Taking back control: how Manchester’s independent news site the Meteor, is giving power to its readers
Tuesday 18th December 2018 | The Media Fund
Manchester’s independent, community-based publication plans to become a cooperative next spring - allowing readers to part-own the project and direct a portion of the content. Words by Joanna Henry.
Local journalism is in crisis: a 2017 report by the Media Reform Coalition showed that local newspapers have been cut, closed and sold off at an astonishing rate over the last 5 years– with 81% of local newspapers now owned by only 5 publishers. As under-resourced journalists struggle to do their jobs, those with the greatest stakes in the media pie benefit from increasing concentrations of power. Local newspapers are no longer known for their dogged service to the community, rather they are increasingly seen as agenda-driven and untrustworthy and they frequently fail to report on major local issues. However, a quiet storm is brewing in the form of an independent, community-owned media scene.
Following the likes of the Bristol Cable, the Ferret and the New Internationalist - the Meteor is one of several print papers and news sites to adopt a cooperative structure. The change in ownership model will take place next year and will give its new cooperative members from the community scope to shape how the platform operates and the content that is produced.
Conrad Bower, the Meteor’s Co-editor, wanted to avoid traditional top-down media models and instead “have journalism informed by a large public base”. He explains, “I think being a co-op is going to encourage people to get involved, support and engage with us because they will become part owners, have a vote on important decisions and a say in what editorial lines we take”. The alternative media platform is still finalising its structures, going through a process where journalists and future members are considering the merits of various options such as having public votes on themes or readers on the board to direct a portion of their content.
By placing ownership in the hands of the public, the Meteor can produce journalism that is genuinely in the public interest and tell stories that too often are pushed out of the mainstream press. The online news site aims to promote social justice and has previously shone a light on the homelessness crisis in Manchester, highlighting the connections between homelessness, the housing crisis and Manchester’s recent property development boom.
Bower believes, “our non-profit status will give reassurance to contributors that all money will be going towards good quality public interest journalism and not in the pockets of bosses and shareholders”. It will “give us a lot of leeway in what we do” and “allow us to bring in some new voices and new perspectives to the news scene”.
The local news website is also challenging the status quo by offering training in citizen journalism. Last April, the Meteor partnered with the Centre for Investigative Journalism to provide a twelve-session training course covering everything from photography and video journalism to writing features, media law and freedom of information requests. Over 20 people took part.
Bower - who attended a community journalism course prior to co-founding the Meteor - wanted to pass on skills and encourage people in the area to write stories for the news site.
Working alongside professional journalists, citizen journalists can bring “more knowledge of their local area, the problems that are there and the stories that need reporting. They provide unique angles and ways of telling stories that you don’t get in more formulaic, traditional media reporting,” Bower said.
Though the organisation's resources to pursue stories are limited, they aim to secure greater funds through co-op memberships and eventually expand into print. The Meteor will be having a launch for members in the spring. They also plan to run the citizen journalism programme again in 2019.
The Meteor is a partner of The Media Fund - a grassroots cooperative fundraising for independent media. The Media Fund also help support us at Guestlist. Check out their website to find out more about how you can support independent media.