosen by editor Nick Evans which took risks, including a soap opera about vegetables, featuring actual vegetables which was painfully funny to watch. I seem to recall Nurse Carrot sharing a post-coital cigarette with a parsnip of a doctor. Or I may be hallucinating as I type.
In all these there was a feeling of can-do, of taking a risk where the presiding ethos was often that of D.I.Y and have-a-go. It’s the spirit that instigated superb investigative reporting in Rebecca magazine under Paddy French (indeed the first stand-alone investigative site in Britain) and brought Wales Arts Review into the world ten years ago or which saw, some years ago, Cardiff Radio make more hours of original drama than BBC Radio Wales in a portacabin off Cardiff’s Dumballs Road. It’s the same spirit which has animated recent media outlets such as Desolation Radio and the investigative energies of left wing voice.wales. And it’s the same spirit that animates Nation.Cymru, today celebrating five years of existence, during which it has grown from a pipe dream to a news service which regularly attracts 30,000+ visitors a day, which often adds up to a million visitors a month.
In a country which can still be a little lacking in the vision thing the fact that Ifan Morgan Jones and Mark Mansfield brought plucky Nation.Cymru into being is itself a curiosity. You will know Ifan as the hyper-knowledgeable politics geek who could give Vaughan Roderick and Richard Wyn Jones together a run for their money. Somehow in the interstices between being a father of four, having a full-time job at Bangor University and writing a small shelf’s worth of novels he found the time to team up with Mark.
Mark is best understood by watching any one of the X-Men films in which Professor X dons a metal helmet in the thought-amplifying device called Cerebro to connect with all the sentient beings in the known universes and meta-universes. The good professor then does things mere mortals can only barely comprehend.
Mark Mansfield is uncannily similar, and I, for one, have no idea how he manages to do what he achieves in any given day, although he himself freely references Sniffin’ Glue, the monthly punk magazine established in the mid 1970s as both a reference point and touch stone: it’s a ‘zine that pretty much defines that DIY ethos which also typifies the way Nation.Cymru operates. No office. No meetings. No communal coffee machine. In fact, unlike No. 10 Downing Street, we’ve never had a party, so perhaps reaching the five-year mark might change all of that. We might even have oodles of alcohol and even more remarkably admit to it afterwards.
So what are we celebrating? There’s certainly the contribution to collective attempts by all the Welsh media – from The National Wales to the Western Mail, from Planet through the I.W.A’s Agenda to Golwg – to address the democratic deficit, caused in part by people in Wales consuming media from London, which in turn determines the way they think, shop and vote. Consider, if you will, two salient facts. The Daily Mail has an average monthly reach of almost forty million readers. There are fewer than 70 million people living in the UK. So that’s what we’re all up against.
Nation.Cymru’s other contributions have included nurturing a range of new writers and voices, veritably dozens of them and then, of course there are the scoops, the revitalizing life-blood of any media outfit. There’s the all-Wales coverage allowed by local democracy reporting and then there’s the cultural stuff to which I’m proud to contribute.
It’s an energetic, authoritative and non-partisan news service (whatever our agitated detractors think) which believes in Wales and in a better Wales at that. It’s tiny staff – now brilliantly augmented by the addition of features editor and doyen of the Welsh music scene David Owens – works incredibly hard to make Nation.Cymru happen and take its place among the multinationals and heavyweight broadcasters, the new, spirited start-ups and welter of bloggers all of whom help us understand the country and indeed the world in which we live.
I remember when Real Radio was launched in the Valleys an editor at BBC Wales didn’t want to carry the story because it would give the oxygen of publicity to a rival. I like to think that Nation.Cymru is happier to play its part in what Geraint Talfan Davies calls the ‘ecology of broadcasting’ and the various media activity in Wales and that it has cheerily planted its bright flag firmly on the media map of Wales. Here’s to its longevity, despite the chill economic winds that blow and all the myriad challenges we face. Penblwydd hapus, iawn, iawn, iawn.
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