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  • Writer's pictureElise Garner

Spotlight: Rye News

Updated: Jun 1

This month we had the pleasure of speaking to long-time supporters and members, Rye News. This year they celebrate a decade of operation, so we took this opportunity to talk to James Stewart about the history and visions for the future.



1. For those of us who don’t already know – can you give us a bit of Rye News’ history?

Yes, Rye News was set up ten years ago – so this is a big milestone year for us, we’re planning an event to celebrate in the autumn. The original founders created it to bring the community together, they spotted a gap, local media was changing and they recognised that there was a need to bring the community together to inform them on local issues, let them know about things taking place in the town and allowing them to comment.


Since the start it has been led by volunteers – we have a team of between 10 and 20 locals who give up their time to make it happen.


2. What is your background? How have you found yourself at Rye News?

I moved down here from Peckham three years ago. I’d been visiting the area for years and always loved it. Trips to Camber followed by a visit to Rye for lunch and a beer – it has always been a favourite part of the country for me. As for many, the world changed during COVID and that was when I moved down. I love it down here, people are friendly and the countryside is just lovely.


From a professional point of view I worked for the BBC for 30 years and before that in commercial radio. I’ve worked as both a presenter and a reporter, as well as in management. I’ve worked in Kent and Essex, and Birmingham and more recently in London’s W1A. My remit was mainly covering big events – Children in Need, Chelsea Flower Show – that kind of thing, more features led, rather than hard news. 


I’ve also made podcasts here and there, some of your members will know me from the RyeCast. I love talking to people – throwing a microphone in front of them and learning their stories. 


3. What's your vision for Rye News?

I want it to be the best local paper in England. 

I want it to be something the town and its people can be hugely proud of. People might not be aware but there is nothing else like it anywhere else in Sussex. No other online newspaper; volunteer run, with ambition and quality content – achieving between 6-7 thousand readers a week and over a million page views a year. I think that is something we should be enormously proud of as a town.


The challenge of course is that local media has all but died. We don’t have a local newspaper dedicated to Rye. Local radio long since pulled out of this area. The ‘wild west’ of Facebook and Nextdoor has filled the gap so there is absolutely a need for Rye News to be the trusted local newspaper – reporting facts.


I want people to have a place where they can read the main news of the week alongside some fascinating stories of people who live and work here. I think with that mix we can’t go far wrong.



4. What makes Rye New's unique?

Well I think it’s the people in the town that make it unique. We’re a town full of amazing people and amazing stories. 


5. And the business values you strive for?

For Rye News to be trusted, unbiased, with quality reporting and brilliant pictures.  That we are warm and friendly always, and we want to reflect the unique character of our town – with an element of surprise and some stories that make readers say; ‘well I never knew that!’


6. Are there things that Rye News can do better going forward?

Absolutely – we need to hold local decision-makers to account. This is something that readers have hopefully noticed in recent months – we’re now always present at Council meetings so we can report back and follow up.   


I also think we have a duty to do better in reflecting the wider population of Rye. 


One of the things that would help us to do this would be to have some new, younger volunteers to help us. We don’t have many young people on our team – and that doesn’t feel right.


While we accept that our core readership is a slightly older demographic, I think we should be more representative of everyone living in Rye.


7. What are the immediate plans for the paper?

Firstly, as I’ve said – we will be attending every town council meeting to hold local decision-makers to account. 


We absolutely will be a bit more rigorous in our journalism and a bit more choosy about the stories we cover – a bit sharper, punchier.


It’s always about having a good mix and balance of reporting, after all, we’re not the Wall Street Journal with a newsroom full of hardened hacks – we will always be a local newspaper run by volunteers!


We have a news meeting every couple of weeks and work out the top stories we’re going to cover. Obviously, it’s going to be a very interesting few weeks ahead with the general election coming up. We will be approaching each of our Parliamentary Candidates to set out their stall with regards to national policy and how it will relate to our constituency. We did the same recently for the local elections for Police Commissioner – we were the only paper regionally to comprehensively cover each candidate who was running for election. 


8. What are the challenges for local newspapers?

In the past, there would have always been a local reporter from a local newspaper attending local authority meetings and reporting back. That’s still happening a little thanks to the BBC’s local democracy reporting service  – they send a reporter to Rother District Council meetings and write stories up and then those stories will appear in Rye News. 


But in the main, the established local media has pretty much disappeared.  The main challenge then becomes that people find out about what is going on via social media – which is shot through with someone else’s opinion.  And sometimes that’s great, and sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it’s just plain wrong.


There are now podcasts for local news, again this can be great, but can also be a challenge for people who are unused to accessing their news via anything other than traditional media. 


In Rye we’re lucky in that we also have Ryezine, Ryes Own News and Rye & District Fixtures all of which help keep locals and visitors informed.


9. What are you most proud of in your business?

What I love about Rye Is the way people support each other – big things like Rye Fawkes wouldn’t happen without the volunteers.  There’s a huge amount of day-to-day support through carers, the food bank and all sorts of volunteer-led initiatives around town.  There is something truly amazing about all of that. We should celebrate a bit more.


On the flip side – I think we could benefit from a more joined up approach to some of these good works – there are a lot of people doing good things in silos – and sharing the load might be helpful sometimes.


Of course, as a community, we can sometimes be a bit moany, but you find that in most places! But by comparison with other places, there are a lot people in and around Rye doing amazing things.


10. What help do you need / if any?

We will always need volunteers – people to tip us off about good stories, people to help us write stories, or assist us in the newsroom behind the scenes, or taking amazing photos. The passion and enthusiasm of our volunteers has undoubtedly contributed to the success of Rye News over the past ten years, we are now looking ahead to the next era for the newspaper and we very much hope more people in Rye want to get involved.


 

See the latest in local news by visiting Rye News and following them on Facebook @RyeNewsSussex and on Instagram @newsrye.


Want us to do a Spotlight feature on your business? Contact us today at 01797 222857.


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