Saturday, March 04, 2017

Viewpoint: The Bridge 47th year, and the rest of us

As the Bridge Magazine begins its 47th year, I'm prompted to consider how Kilcullen is served by its community news media, writes Brian Byrne.

Starting with that same publication, it is probably true that we are the only village grown bigger which has had its own community magazine in continuous publication for such a length of time.

As I have mentioned many times before, the Bridge is where I began my own journalism all those years ago. But the magazine has been more important than that personal thing, to the community of Kilcullen at large. It began when we were a very small village, and is still here today when we can officially be classified as a town if we want. Through the decades of that change the writers and producers of the magazine have documented the past and present of Kilcullen, and from time to time have even attempted to forecast, if not direct, its future.

A few of those still with the Bridge were around in those early days. But while it might to some appear that it has been 'always the same crowd', there has been a constant refresh of contributors, of themes, and of ideas. And if there have been intermittent appeals down the years for new people to get involved, 'or it could be the end of the Bridge', it has always managed to continue, and has always been self-funding with the help of the strong volunteer element in its operation.

The Bridge has survived the difficulties experienced by traditional media with the rise of the internet, the competition of social media, and the influx of a new population which had no prior connection with Kilcullen and therefore no historical affiliation with buying the magazine. It remains as important as it ever was in its hyperlocal — the new name for what would formerly have been 'parish pump' — discussion. I look forward to it achieving its 50th anniversary in a short few years.

Of course, the digital age has also provided Kilcullen with the 21st century versions of its long-lived community magazine. The Kilcullen Diary, now in its 13th year (scary!), continues to gobsmack your editor with its onward growth in readership. But we are also well served by the Facebook and Twitter social media pages dedicated to Kilcullen. Sabina Reddy on the Kilcullen Town Facebook page tirelessly promotes all the other community and business postings of Kilcullen individuals, sports groups, small enterprises, craftspeople and more. Equally, Armelle Soimboing keeps the Kilcullen Town Twitter feed busy with commentary, news, and links to any tweets of interest to, or relating to Kilcullen.

Both of those redirect and amplify the social media outputs of Kilcullen's music, sports, crafts, educational, and the many other groups which are part of the essential underpinning of the Kilcullen of today. Part of the keeping in touch with each other of the many elements of what is, as I coined the phrase, a village grown bigger. I like that phrase not because it is mine, but because it reflects that we still have our village character, exemplified by any of us walking down the street and being able to nod or say 'hello' to everyone else we meet, even if we don't know each other.

There are other communications. The Parish Newsletter, for instance, a small but special weekly notification of matters for a significant part of the community's spirituality. The shops and other public premises which provide spaces for posters about local events. And the gathering places, the cafes and restaurants, the pubs which, every time I travel abroad, I come back to appreciate just how unique a community resource they are here, are all seriously important nodes of news in conversation. Saturday morning in An Tearmann being just one example.

When you look at all that, in a village grown bigger with just one main street, it shows that we are blessed with an extraordinary network of community information. The really nice thing about it is that it is all absolutely complementary. The Bridge is not in competition with the Diary, nor are the town's social media outlets trying to scoop or undermine each other or the Diary or the Bridge. The magazine freely uses photographs, sometimes stories, from the Diary. In turn, the Diary picks up on news in the Bridge of which I hadn't been aware. The two social media operations often provide leads to stories which I can expand on with the Diary, and equally they link onwards the Diary's stories.

Between us all, we combine to weave an ever-changing tapestry illustrating just what makes Kilcullen the kind of place where people like to live. For me as a fourth generation Kilcullenite, that's an affirmation that the future of my community is secure. For those more new to our village grown bigger, it is hopefully a carpet of vivid rich colour and design which makes their life here both comfortable and fascinating.

So here's to the Bridge in its 47th year, the local news medium which started it all.