Ad Lib has covered some fun and some important stories over the years but never really established a large, committed audience either in its paid-for subscription form or in its free-to-all-members version.
The plan is to move from print to online. This has triggered the sort of reactions such moves usually generate: widespread acceptance that the world is changing in this respect mixed with continuing affection from some for the printed word.
Part of the underlying cause, however, has gone largely unmentioned. It’s where you get to blame me.
It’s simply this: unofficial news sources for parties are almost always more interesting than official ones . That’s not a slight on those who produce the official ones. Rather, it’s a reflection of the restrictions they work under.
When there is a big new policy announcement, for example, official sources have to tell us it is wonderful or else serve up quotes that get recycled in unfriendly newspapers and in the leaflets of other parties. Even the old Liberal Democrat News with its degree of editorial freedom struggled with that context.
It’s the unofficial sources which can give the more useful, the more interesting and the more rounded stories. What was the controversy behind it? Has the party tried this before? Why might it not work? That’s where the unofficial gets to trump the official – and that’s why the readers go to the unofficial so often. Nor is this unique to the Liberal Democrats: look at the success of ConHome, for example, compared with the various official Conservative blogging attempts over the years.
For the Lib Dems the main unofficial sources include Liberal Democrat Voice (which largely came out of a phone conversation I had with the chap who became its founding editor when he was waiting for a train) and, ahem, this site and my various email newsletters. Both of us solicit and are thankful for donations; we’re both also free, making charging for official news harder.
It’s difficult to measure exact readership amongst party members, but even my reasonably cautious estimates put the readership of my channels, for example at higher than the attendance at hustings meetings during the party’s contested 2015 leadership election and higher than the readership of the old Liberal Democrat News weekly newspaper.
Against this background, official news outlets are always going to struggle if there is a reasonable ecosystem of unofficial sources. So blame me…
And, if they don’t mind, one unsolicited tip for those who are running the successor Ad Lib blog on the party’s website: play to the strengths of what an official news source can provide rather than try to get into more general news where being official means necessarily being less interesting.
Note: the Ad Lib blog posts are included in my email digests which you can sign up to here.
UPDATE: Ad Lib is back, sort of.