Monday, September 25, 2006
Monday (D-day minus six)
Development spend: £3,100.
Business advisers discarded for being crap: One
Chocolate biscuits consumed: Four packets (in two weeks)
This is it then. The week before the test launch of the website I've invested my future in - yippee! I'm excited and nervous but, this morning at least, I'm now convinced we'll actually get the site live on Sunday.
OK, back step a bit. Sweeble.com will change news on the web and, I hope, journalism as it's half-heartedly delivered in too many newspapers and media outlets in the UK and US.
Sweeble is going to do that by taking away the safety nets and the controls that have allowed the industry to become templated, and return reporting to the purity and madness of newspapers' roots - where anyone who could write could publish news, gossip or polemic on a bill stuck to a wall.
Last night I watched Good Night, And Good Luck for the second time and it reminded me again why I was working so hard to create sweeble. The first time I watched the film was sitting alone in a regional Film Theatre at the end of a depressing day on the paper where I was news editor.
That day I'd seen great stories pushed back because there wasn't a picture, weak stories promoted because the editor agreed with the decision-makers behind them, people tragedy stories beefed up and overwrtten to the point of formula.
I'd cut short calls to the newsdesk from a lonely regular who would ring most days with a complaint just to hear someone's voice; an old lady who was sitting in the dark because she didn't know anyone to ask to change her lightbulb and hoped I'd send a reporter to do it; an anonymous caller who said someone had been shot the night before, but he wouldn't say where, and why weren't we reporting it?; and a furious mum who couldn't understand why she was on the front page after she appeared in court because her teenage daughter stopped going to go to school (we had a picture of her, that's why). I did my best but none of them got what they were looking for from us.
The spirit of journalism - that desire to tell the truth and to change thoughts and actions with the telling of it - isn't lost. It's still tucked away in the corners of most newsrooms, waiting for all those the egocentric editors and not-good-enough managing directors, who are the real resons the industry is in freefall, to move on and let newspapers rebuild themselves.
If the problem is that fewer people are buying local newspapers or watching/listening to local news programmes, it's because they've stopped believing we know more than they do about what's happening around them. Unless we're introducing them to some individual they don't know who has a human story that touches them, we've rarely got anything to say that they don't already know about, or that's strong enough to stop them in their tracks.
Padding out pages and airtime with news sourced from press releases and media lines is cheap, but it's not journalism. Media owners have cut so many corners we've ended up with a squishy, comfy blob where there used to be knife-sharp words and hard-edged facts.
I've been working on Sweeble since January, developing the idea, planning the functionality, taking on the developers and, last week, taking on designers. Fitting it into my thinking time outside of work - until it was time for me to leave my job last month for fulltime sweeble and no wages.
I can't wait to see it live - although it will be the test version to start with and half the functions planned will have to follow as and when the grant applications bear fruit, or until I've earned enough from part-time work to top up my savings pot.
Does that sound half-baked for someone planning an online revolution? Among the many reasons I think sweeble will only work on the web is that it's a massively creative space where anyone can publish their thoughts and ideas for anyone else to see, without spending millions.
Sweeble will be launched from a garden shed, by people who believe in it, on a shoestring budget and a hell of a lot of sleepless nights. And it will be brilliant.