Introducing… The Six Pillars of the Citizen

By - Friday 12th April, 2013

What the Croydon Citizen represents has confused old media – today we set out our stall

A little while ago we published an article that was far more widely debated than any other we had ever published before.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t published controversial material before, but it was first time in our short history that we published something that several members of our community felt we should not have published at all. Indeed, for some, this article called into question the entire credibility and mission of Citizen.

The arguments that surrounded this issue are not worth repeating here, but if you are interested in the intense debate that our publishing strategy can inspire you can read the entire exchange here. It includes my detailed explanation of how the piece came to be published, why we stand by our decision to publish it, and the serious mistakes we made along the way.

One thing the entire episode did highlight for me was an even greater need to communicate what lies behind our editorial stance; what our mission is (if we even have one) as a publication. As an editorial team, we’d strived for transparency about who we are already; not only in our contributor biographies but in articles like this and this to explain our individual motivations for working on the paper. But besides very practically orientated guidelines for our contributors, we’d never expounded on our philosophy.

Some might question the need to do this at all. National newspapers don’ t feel the need to state their aims – we know them by their works: the attitudes we can predict, the stories we know they will cover and the side they will inevitably pick in a class war of their own making. Local papers – those wonderfully sane, if sometimes hilarious media institutions - can be known purely by a patch. A patch and a ‘take’, says old media, are the only anchors the Citizen needs. Perhaps, you might argue, they are already forming.

But who said we have to play by old rules?

In a world where news media is changing faster than ever, traditional models of business and content are collapsing, and a growing section of the public are weary of the endless infighting of traditional leaders, it seems strange to live by the laws and the customs of that other country – the past. What security, what base for the future, do these things provide?

After all, if you’re a pessimist you  probably believe that the local paper – our closest comparison proposition – will recede altogether, lost to a maelstrom of social media and individual blogs. Or maybe, if you’re more optimistic, you think communications and growing “rootlessness” will make them agnostic of traditional borders. No longer hampered by the limitation of a distribution agreement and a carving up of territory within a local news group, they could become the opposite of hyper-local: “a-local” publications, read more for the kind of content they produce and where their writers live –  rather than where their readers live. Maybe, if we’re really, really lucky a “Croydon kind of thing” will one day mean something that people, far away, will aspire too – although this is perhaps too much to dream.

In this world of uncertainty and change,  it seems more important to find a new anchor – one that isn’t rooted in old assumptions, old ways, and old traps. And that, fundamentally, is what the principles we’re publishing today are all about: the codification of an identity that has been gradually growing; one that defines and supports us. In suggestion of this idea, we have called them  the “Six Pillars of the Citizen”. The potential pretentiousness of that title (and perhaps the whole concept of stated principles) is something we are fully aware of. But we are also aware that the concept captures, pretty perfectly, what they are aimed to do to –  hold us high. I also believe, precisely because it shamelessly borrows a time-honoured literary construction, that it too will stand the test of ‘time’ – if we’re still around in ‘time’ to see it survive and we haven’t changed our minds too much about we are really about.

These are not fresh concepts – they are ideas we have nurtured and reflected on since our beginning not so long ago. They will, I think, not come as any shock to our contributors or readers. If you’d like to let us know what you think, feel free to make your view known here, right now on the comments to this piece.

In the end – isn’t that the point?

James Naylor

James Naylor

James grew up in Coulsdon. After a brief spell in Somerset he returned to central Croydon as a useful London base. Since then however, his enthusiasm for Croydon has slowly grown into obsession – leading him to set up Croydon Tours and eventually the Croydon Citizen. James is particularly interested in the power of local media to foster new ways of thinking about communities and how to empower them. He is most interested in putting Croydon in a wider context within London, the economy and across time. During the week, he works for an advertising technology company hailing from Silicon Valley. When he’s not working on Croydon-related projects, he enjoys desperately nerdy but hugely enjoyable boardgames. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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