Thank you for another amazing year
From one-man band to three-person supergroup
Dear readers — I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.
2022 at The Post ended on a cliffhanger. For almost half a year we’d been investigating a scandal in north Liverpool — the syphoning off of assets to offshore companies from the Eldonian Village — and we were almost ready to hit publish.
We had one full time staff member (me) plus a couple of senior editors we shared with our sister publications: a staffing composition under which spending five months on one story with no guarantees it would ever see the light of day didn’t seem like the wisest idea. We also knew that the BBC had been preparing a radio documentary on the same topic, but we wanted to get ours at first. We were the plucky underdog: David to the BBC’s Goliath. I was sure we’d end the year in style — being the first to publish the Liverpool story of the year.
No dice. At the final hour a legal letter dropped into our inbox from Mischon De Reya, about as formidable a law firm as one could name. I texted a lawyer friend in London who told me the letter itself would’ve cost £10,000 and that Mischon had represented Princess Diana in her divorce from the now King of England, then Prince Charles. Our own lawyer suggested we hold fire, and the BBC put their documentary out a few days later. Our version would have to wait until January. Ever a cool head in a crisis, I almost physically threw up.
We were attempting to punch above our weight. We tried, we didn’t exactly fail, but no sober-minded person could possibly have claimed we succeeded. We went to the pub. I probably wasn’t great pub company.
But thinking back to pacing around that office last December, like it was a Wall Street trading floor on the day the market crashed, makes you realise the progress we’ve made. And how this highly speculative project has exceeded anything any of us expected at the outset.
Of course any Tom, Dick or Harry (/Jen, Becky or Sally) can make grandiose claims about their media company, so let’s look at cold, hard data. If you examine 2023 purely in terms of numbers, the story goes like this: we started the year with just over 700 paying members (accumulated over the course of two years), we now have over 1,300 (almost double in one year). We started the year with 12,000 overall subscribers, we now have just shy of 20,000.
More importantly still, The Post is no longer a one man band, but a Bee Gees-style super trio, trilling in perfect harmony: Abi joined us in June and has brought so much energy and quality writing. As you’ve seen for yourself, she’s already written some of this year’s stand-out pieces, like her investigation into Liverpool’s missing Banksys and a big scoop about the departure of the Everyman’s creative director. A peek behind the curtain for big Post enthusiasts: She also has a massive investigation lined up for January, her own Eldonians if you will, with almost as much behind-the-scenes stress.
The Echo’s greatest reporter — Lisa Rand — defaulted to the only logical option (that’s us) in November, armed with a contact book the length of a mediaeval scroll and an ability to parse complex documents at little more than a glance. To have gone from one to three so quickly is as significant a marker of our progress as there is.
Some of our best pieces this year have been the ones we expected: investigations like Matt O’Donoghue’s deep dive into how Liverpool City Council blew almost £1 million on supercars (it was Matt, actually, who made the BBC’s superb Eldonians documentary, so seeing his work do so well on our site had a kind of cosmic irony to it), a long read on the breakdown of Sefton’s children’s services or big profiles like our chat with Joe Anderson. These are pieces I think would hold up in a national paper, that shine a light on issues of widespread importance or uncover a real scandal.
But others are the smaller pieces, the more local ones — a beloved beekeeper in Toxteth, a war over anti-social behaviour in Garston, a group of gardeners who fought to save a historic collection of botanical plants in Croxteth. These are the stories from communities all across Merseyside that, we hope, connect people to the places around them. Because that’s what local news should do: make you feel closer to the place you’re living in.
There’s nothing inevitable about this success. Beyond the shores of this publication, journalism is in a right state. Reach PLC — the company who run over 100 local publications in the UK as well as nationals like te Mirror and Express — have gone through multiple rounds of redundancies this year, including letting over 400 plus staff go before Christmas. We often criticise the content produced by Reach publications (we struggle to resist an opportunity to mock their ceaseless coverage of daytime TV presenter’s frocks for example) but they aren’t, in fairness, in an easy position.
Unlike 40 years ago, Facebook and Google dominate the ad revenue market, leaving the likes of local newspapers fighting over the scraps. It leaves two options: either you maximise eyeballs: specifically by pumping out hundreds of articles every day, covering them in pop up ads and hoping to attract masses of clicks with clickbait headlines. Or: you try to produce something of a better quality and ask people to pay for it.
We had no idea whether people would actually pay for long-form local news in Liverpool and Merseyside. In fact, a hell of a lot of people thought the model was completely doomed. But 1,300 have so far. If you have enjoyed our free content so far then we’d urge you to consider joining them: it’s the support of paying members that will keep this project not just alive, but expanding to become the news service this city deserves. We want local news to be something more than it currently is in this country. We don’t want it to rely on eyeball maximisation by means of celebrity gossip. We want it to be a celebration of this region, as well as a challenge to its institutions. We’d like to cover more stories — limiting ourselves to 16 a month means turning down plenty of issues that require scrutiny. But in order to do that, we’d need a larger team. And a larger team needs to be paid for.
Let’s put it this way: the ending of 2023 has been a fair bit calmer than the ending of 2022. Without the support we’ve had from you this year, there would be no Abi or Lisa at The Post, only me, marching up and down the office in a huff. Your support has brought our (still tiny) team a long way.
I’m excited about 2024, because being the Bee Gees (or The Ronettes, maybe? Choose your three-person supergroup), means we can take on all the stuff we’ve been wanting to do for ages. We’ll be running our first members-only event in March and we’re looking forward to finally meeting you all! We’ll be reporting more consistently on a broader area, think: Sefton, Knowsley, Wirral, Halton, St Helens. And we’ll be bringing you more scoops, more hard-hitting investigations, more humour, more reviews of flagship cultural events than ever before.
If this sounds like something you can get behind, and you haven’t already, hit the button below. While we’re always heartened by your support — nice tweets, recommendations to friends — only paying subscribers mean that we can achieve what we want to. Which is: create a proper Liverpool newsroom, the sort that would have existed 20 years ago before internet connections were so widespread; build community-based journalism again from the ground up, scrutinise airy claims made in the political press releases published as-is from other outlets, and hold corruption and breaches of power to account. Will you join us?