A former BBC journalist-turned-executive coach is launching a news website focused on scrutinising public bodies in the borough of Harrogate.
Tamsin O’Brien will edit the Stray Ferret, which will publish a mixture of daily news and investigations digging into the issues faced by the area.
It is due to launch on 30 March in time to cover the Conservative Party’s Spring Forum coming to Harrogate four days later.
O’Brien told Press Gazette: “I think there certainly is some concern locally that there is not enough scrutiny of our public bodies, whether that is the local council or county council or health services, so that is its primary role really, to look at that and add more depth to the journalism we see locally.”
Four journalists have already been recruited with two more senior roles currently being advertised.
The team will be a mixture of former print journalists with experience working in the region, and younger online reporters and graduates.
Harrogate is currently served by JPI Media’s weekly Harrogate Advertiser, which had six staff members as of last year.
O’Brien said: “There have obviously been reductions in journalism in the region with the struggle newspapers have had, so I think in our area there is a gap there we can fill looking at where public money is spent and the efficacy of our public bodies.”
She added: “The idea that we don’t have enough scrutiny [has] been bothering me for a couple of years and I thought if I don’t do something about it, who will? I can do something about it, so I should.”
O’Brien spent 20 years in journalism at the BBC, including stints as head of regional and local programmes for both BBC Yorkshire and BBC North West, before becoming an executive coach focusing on leadership skills and professional development.
“At my heart, although I love coaching I see myself as a journalist,” she said. “I miss journalism.”
O’Brien has lived in Harrogate for the past 15 years and said she has a big network and knows “the DNA of the area” which is enabling the team to hit the ground running with stories as they prepare for the launch.
She is privately funding the new venture alongside her partner, a local businessman, who she said will not have any editorial involvement. The website will rely on advertising as a source of revenue.
“I completely recognise it’s going to be tough,” said O’Brien. “Our model is expensive and we have got to raise quite a lot of revenue. I think we are prepared to fund it for a good few years to see how it takes off.”
She said she may consider bringing in a subscription model later on, but the newsbrand would have to get traction locally first.