‘I love the Bylines stuff, I’m a subscriber!’ I often hear. What they mean is that they subscribe to Byline Times – and thoroughly enjoy all the Byline/s content they come across, from Byline Times to Byline TV & Byline Times podcast, to Yorkshire Bylines, Sussex Bylines and Bylines Scotland. Yes, Byline Times (which owns Byline TV) and the Bylines Network are sister organisations that work hand in hand. Yet financially they are separate, and the Bylines Network has its own funding streams (like Gazette subscriptions) that you should really get involved with too if you want to back our flourishing publications.
Origin stories: Byline
Where did this Byline and Bylines media ecosystem come from? And what’s in an ‘s’? It’s all been a very rapid and exciting organic explosion of Byline/s entities, so let me take you through the story.
Byline Times, which launched in 2018, had its origins in Byline.com – which was a revolutionary effort to establish crowdfunded citizen journalism. In 2015, Byline began asking their online audience to sponsor journalists and bloggers to write columns or pursue investigations (see the fascinating video here). This meant that a new type of media was being created – one which was not owned and funded by billionaire press barons, but rather grassroots with the agenda coming from the community of writers and readers together.
From Byline emerged the Byline Festival in 2017, where those writers and readers could meet, interact and listen to talks focused on broken systems in media, democracy and accountability. The Byline Festival has kept running since and in 2022 it featured talks and presentations from Rio Ferdinand, Peter Tatchell, Carole Cadwalladr and Jonathan Pie.
Out of Byline sprang Byline Times in 2018 – a printed subscription-based paper sent to the homes of subscribers with priority topics of dirty money and methods in politics and the inadequacy of the wider news media. Its slogan is ‘What the papers don’t say’ and a list of names of grassroots funding contributors to the paper are proudly displayed in print every edition.
The founders of Byline Times are Peter Jukes, a playwright, and Stephen Colegrave, a one-time punk rocker who later became an author and top advertising executive. So they were hardly from traditional journalism backgrounds, but Peter had become a prominent critic of the press during the phone-hacking scandal and was a Byline-crowdfunded court reporter at the Old Bailey trials of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks.
Byline Times quickly became seen as a champion by the online progressive community, as it discussed and tackled corruption in politics and media, and discussed threats from the far-right that mainstream papers shied away from.
Origin stories: Bylines Network
The Bylines Network developed from a direct collaboration with Byline Times. In January 2020, I approached Peter Jukes with an idea. The general election of December 2019 – and the UK’s exit from the EU – had left many people feeling disempowered and disenfranchised. But there still existed well-formed grassroots groups all over the UK. Rather than leave them languishing with only their Twitter and Facebook accounts, was there, perhaps, an extra level of empowerment these groups could develop to channel their knowledge and ideas?
We had the communities and structures to approach local journalism from a very new angle; local citizen journalism starting with a large ready-made audience. I pitched that idea to Peter and he told me that the web developers for Byline Times had just developed a ‘white label’ version of their website, but did not know what to use it for. This notion of local citizen versions of Byline Times fitted like hand in glove.
By the time I had got back to the tube station, I had already made a series of calls back and forth with Peter and my first choice for a partner to help develop this, Louise Houghton. It was all agreed. We were doing it. And the first title would be ‘Yorkshire Bylines’ as a hat-tip to the Byline brand but the ‘s’ adding the subtle distinguisher.
Launching the Bylines Network from Yorkshire
Byline Times had provided the inspiration for our citizen journalism model. They now also provided the know-how. Peter and team helped us out with our web design, legal advice, tech support, and part-funding an audience development officer post for a year, which made a huge difference.
Off the back of this base capacity, we were able to forge ahead with our own exciting plans. I used my campaign March for Change (MfC) as the legal owner of this emerging ‘Bylines Network’ with the project effectively being an MfC-Byline Times collaboration. When we launched the first of our ‘regional’ Bylines in Yorkshire in April 2020, it just took off. And over the course of the first year we expanded to include Bylines in the North East, West England, West Country, Sussex, Central England and Kent.
Then in July 2021, we spun out into its own legal entity, Bylines Networks Ltd. We let the West Country Bylines team spin out into their own publication to become West Country Voices and we then launched Bylines in East Anglia and the North West.
… and going inter-national!
Following the launch of North West Bylines, we then took a bolder turn and launched in Scotland. I guess that means we’re no longer a ‘regional’ network – and rather, if you will, ‘inter-national’. To demarcate the difference, we named it ‘Bylines Scotland’ rather than Scotland Bylines – and picked the ‘.scot’ web domain rather than the ‘.co.uk’ we’d been using for the English regions.
We also carefully thought through our policy on Scottish Independence and decided, with the new team led by Ian Kinsey, that we had no editorial policy other than to fairly represent the Scottish citizens in their range of voices on the matter – and to ensure factual content always. The site launched to huge appetite and a boom of followers on Twitter. We are now preparing Bylines Cymru along similar lines and have already had a deluge of interested writers.
The Bylines Gazette and the Bylines app(s)
But we didn’t stop at geographical reach! As many of you will I’m sure know, this year we launched our very own Bylines Gazette, which pulls together the best articles from across the network each month in a truly gorgeous publication, complete with stunning artwork from our talented cartoonist Stan Dupp (aka Malcolm Laverty). Subscribing to that gazette will give you the full richness of the content we produce, in a rich magazine-style format. Just sign up and have that monthly joy of perusing it.
Then one of our volunteers designed an iOS app for the Bylines Network. It’s another beautiful overview on what we do, but giving you, absolutely free, all those channels in one place in real time – including Byline Times, Byline TV and Byline Radio (yup – you can even watch the best of BylineTV in the app!). The app shot to the top spot of the Apple shop for Newspapers & Magazines, staying at No1 for a full week and earning a rating of 4.7 stars. Very soon we’ll be launching an Android version. After months of development, it’s currently in the final testing stage!
This just goes to show what people can do when they work together to a common goal. And that goal is citizen empowerment, which brings with it real bottom-up democracy. Because in giving a platform to a range of citizen voices and in holding our elected representatives to account, we are part of ensuring that democracy in the UK gets the teeth it needs.
It would be easy to allow the overseas billionaire-owned press in this country to dictate what we should care about and simply bury our heads in the sand. But then they will have won. And what next?
The Bylines Network is now a key part of keeping our democracy alive. We are not for profit; we are not a commercial operation. We exist to give a powerful platform to a range of citizen voices – professional writers, academics and politicians … students, teachers, doctors, engineers … activists, parents and your neighbour on the bus.
What other organisation does as we do, providing a curated platform in this way? Our editors ensure that what goes out is of an excellent standard, and our social media teams ensure that the articles reach an audience that is as wide as possible. We even have our own student placement programme, working with local universities to offer development opportunities to the next generation of journalistic talent. We’re speaking truth to power, together as citizens and communities.
We need your help
And here is where we need your help. As a not-for-profit publication we rely on the generous support of our online community. We look to our readers, who recognise the value of independent journalism, to help support us. We have a small team of six paid staff who power this vast network on a shoestring – only one of whom works full time. But we’re making it work amazingly, aren’t we? With an impressive tech framework too. Every penny counts, and we can get incredible value out of your support.
Many of our readers already subscribe to Byline Times, but that doesn’t come to the Bylines Network and we know how much you value our work too. So, if you can spare it, would you also subscribe to our Bylines Gazette for just £2 a month?
If you can offer more, that would of course make a huge difference to us. You could also become one of our sponsors for £10 a month, with the option of having your name on the cover of the Gazette. And if you’d prefer, you can get involved too. Just check out our engagement page to see all the different ways you can help out the Bylines Network and become part of our vital community.
We need your help! The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs. If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette 🙏