On the final closure of Bristol/Bath what's on institution Venue after 31 years ...
Dear Local World,
So, here we are then. Friday 29 November 2013. Venue’s last day on Earth. Hours from being swept away as part of what you so dreamily term “the development of the what’s on module.” Sometime in December, we learn, venue.co.uk will re-emerge, like butterfly become grub, as www.bristolpostwhatson.co.uk. Because, heck, nothing answers “Hey, where to find what’s happening in town tonight?” quite so snappily as www. bristolpostwhatson.co.uk. Given a firm push, a downhill gradient and a stiff following wind, it just rolls off the tongue.
It may surprise you to learn we don’t necessarily have a problem with you closing the Venue website. Don’t get us wrong, it is curious timing. As you know, the most recent figures for daily page hits are: August - 44,162; September - 48,544; October - 55,824. Nevertheless, the two remaining of our number, working part-time on alternate weeks, would be the first to admit that Venue is a husk of its former self. Frankly, they’ll be glad to be put out of their misery. Where once they were part of a vast team of journalists delivering informed, first-hand comment from every last facet of city life, today our hapless duo struggle to do much more than pass on received opinion and rehash press releases. Naturally, we don’t have to explain this process to you, Local World, but we’re keenly aware that newcomers to the site might look at recent content and wonder at our concern.
We’ll come to that shortly, but, this being an open letter, a brief history lesson for the uninitiated (we’re being tactful here, Local World - we’re all too aware you haven’t got a fucking clue yourselves). Venue magazine began life in 1982, covering Bristol and Bath and surrounds, but swiftly fter 18 proudly independent years it was sold to Bristol United Press, owned by your predecessor, the Northcliffe Newspaper Group. Last year, having suffered death by a thousand cuts and a colourful assortment of full-frontal stabbings, the magazine was closed down. Today, it’s fallen to you, Local World, to apply the coup-de-graceless and bring down the final curtain on 31 years of work.
And hand it all over to the Post.
The Post, which decreed all street art as vandalism for years, and yet today, having so very belatedly recognised which way the wind is blowing, reaches for Banksy with the same onanistic lust the Express reserves for Diana.
We’re not going to claim we ever “championed” Banksy. We never really went in for “championing”. We simply covered everything we considered of value. So we might not have “championed” street art, but we did report t. Always. Even before 1985, the year of Arnolfini’s seminal ‘Graffiti Art’ exhibition, featuring work from the UK’s first wave of can-wielders. One of them was called 3D, or Robert Del Naja. He went on to co-found Massive Attack. We put Massive Attack on the cover before they’d even released a single.
Do you see what we’re driving at here? Have you any idea the number of wonderful bands, and theatre groups, and artists, and voluntary organisations, and filmmakers, and minority groups who had no voice anywhere else, at all, ever, and poets, and DJs, and on, and on, who claim inspiration from something they read in Venue? We make no assertions for the influence of our opinion; we simply did our level best to place a mirror in every last corner of Bristol, no matter how hidden, and allow the city to reflect back on itself.
And you want to hand over that legacy to a paper whose management - not journalists - are the precise equivalent of those radio stations which promise “your better music mix” and then put the same few songs on repeat. Which claim “the best new music” and fail to add “once it has charted and proved its popularity.” You want to hand over that legacy because, to quote from a staff email you neglected to send us, “The existing Venue website has really good functionality with a real blend of music reviews, listings, restaurant reviews etc, etc. This is a fantastic opportunity to grow our digital audience and a great platform to sell advertising on.”
Do you have any idea how much that hurts, Local World? Of course you don’t. You who boast all the cultural hinterland of a freshly discarded wet wipe. (Though you do have history, of course: born earlier this year, the helplessly stumbling result of a merger between Iliffe Media and Northcliffe, with a profit forecast of approximately £30 million - that debt-free dowry from the Daily Mail General Trust was a lovely gift, no? And they absolved you of responsibility for the deficit on that pesky old final salary pension scheme. Ah, Local World! You are to localism what urinal cake is to mountain freshness.)
And now you presume to inherit our work. We were writers, Local World,photographers, not “content providers”. We were bound together not only by our city, but by a love of language, of striking image. Our editors consistently backed our individual judgement and allowed us complete freedom of expression. As a result, Venue inspired a loyalty out of all proportion with the pittance it paid. Local World, we put our very heart and soul into our catalogue of work. And if you think you can now simply walk in and trample on its remains, then you can, with the very greatest lack of respect, fuck the fuck off.
Because we, the undersigned, do hereby assert our full rights under copyright law. It really would be for the best if you were take a moment to visit this pageon the Venue website. Sit down, take a deep breath, and pause and reflect on this: “This website and its content is the copyright of the individual authors credited.” Please be assured we did not pull this phrase out of our collective arses, but out of legal statute. And if we perceive so much as a single full-stop, a solitary pixel of our work when your shameless hijacking is unveiled, then you in turn can expect to perceive a court summons. We are, to put it in terms you regularly use but cannot hope to understand, passionate about defending our legacy.
Marc Crewe (deceased)*
Ellen Doherty (deceased)*
John Christopher Wood
Steve D Wright
*Because if there is an afterlife, and we don’t add these enduringly lamented names to our treatise, we’ll never hear the end of it.
is a writer based in Bristol, UK. Recent publications include the poetry collection 'Recreation Ground' (Two Rivers Press) and recent plays include '100 Miles North of Timbuktu' and 'Coastal Defences' (both for Theatre West). He co-runs the Colourful Star project and is co-founder of the Culture Exchange Experiment network. His work often concerns SE Europe and his ongoing engagement with writers and artists in the region. He has a PhD in creative writing from the University of Reading and teaches at Bath Spa University.