Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Salford Star magazine

  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 media markets;

  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 Star—written and produced by Salfordians for Salfordians—with attitude and love…xxx

  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 ago.

  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 awards—the 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 Star—from writers to photographers, graphic artists, layout artists, distributors etc—while 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 subsidy—Salford 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.[97]

  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 bodies—ranging 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 Colleges—is 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 economy—the 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 light.

    (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 that issue.

  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 being produced.[98] 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 bin—so 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 information?

  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 repeat—two 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, somehow...

  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 matter…

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…

Stephen Kingston

Editor and Co-founder Salford Star magazine

August 2009

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

98   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

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