UK’s oldest hyperlocal celebrates its 25th birthday

By Matt Abbott | 5th Feb 2019

The first issue of the Broughton Spurtle, February 1994

The UK’s oldest surviving hyperlocal community newspaper is celebrating its 25th year in print.

The Broughton Spurtle was founded in February 1994 by a small group of locals inspired by the success of the anti-Poll Tax campaign and the achievements of local residents’ associations.

Over 280 issues later, the paper is still going strong and is seen as a vital source of information and news for the area of Broughton in North/Central Edinburgh.

It aims to accurately report local affairs, raise issues, publicise the work of local action groups, make connections between ‘the news’ and Broughton life, and generally stir things up.

The Spurtle is edited by Alan McIntosh who manages a team of 17 volunteers, and the distribution of around 2500 copies every month.

Alan says: “We’re delighted to have lasted this long. 

“Being around for 25 years gives you a certain level of access to people and places. A recognisable face gets you a long way in journalism.

“Thanks to that, and because our coverage straddles several constituencies, the Spurtle can be a powerful influencer. At just four pages long it really punches above its weight.”

Alan took over at the helm in 2008 after the Spurtle’s previous editor, John Dickie, left the paper to the community.

Alan says: “I cursed myself for agreeing to take it over, but it’s healthy that the editor moves on. It’s refreshing for the community. Not all publications can do it, so we were very lucky to find the right circumstances.”

The Spurtle’s online presence has grown since 2009 and now boasts 10-20,000 unique visitors per month. And that’s for a community of just 10,000 people.

The Broughton Spurtle, February 2019

“We have a very unique business model,” says Alan. “No one gets paid.

“We just try to have a reserve of money to cover a year of production costs. Any profit we make goes right back to the community.”

In 25 years, the look and feel of the Spurtle hasn’t changed, but the tone certainly has. 

Before Alan took over the paper had a clearer left-wing agenda.

These days however, there’s a very Private Eye feel to its articles. 

Alan says: “I’d describe the style now as humorous scepticism. It’s much more effective at spurring a wide range of readers into being proactive. 

“I’m not cynical. If enough people get involved it can make a change.”

Fittingly, the name of the paper comes from a wooden rod for stirring porridge – a Scots spurtle , and the paper is described as Broughton’s Independent Stirrer.

Alan says: “A traditional spurtle is designed to stop the porridge from sticking. In 25 years, we’ve never been sued because nothing’s stuck to us. So, we must be doing something right.”

The Spurtle is independent, still not-for-profit, and still funded solely by adverts and subscription. It is a member of the Independent Community News Network.

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