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A democratic media for Manchester

Traditional media is in crisis. A shrinking number of corporations control more and more of our media, as they try to survive the Digital Revolution destroying the advertising-based business model they relied on. Journalists are laid off and titles closed, as the media corporations protect their bottom line and shareholder pay-outs. This relentless attrition of the press results in the reduction of high quality public interest journalism and a resulting ‘democratic deficit’, as identified in the Cairncross Review into the decline of local journalism.

The Meteor team believes the time is right to challenge the dominant form of media ownership in Manchester. To seize the opportunity present in this crisis to provide a democratic media, that will best serve the interests of the communities we report too, by providing our journalism with direction and weight due to the broad public mandate behind it.

Research by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) shows that in the UK’s local news five corporations – Gannett, JPIMedia, Reach PLC, Tindle and Archant – account for 80% of all titles. It was six companies until October 2015 when Trinity Mirror bought out Local World which owned 83 print titles. The buyout was quickly followed by Trinity Mirror closing down local websites, job losses, and the merging of old local titles into new regional ones. It is actions like this that have led to the MRC discovering that two-thirds of local authorities have become “news deserts”, lacking a daily local newspaper.

 

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News deserts: two thirds of local authority districts lack a daily newspaper. Source: MRC

Locally we have avoided desertification by having news coverage supplied by the Manchester Evening News. But the MEN, and other local titles in the Trinity Mirror stable, have been subject to a steady whittling down of their workforce. In February 2018 Trinity Mirror announced 49 redundancies across its newspaper workforce. Shortly before the layoffs the chief executive had bragged that the company was “very profitable”, paid shareholders a 6.4% dividend, promised a further £10m to cover payments to the hacking scandal victims and payed £200m for the Express and Star national titles.

A further 49 job cuts were announced, across the Trinity stable, in March 2018. The workers were offered only statutory redundancy terms, resulting in accusations of “gross unfairness” and of Trinity being a “bargain basement employer” by Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ General Secretary.
Reach PLC’s (formerly Trinity Mirror) latest job cuts announcement in November 2018 was for a further 41 jobs; which comes to a total of 139 jobs lost in 2018 alone.

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    Local Newspaper titles by publisher, December 2018. Source: MRC

A media co-operative, with democracy as a core value, we believe is the best way to alleviate the democratic deficit caused by the decline of traditional media. Giving the people of Manchester a greater say in what issues are reported on and providing a much-needed increase in the diversity of stories told and the voices telling them.

Our plans are part of a bigger movement to democratise media across the UK. The Bristol Cable set up as a media co-operative in 2014 and have built a reputation for ground-breaking investigative journalism.  The Cable is redefining what local journalism should be and creating new ways to interact and communicate with the communities it serves. Overturning the old media paradigm of a one-way broadcast to its audience, by creating a two-way conversation instead. Forming feedback loops which then enhance the relevance of the journalism they produce.

The Ferret is doing sterling work in Scotland and includes reader/consumer members of it co-operative on its board of directors, to ensure that two-way conversation makes a difference to the decisions made. The New Internationalist is flying the flag for co-operative media across the globe. They are the largest membership media co-operative in the world, and last year smashed a crowdfunder target of £500,000 by finally raising £704,114.

The co-operative movement has a proud history in Greater Manchester, being started by the 28 Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. It was the industrial revolution forcing many skilled workers into poverty that drove the Pioneers to band together and try to take collective control of their economic destiny. They opened a store to buy and sell food items they would otherwise have to pay exorbitant prices for from the company store and also made shrewd property investments with capital raised. The Pioneers’ hard work, innovation and passion for fairness and justice eventually paid off and the co-operative business model has spread across the world.

The seven co-operative principles, that the Pioneers were influential in formulating, are a good fit for The Meteor and Manchester, a city that has a strong history in fighting for a fairer and more socially just world.

Democratic member control will make our work accountable to our membership. Helping to avoid the biases seen in traditional media organisations whose editorial lines’ are so often influenced by the agendas of the proprietors and their affluent and powerful peers. Our following of the National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct ensures the integrity of our journalism, and the adoption of an editorial code will also make us accountable to the wider public.

The principle of autonomy and independence will protect our organisation from being swallowed up by large media corporations as it grows. Making sure our ethical principles and care for our members and the communities we serve remains intact.

Our aim is to become a sustainable business that provides a trusted and relevant resource for information to communities across Manchester. We have a long way to go to achieve financial self-sufficiency and will be open and transparent about our funding on our journey towards it.

There is increasing evidence to show that journalism is becoming an elite occupation, filled with red brick university educated people with well off parents. Less affluent youths are being put off university by the enormous debts entailed and cannot afford to work unpaid internships to get on the first rung of the career ladder. Community journalism training is, and will continue to be, a core activity of The Meteor. By continuing our commitment to education and training we will make sure grassroots working-class voices are heard in Manchester.

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A reversal in our hard fought for social gains is underway, exacerbated by the false economy of austerity and its fire sale of public assets and savaging of public services. Taking the UK back to Victorian workhouse values, and a reliance on charity.

Life on earth faces existential threats through environmental degradation and climate change driven by our voracious globalised consumer culture. Creating a more just world will be impossible if we cannot reverse the devastation of the world’s ecosystems and combat the climate crisis.

The rise of ideologically based neo-liberal economics, to become the dominant global force directing political decisions, is driving the degradation of our societies and environment. Our previous work has highlighted these issues by investigating the housing and homelessness crisis in the city and austerity’s role in promoting it. In stark contrast to this are our reports on the high-rise housing development boom in the city centre, where increasingly these un-affordable luxury apartments are being sold to companies in overseas tax havens, where the ultimate owner often remains unknown.

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The Meteor reports on local people fighting for change on local and global issues, often under-reported by the traditional media. Greater Manchester Housing Action, Extinction Rebellion, Better Buses for GM, Youth Strike 4 Climate, Manchester Palestine Action and Unite Community are examples of the organisations we have reported on doing important work across the region.

By continuing to report in an accurate, fair and honest way our work aims to increase knowledge and understanding in the issues relevant, and important, to communities across Manchester.

The best chance we have of avoiding the calamities that face society is for more people to understand these issues and then get involved and active in solving the problems that face us all. The Meteor’s aim is to facilitate that process in Manchester by becoming a co-operative media organisation. Our success depends on the people willing to join this endeavour to promote progressive change by telling the stories that need telling. We invite you to walk alongside us as we journey towards our ultimate goal of promoting social, environmental and economic justice in our city and beyond.

 

The Meteor Team   –   Media

HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT THE METEOR:

Attend a public Meteor event which will be held on the 4 July 2019, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at the Methodist Church on Oldham St in Central Manchester. Called  ‘The Meteor media co-op: a democratic media for Manchester‘ the event will be an opportunity to discuss the issues behind the current media crisis and  for The Meteor to tell people of the preparations and progress we have made on becoming a co-operative. You can book tickets via Eventbrite

Sign up as a founding member of the co-op

Support The Meteor by making a donation

Share, like and comment on our social media posts on Facebook and Twitter

Sign up to our monthly newsletter (bottom left of homepage)

Volunteer with The Meteor – we are always on the lookout for new contributors to write or produce content for us, as well as those with other skills useful to our organisation such as web skills, events management, admin and marketing – if you want to get involved drop us a line at editor@themeteor.org

 

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