Why I Edit The Croydon Citizen

By - Friday 25th January, 2013

In the first of our ‘meet the team’ articles, Content Editor Tom Black explains how he heard the call of citizen journalism

Image by Mateusz Lapsa-Malawski

When James Naylor approached me to be a Content Editor for what would eventually become The Croydon Citizen, my first thought was ‘sure, I’ve not got much else on at the moment’. This was undeniably true, as, at the time, I was a recent graduate (code, under the Coalition, for ‘unemployed’) I had a lot of energy and little to spend it on. As time went on, however, I began to realise that The Citizen was exactly the kind of thing I’d always hoped Croydon might produce. But it was only going to happen when people like you, me, and people like this got involved.

My birth certificate says I was born in Redhill, something that will no doubt haunt me if I ever seek political office in Croydon, but I was raised in Coulsdon. Coulsdon has always been very much on the cusp of London, metaphorically as well as geographically. In my household, our letters may have said Surrey, but our hearts said Croydon. If one of the Citizen’s aims is to stress how Croydon is a part of London (and this is by no means its only aim) then my own personal aim has always been to stress how Coulsdon is part of Croydon. I’ve been granted an opportunity to do this by reviewing Coulsdon’s restaurants (something my belly, but not my wallet, is demanding that I start doing again soon), and intend to do much more.

I’m also The Citizen‘s resident theatre critic, though I’m always looking for competition. The decision to review theatre outside but accessible from Croydon came from a desire on my part to stress Croydon’s excellent transport links which, more than any geographical proximity, make it an integral part of London. It also came from my politics.

I’m a believer in social change driven by cultural and intellectual engagement. I think the most embarrassing thing about the United Kingdom’s political process (and there are plenty to choose from) is how few people actually give a damn about it. My own first real brush with politics was the mock election at my school in 2005, where I voted Liberal Democrat out of support for Charles Kennedy and his party’s stand against the Iraq War. Two years later, Kennedy was gone and Blair was on borrowed time, and I found myself joining the Labour Party as an inspired 16 year old determined to vote for Gordon Brown to be the next leader of my party. As things turned out, neither I nor anyone else would get that opportunity, but I duly voted for Jon Cruddas for Deputy Leader and have remained in the party since.

If I am to be given the opportunity to write a piece that’s relevant to Croydon and makes my views clear, the same privilege must be extended to those I disagree with

As much a lover of history as I am of politics, I studied the former at the University of Leeds between 2009 and 2012. Spending time in a great northern city was not only a great way for a sheltered southerner to come of age, but also showed me the power of a positive, transformational attitude. Nobody does jolly cynicism like a West Yorkshireman, but at its heart I always found there was a belief that, all things considered, this was one of the best places in the world and it was up to us to put our heads together, in government, in business, and in the arts, and to get it on its feet again. Mrs Thatcher would have called that ‘a desire to get up and do something’. Orwell called it socialism. I prefer the latter.

There have been some rumours, some undercurrents and some things which I can only assume to be jokes floating around about The Citizen. Apparently we’re some kind of Tory Manchurian candidate, infiltrating the helpless Croydon Internet-sphere and peddling such true-blue Conservative propaganda pieces as campaigns for a locally-produced bicycle, a fascinating and detailed series about the history of London RoadTech City coverage and, that most heinously Thatcherite post-war-consensus-breaking piece of Blue Rinse Brigadery, an architectural review of Matthews Yard. It has been a little hard not to be offended at being called a Conservative when my Labour Party membership is stated in my site biography below. Still, politics is out of the equation when it comes to editorial policy. I write for The Citizen but my main job here is to manage our contributors – the citizens – and prepare their work for publication. If I am to be given the opportunity to write a piece that’s relevant to Croydon and makes my views clear, the same privilege must be extended to those I disagree with. I would never have it any other way.

Just yesterday, a great article chronicling the history of Croydon’s shopping experience led to a lively exchange in the comments and others sharing their experiences, visions and hopes for the town. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Other people will have different names for this process of cooperation that I want to help take place in Croydon – transition, transformation, perhaps even The Big Society if that’s what you choose to call it. But, to me, the nomenclature is less important than the result. That result is a town that appreciates the benefits of being part of the greatest city in the world, but doesn’t forget it’s got a lot to be proud of in its own right. Every time I receive another article from a contributor, I feel extremely privileged to be part of The Citizen. Because that’s how we’re going to get there.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • David Fisher

    (ugh, what is wrong with this site’s commenting system? This is the second comment I’ve written that’s immediately disappeared into a black hole)
    I’ve only just come across this article, a month late — sorry!
    I’ve not personally heard any rumours about the Citizen’s purpose — indeed I was excited to discover it, given that I was disappointed upon first moving to the town (2 yrs ago) to find only one worthwhile local online presence (Inside Croydon). However, with articles first discussing how “BME voters” might be “weaned” off Labour, and then today about how unfair it all is that the Council gets criticized so much on Twitter, I have to say that such rumours would not surprise me.
    I wish you and the Citizen team all the best — I think it has great potential, and the more local discussion/news forums (fora?) the borough and town have the better. I’m just… not quite convinced yet, shall we say.

    • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

      Thanks for your comment, David. Have you actually read Bieneosa’s article about BME voters? Speaking personally, I found it to be an indictment of the Conservative Party and an exploration of how they’re failing to engage BME voters while Labour does a much better job – did you come to a different conclusion? I’d be very interested to hear how you concluded it was some kind of pro-Tory piece, given it calls them ‘a party that is scrambling for quick wins and headline grabbers as it faces an uphill battle’.

      As for today’s piece by Mario, I’m not sure I understand your point – Mario’s a Conservative, he says so in the article and, as such, he sets out the situation from that perspective. The Citizen has no overarching agenda when it comes to party political viewpoints – if people want to write responses to Mario’s piece, or any piece we publish, then we’ll be happy to publish them. Are you under the impression that we, as a citizen (small-c) journalist outlet, are somehow directing our contributors to some kind of agenda? I assure you that’s far from the case. As discussed above, Mario’s a Conservative, so his articles will have that slant. An article by Brendan Walsh, for example, a Green activist who writes for us, will naturally take a stance in favour of Green issues or figures – indeed, his first article for us extolled the merits of the Green candidate for Croydon North. I could list other examples, but I’d hope that the array of content from figures across the political spectrum (and some uninterested in politics entirely), some of which is linked to in my article, speaks for itself.

      Forgive me if I’m seemed somewhat bullish in my response to you. It’s just that, as my article above says, I’m starting to get a little offended by the accusations that I’m part of some kind of ‘Tory Manchurian candidate’!

      Thanks for the good wishes. As for the comment system, there are known problems to do with posting comments when you log in through Twitter – we’re doing what we can about it. Are you using Twitter to log in here?

      • David Fisher

        Sorry for not replying previously — partly due to forgetfulness/life getting in the way, but also you raised some good points and I wanted to sit back for a while. I accept your point that the Citizen is a platform for everyone and anyone — that aspect is becoming clearer over time, and I do now genuinely look forward to new articles.
        However, I still feel that it was very unfortunate that a high proportion of the Citizen’s early work was uncritical of our rulers (whether local or national), and I can’t help but feel that your admirable “open” editing stance may have shot you in the foot in that respect.
        But I apologise for my slur.
        (P.S. Disqus problems now also resolved, hooray!)