“The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg
Now, before you assume that I am likening myself to one of the world’s most successful digital entrepreneurs; that I have been swept up in an aura of self-aggrandisement from watching The Social Network far too many times - I am not. Or at least not viscerally. For one, Backbench will never make me into a billionaire. I also do not have remotely close to the intellectual talent necessary to create anything more than a highly aspirational, yet essentially unsophisticated blogging website.
Yet I and Mr Zuckerberg do share one particular quirk: a belief that our technological horizons are shifting rapidly and, without innovation, that old methods will soon be consumed by the cults of our modern age.
In the field of journalism, this battle between new and old; redundant and revolutionary, is occurring before our Vine-demented eyes. Nascent platforms produced by BuzzFeed and Upworthy have harnessed the power of social media through a recipe of “cute, funny, meaningful” and are pulling traditional media organisations with the craze. We are not about to let Backbench be overrun with indiscriminate pictures of baby animals or videos of the “10 Best High-School Pranks” however – quite the opposite. Indeed, we aim to help pioneer a path along which intellectual political journalism can thrive, yet recognise the realities of our digital age.
Again though, surely this is over-ambitious? You just about got away with the Zuckerberg thing, but to proclaim a Christopher Columbus like status is surely a step too far? I hear you decry.
Perhaps so. But Backbench is part of a sphere of journalism that threatens to dwarf the influence of traditional media. Citizens are now realising that they have the ability to place their tee alongside the nation’s most formidable commentators. These idols of national consciousness may have an impeccable swing, and are usually bestowed with the finest of tools necessary to master their trade, but – if nothing else - we are all now playing on the same course. The ability of the people to shape political discourse has already been revolutionised through Twitter, and the proliferation of citizen journalism is merely another step in ensuring the democratisation of our national conversation.
Yet, ultimately, we must cut through the grand ideological hypotheses and ask, what exactly is Backbench doing to justify its role in the remaking of political journalism?
Well, this is the purpose of Backbench 2.0.
Firstly, as regular readers will note, we have altered our framework of contributions – initiating a multi-layered system of participation. We now have a team of six ‘Lead Writers’, who will contribute regularly to the website; moulding a distinct focus for their work. These writers (Soila Apparicio, Elena Attfield, Rory Claydon, Adam Isaacs, Alex Shilling and Marc Winsland), were chosen due to their enthusiasm to take on such a position, and their aptitude in being able to consistently cover pertinent subjects with depth and intricacy. Alongside our Lead Writers will be several ‘Correspondents’ who will specialise in covering particular fields of interest. Indeed, Robert Walmsley and Emily Stacey will make up our Election 2015 department, Michael Tavares and new writer Alice Lilly our U.S. affairs department, Tom Fenton and new writer Philip Gardner our Middle East affairs department, and Noah Sin our China department. The establishment of these positions does not preclude other writers from covering such topics, but merely serves to ensure that we cover the most significant developments occurring both within the UK and across the globe. Finally, our free-focus Commentators will make up the bulk of our writers – commenting on social, economic or political issues as often as their personal motivation dictates.
Our concept of journalism is therefore relatively simple: we wish to combine flexibility, depth and quality in an open platform structure accessible to all aspiring writers.
Further to this, on a more ideological level, we also hope to make more of an impact in terms of voter engagement, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. Thus, we have compiled profiles on all of Westminster’s major political parties (Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens). The political education of young people in the UK is sporadic at best. Our information may not resuscitate our lacklustre democracy singlehandedly, but it will at least enable a few more informed votes to be cast. Moreover, in accompaniment with raw material on the political parties is our Get Inspired page – designed to fuel a more fundamental passion in questions relating to politics, society and economics.
So, the next question is, how can you get involved with Backbench, if you are not already?
Well, the easiest way is to join us as a writer. We welcome as many contributors as we can handle, and are always on the lookout for new perspectives. You need not have any previous experience in writing or journalism, although we will ask for a sample article in order to verify that you can compose a proficient piece of work.
Alternatively, you can now invest in our project. Unfortunately we do not yet have a functioning donations element as of yet, but you can at least make a note to pledge when we have managed to get our act together. Similarly, we are offering opportunities for businesses and organisations to invest in us, through either a partnership or sponsorship scheme. A plan for where we would use any investment is set out on this page through a rather stylish infograph. Finally, simply reading our content and following our activity on social media lets us know that someone cares about what we are writing – a welcome reassurance if nothing else.
Journalism is changing. The colossi of the past still retain superiority, but they are no longer alone. Digital media has given nascent upstarts such as Backbench the chance to compete in a way never previously foreseen. Some may brand it as a passing fad; a drop of rain in an otherwise barren desert. Only time will tell whether this is the case. But while the world is changing so rapidly, it seems naïve to be rooted in obstinate resistance.