The very first guest blog on the new look Keep Colchester Cool website is handed over to Jason Cobb of Colchester Chronicle. I invited Jason to contribute as his blog has become the go-to site for an in depth, and straight talking, insight relating to the running of the town. The blog holds no prisoners, and why should it? If you only read the Gazette you’ll get a pretty decent snap shot, if you bolt on Colchester Chronicle you’ll find out a whole lot more. 
Ben Howard

Welcome, Colchester Chronicle! Over to you…

And so why start a blog all about Colchester?

Because you can. It’s as simple as that.

I decided back in late 2011 to start bashing out blog posts all about Britain’s Oldest Recorded Town. A couple of weeks later and the Colchester Chronicle was launched.

I was amazed at the immediate response that came back. Once you start writing about a specific locality, then the audience really does come to you.

Within 24 hours I had what could loosely be described as a news list. In reality it was more like a dozen or so leads that very kind folk in Colchester had suggested that I take a look at.

I decided very early on not to cover hard news stories. With the demands of a day job more pressing, you need to scope what you can realistically achieve.

There is so much nonsense spoken about being ‘sustainable.’ Basically it comes down to being realistic about what you know you can keep up without any cost.

This was always the number one priority for me at The Chronic. It isn’t a local blog masquerading as a marketing machine to make money. I’ve had offers to take sponsorship and ads. But once you do this then at some stage you are compromising yourself and your audience.

The Chronic continued to grow over the course of the first year or so. I started to take an active involvement in Colchester Borough Council business. This was where the gap was in local reporting. It is hugely important for the town and deserves some form of coverage.

And this has pretty much been the mantra that has kept The Chronic going – on and off – over the past three years: just do something – ANYTHING. It’s got to be better than sitting back and living a life of apathy.

Getting out and going to various CBC meetings, and then blogging about the main cultural events in Colchester soon led to many local connections being formed. This is where the real fun starts as you start to join up the digital dots out there in the real world.

It really is all about contacts and connections. Stories come your way once you get a feel around the town of who to talk to. Much is made of Colchester’s status as one of the fastest growing towns in the UK. But it is still a relatively small place where it is possible to get a grasp of some of the main characters.

Colchester is a long way off from having an informal network of local bloggers, but there are signs that this can be achieved. This is what is really needed if any grass roots local ‘scene’ is going to emerge.

Operating in isolation at Council meetings can be tough. I genuinely would appreciate some company, someone else also endlessly tweeting and then publishing a blog post to capture their view of what has just taken place.

Clarifications and corrections can be made; links can be shared and soon you have a network of local people that when connected can really add some value as an informal group putting forward a voice for Colchester.

After 18 months or so of trying to make sure that I covered CBC, the incredibly busy local arts scenes and any other random stories that were sent my way, I soon realised that I was spreading myself too thinly. Plus my paid work had taken me back to South London for the majority of my time. I took a sabbatical.

The South London situation still remains the case, but The Chronic is back online, and still trying to cut through the many changes that are taking place around the town.

I literally had a Eureka moment one morning whilst putting in the lengths at Bannatynes: I’ve got a 4,000 plus Twitter following and a domain now that I haven’t let expire. I can’t commit to posting 2-3 stories a day, let alone a week.

But with the 2015 local and general elections looming, there really wasn’t anyone else around the town taking a look at some of the issues and claims that the various candidates were putting out.

I soon realised that I could probably make a monthly CBC Full Council and Cabinet meeting ,and tweet the hell out of it. A short blog post to wrap it all up would be a bonus.

Most of my time is spent scheduling tweets and trying to present a daily Twitter narrative of what is happening in Colchester. I haven’t the time to cover the ideas that get sent my way. I now write about what I think is important.

All of this means that the approach has changed. The Chronic is pretty much my view of what is taking place at CBC. This is no bad thing. A bland blog is pretty pointless. You need an opinion, you need a voice.

You don’t need the money though. Anyone that starts up a local blog with the idea that it will pay them a living is not being… sustainable. My only outgoings are £40 a year for the hosting, and then train fare to and from CBC meetings.

If you think that you can create something similar, then please do give it a go.

What have you got to lose?

Colchester is in desperate need of some other independent voices. It needn’t be CBC business based either.

Ben Howard does a brilliant job of keeping us updated on the live scene with Keep Colchester Cool, but there is always room for other voices to be heard. I personally think that a Colchester sports based blog would soon find a strong voice and audience.

And so why start a blog all about Colchester?

Because you can.

Jason Cobb
Colchester Chronicle

The Chronic is an online hyperlocal blog covering Colchester.

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