Written evidence submitted by Salford
Please find below a submission from the Salford
Star magazine for the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee
with relation to the above inquiry with particular reference to:
The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism
and access to local information; How to fund quality local journalism;
The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic
publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies
at the local level; The extent of plurality required in local
Incentives for investment in local content;
Opportunities for "ultra-local" media services...
The Salford Star magazine was founded in May
2006 with the object of changing the concept of "community
magazines" forever. Or, as we stated at the time...
...a magazine that takes any concepts of "dull,
worthy, community newsletters" and somersaults them into
a new accessible, professional, exciting, sexy dimension.
...A magazine that gives ordinary people a voice
and empowerment and a showcase
...a magazine that changes lives.
Meet the Salford Starwritten and produced
by Salfordians for Salfordianswith attitude and love
The Salford Star was independent, big (bigger
than A4 and up to 100 pages) and glossy, competing with
anything else on the news stands. It was also free, accessible
and inclusive. 15,000 copies were distributed all over the
city, some door-to-door, others via bookies, chip shops, launderettes,
doctors waiting rooms, pubs and handed out on precincts. It gave
people a voice, pioneered the concept of "citizen journalism"
(we gave out the world's first citizen journalism certificates),
and backed it all up with hard core investigative journalism that
took the magazine to runner up in the Paul Foot Awards two years
The magazine covered heritage, culture and local
celebs, but its backbone was the investigation of the spending
of public money in the city, and in particular the regeneration
zones of Central Salford. It was about accountability, transparency,
democracy and all those other things that were born in Salford
over 100 years ago.
We ran stories on everything from the publicly
funded Lowry centre excluding local young people, to the true
amount of jobs to be generated by Media City UK, to Peel Holdings
attempting to "buy" a local election.
The Salford Star had the overwhelming support
of the local community, evidenced by the amount of letters, e-mails,
texts and phone calls we received (and still receive).
The Salford Star also won many awardsthe
Paul Foot award for Campaigning Journalism (over two years short
listed and longlisted); Magazine of the Year (How-Do); Plain English
Campaign Regional Newspaper of the Year; the Millennium Award
and, of course, Salford's Lotta Bottle Award.
Over 100 volunteers worked on the Starfrom
writers to photographers, graphic artists, layout artists, distributors
etcwhile spin off magazines included community relations
work with local young people and children of asylum seekers. We
also ran training courses in journalism, photography and graphics.
When we began producing the Salford Star official
figures revealed that only one fifth of Salford's community had
access to the internet. This is why it was so important for the
magazine to be a print publication. Now, we estimate the figure
has grown to around one third. Which means that two thirds of
Salford's community has no access to the internet.
Yet Salford's community magazine is now only
available online (www.salfordstar.com).
So what went wrong?
Before the Salford Star was in print we got
start up money from UnLtd, Awards For All and devolved money from
Salford Council via the East Salford Community Committee. From
the day the magazine appeared we haven't had one penny of public
subsidySalford Council even re-wrote its constitution on
devolved money for Community Committees just for "publications"
and then decided we didn't meet its new criteria.
Obviously a magazine that is investigating the
use of public money is biting most of the hands that could feed
it. So all public money that we have applied for has been unsuccessful
(despite all our journalism awards by independent organisations);
and advertising from public bodiesranging from the Police
to the Council to its "arms length" companies to the
NHS to the PCT to the University to The Lowry to the Collegesis
non existent. Three things should be taken into account here
(1) The Salford Star is reaching and is trusted
by the so-called difficult to reach people to whom these bodies
are supposed to be desperately trying to promote their services
(with their huge budgets from public money).
(2) Salford is a regeneration economythe
only money in town is public money. Any true independent media
cannot sustain itself in this city without either advertising
from public bodies or funding from public bodies. But they are
not going to support a publication which may show them in a critical
(3) On the other hand, "safe" (non
critical) community magazines in the city get money thrown at
them by public bodies
Despite everything ranged against it, the Salford
Star, through donations, advertising from small businesses and
independent community centres, and sales of merchandise, did manage
to sustain itself in print for over two years. In September last
year we produced the final print edition and have been online
ever since, all revenues paying off the company overdraft from
The story of the Salford Star has received prominent
media coverage including big features in The Guardian, The Independent,
New Start, Regeneration magazine, Press Gazette and The Journalist.
Our campaign has also been taken up by many organisations including
local National Union of Journalists branches and the Campaign
For Press and Broadcasting Freedom.
Salford City Council awards itself a budget
of £175,000 for its own magazine, LIFE, to be paid for
by adverts from public bodies, including the City Council itself.
We take on board the fact that LIFE gets distributed
via the Royal Mail to the vast majority of households in Salford,
while the Salford Star only printed 15,000 copies, but it's
hardly a fair playing field. In fact, there is no print playing
field at all in Salford as the Council's is now the only magazine
Again, there are two factors
(1) When we did our own pre-launch research into
a potential community magazines we were told by the community
in no uncertain terms that if we produced a magazine that looked
anything like a Council publication it would end up straight in
the binso there's a quality question there as to whether
anyone actually reads LIFE (the "satisfaction" research
done by the Council is hopelessly skewed).
(2) A Lib Dem councillor resigned from LIFE's
editorial board last year calling it a "propaganda vehicle
for the cabinet" and "an often misleading and relentlessly
and unjustifiably upbeat publication."
So where is Salford's community going to get independent
There is now no independent print media based
in Salford at all. The Salford Advertiser has shut its office
and moved in with the Manchester Evening News, having sacked journalists.
Both these newspapers are understaffed, with underpaid 9am-5pm
journalists who just don't have the time to do proper investigative
pieces which take hours and hours of research. What we are seeing
now all over Salford's media (including salfordonline) is basically
uncritical, unquestioning re-writes of press releases.
Virtually every week we see consultations on
multi million pound schemes which directly affect people's lives,
and they are being asked to vote based on no independent information.
In a huge sense it's disenfranchising people.
As the salfordstaronline.com we are putting
as much info as possible onto our website but this is unpaid work
with a massive human cost to those of us with families.
Ironically, we're now getting more readers online
than ever read the printed magazine but the majority of readers
are not from the Salford communities we were set up to serve.
We repeattwo thirds of Salford people do not have access
to the net.
Why do we do it? Because if you believe in democracy
and a free press and you have the skills, you have to do it, somewhere,
Community journalism is a different to paid
journalism for a publication owned by a media mogul or corporation.
It's much more than a job or a career. We do it because we care...
because we live in the community... because our kids and families
live in the community... because we want to make our community
a better place.
How long we can go on for without any pay is another
What to do?
We wrote a polite letter to Hazel Blears, Salford
MP and at the time Secretary of State for Communities, when she
had just published the white paper, Real People, Real Power, stating
that "a strong independent media is a vital part of any democracy".
We asked her to show us any public fund that was set aside to
support independent print media like ours. She never even replied.
We believe that there should be a fund to support
local investigative journalism and independent print media. Community
radio has such a fund so there is a precedent. We also believe
that the fund should be independent of both government, local
councils and large third sector institutions that masquerade as
being "independent". Perhaps it should be administrated
by the National Union of Journalists
Judging on our experiences of trying to sustain
the Salford Star we remain intensely cynical of anything changing.
This committee has to ask itself whether it thinks the local world
would be a better place without media such as the Salford Star
Editor and Co-founder Salford Star magazine
97 See How Salford City Council Stopped The Community
Funding the Salford Star (issue 5-http://domain945611.sites.streamlinedns.co.uk/p/issue-05/features-05-08.html) Back
See The Pravda Factor (http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=83)
and Council Mags-The Zzzzzzzzz Factor (http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=82) Back