Parliamentary news website aims to fill 'gap in the market'

The media are too interested in politics at the expense of parliament, according to the founder of a new political website.

Tony Grew, former editor of gay news website Pink News, is setting up ispystrangers.org.

Grew told Press Gazette the website will cover what the media miss: the debates, and drama, of the chamber.

“They [mainstream media] are more interested in politics, rather than parliament,” he said.

“If the story is Harriet Harman interested in the leadership, they’re not going to be in the chamber – they’re going to be in the bars, in the corridors, speaking to their contacts.

“There’s a gap in the market for people interested in democracy, but who haven’t the time to go through Hansard.

“We want to go back to accurate, engaging reports of what was said. We think there is a lot of good stuff that’s missed.”

Grew, 35, said the idea came when covering debates for Pink News.

“We’d cover a debate on the human fertilisation and embryo bill, and write a report with one sentence of quotes, or just a few sentences,” he said.

“I’d think: ‘Actually, there’s so much more that our readers would be interested in’.

“Imagine, for example, a parent with an autistic child – they would be interested in a 500, 1,000-word debate on autism, but they probably aren’t even aware the debate has happened.”

The website will be not-for-profit, and hopes to attract grants from democracy foundations. It will rely on the 20 writers – including students – who have volunteered to file copy, with the aim eventually to have salaried staff.

Some debates will be covered live, and breaking news will be reported instantly. Other reports will rely on Hansard, usually available four hours after a debate.

To begin, the website will focus on the House of Commons, but hopes to expand into the Lords, and committees. Grew also hopes to include features and interviews.

“It’s going to be an attempt to report more completely what goes on in parliament,” he said.

“At the moment, only the BBC provides that sort of coverage – and we don’t think that’s acceptable in a democratic society.”

He added: “I’m confident every day something amazing, or ridiculous, is said in chambers. Maybe not every day, but the majority.”

But where did the name come from?

“Until recently, an MP could cause the House of Commons to sit in private by crying: ‘I spy strangers’ – strangers being visitors to the House,” the website explains.

“The public galleries would be cleared and no verbatim, sound or television record of that session would be made. The site is called ispystrangers because it is meant to represent strangers, to report what goes on from their point of view.”

The website’s “soft launch” takes place on Monday 20 April.

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