It’s the Oxford Clarion’s second birthday. Our first tweet was 4 February 2022, reporting that Blackwells was up for sale with Waterstones the front-runner to acquire it.
We started the Clarion because Oxford deserves better news. You shouldn’t have to engage with clickbait or endless angry comments to find out what’s happening in Oxfordshire. When every attempt at progress is howled down by a small number of retrograde, vested interest commenters and talking heads, Oxford suffers.
We hope to open up the space for news and ideas to be aired. The Oxford Clarion is named after Robert Blatchford’s turn-of-the-century newspaper: progressive, proud of city and country, famously keen on cycling and walking, and not owned by a press baron.
Plurality is good. We are a small contribution to that plurality. Since we started, Oxfordshire Live has closed, largely unremarked, while the excellent Oxfordshire Independent has launched. The BBC has withdrawn its Oxford TV news. The Oxford Mail has begun running stories generated by artificial intelligence. Some of Oxfordshire’s smaller print newspapers will doubtless go online-only soon. Much has been written about the decline of local media, but we don’t think it’s assumed its final form.
And – above all – we enjoy what we do! Oxford is a great city, Oxfordshire a richly varied county. Every week brings news that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to report on Oxford.
Thank you for being part of the journey so far – we’re excited to see where it leads.
Every news publisher struggles with gatekeepers. In the latter days of print journalism, they were legion. Smiths News, the all-powerful distributor. WH Smith itself, forever seeking new and exciting ways to charge publishers. Tesco and Sainsbury’s, never noted for their benevolence. Those with longer memories will remember the three-way clashes in the ’80s between Murdoch, journalists, and print unions. “Freedom of the press” is a fine principle, but exercising that freedom is harder and more expensive than you’d imagine.
(Incidentally, Rupert Murdoch was assistant editor of the original Oxford Clarion in the 1950s. We try not to think about that too much.)
The gatekeepers may have changed in the digital age, but they still exist. Facebook and Google are the biggest sources of traffic to newspapers, whether national or local. Entire strategies are based around the whims of their algorithms. In the mid-2010s, “pivot to video” was all the rage, and publishers invested millions in video production to get their stories seen on Facebook. A few years later, Facebook decided to show fewer videos in the feed, and the newspapers laid off their recently hired video staff. It’s a brutal world.
The Oxford Clarion posts on Twitter, or, if you must, ‘X’. We have just one gatekeeper: the capricious motor magnate Elon Musk.
Whether our stories are seen is down to Twitter’s opaque prioritisation algorithm, as dictated by Musk. Do stories with pictures get more visibility? Do links help or hinder? Who knows? Increasingly, people are jumping ship from Twitter. Some to Threads, the Meta (Facebook)-owned rival; others to Mastodon, the open-source, community-based alternative; a few even to the techno utopia of Bluesky.
Perhaps, then, the solution to the Musk question is “post everything to Threads and Mastodon as well”. Easy to say, but not to do. Tripling our posting burden wouldn’t be easy, especially when live-tweeting council meetings. We’re looking into ways of cross-posting automatically, but once again, that nice Mr Musk has done his best to thwart that by turning off access to Twitter’s API.
Or maybe we should write more here, on our website, and just link from the other platforms? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Election year coverage
Time has declared 2024 “The Ultimate Election Year”:
Globally, more voters than ever in history will head to the polls as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union)—representing a combined population of about 49% of the people in the world—are meant to hold national elections.
(We’ve re-read their piece a few times and haven’t seen any mention of the Oxford City Council elections in May – doubtless an oversight they’ll be quick to put right.)
National elections, plus City, Cherwell, and West Oxfordshire (all three technically ‘no overall control’ at present). There’s a lot to report.
Election candidates are perpetually thirsty for press coverage, always looking for points of differentiation with their rivals. That doesn’t mean everything they say is newsworthy or even accurate. It’s too easy for newspapers to descend into a stream of “Party A SLAMS party B for failing to act on C”.
We’re still finding our feet with this sort of coverage. If you’re standing for election this year, we won’t promise to report your every utterance, but we’d still like to hear from you. You can tweet us at @OxfordClarion as ever, or email email@example.com. And if you’re a Clarion reader, we’d love to hear what sort of election coverage would interest you.