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Let’s be honest, the Manchester Evening News is dreadful. Its journalists are weighed down under the pressure of producing god knows how many articles per day. What they write is largely without analysis, barely backed up with fact and shies away from anything that challenges those who hold power.
Manchester is one of the poorest places in the UK, with the worst child poverty and the lowest life expectancy in England and Wales, but the economic roots of this never get mentioned. The only time economically marginalised communities turn up in the paper is when a ‘benefit cheat’ goes to court. If it’s not crime or benefit cheats, it’s television awards ceremonies and who’s shagging whom.
The reason for this is simple. The MEN doesn’t have much money, advertiser revenue is drying up and the easiest way of getting stories is to just reprint press releases almost verbatim. This all contributes to practically no accountability or engagement at the local political level because absolutely nobody knows what’s going on. So we want to let people know what is happening, through decent investigative journalism.
Manchester Mule aims to report the under-reported in the city while challenging local elites and maintaining high editorial standards, and has been supplying the rainy city with its fix of independent news for several years now.
On returning to the Basement social centre in Manchester after the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005, the atmosphere among our activist group was somewhat flat. Not because we had failed to ‘shut it down’ but because we had failed to convey our message. We had been drowned out by the likes of Bono and our opportunity to engage with people had been lost.
One thing was striking: alongside the cops on the street, the mainstream media had fought a running battle against us. In hindsight it was naïve to think that they ever would have engaged with our ideas but the sheer scale of denial over what we considered to be the root causes of third world debt – capitalism and neo-colonialism – was simply staggering.
The second problem was our own media outlets. We analysed Indymedia and other left news sources and found rant after rant, pages of badly designed and edited block text, much dogma and few facts. The answer seemed obvious: a well researched, written and designed newspaper that would add a level of professionalism, integrity and analysis missing from the media as a whole, not just the mainstream.
Mule is constantly in flux. At the moment we have three options on the table – a subscription magazine, a free monthly magazine or a stand-alone news website. September will see us engage in a research exercise to see which option can best serve our audience and keep the project alive. Like all media outlets at the moment, we’re grappling with the problem of how to sustain ourselves financially when the internet has got readers accustomed to getting everything for free.
For us two things are key. First, we’ve found that running the organisation on a volunteer-only basis means we can’t accomplish as much as we need to, and so providing wages for key people is now one of our top priorities. By bringing in revenue through advertising, an online shop, grant fundraising and individual donations, we can keep on doing what no one else does in Manchester: send people to council meetings, sift through committee minutes, scrutinise annual reports – all the things that don’t yield immediate results but add a depth and richness to our coverage so often lacking elsewhere.
Second, we have got this far by sticking to basic principles. By being non-sectarian and independent of any groups or campaigns we’ve avoided the problem of other left media projects – few readers apart from small groups of activists. That outreach keeps us useful for the left as a whole and effectively we are returning to an old form of left journalism not seen since the radical papers of the past: well-researched articles about things people care about, such as schools, cuts, racism, local councils and housing, not just counter-culture stuff that’s only read by people already interested.
Mule operates as a collective of volunteers who edit and manage the website, write a large amount of the content and commission other writers. We take bringing through new writers seriously and work hard with them to improve their skills. We meet weekly to discuss content and operational issues. Basically we’re the editors, writers, sub-editors, owners and managers of the project – it’s all very non-alienated.
It sounds like a lot of work but because it’s done collectively it’s not as arduous as it could be, though it has to be said this approach is not without difficulties. Lengthy political discussions can take place and some articles take days to write amid hundreds of exchanged emails. But thanks to this the end result is all the stronger.
Challenging the police
At the height of the student protests last year the police released a false account of an incident in which they were involved. Through our reporting they were forced to change their story and admit that they had used a horse charge against a peaceful protest.
Mapping the centres of local power
It was clear from Mule’s start that few people who live in Manchester are aware of the power networks that dominate the city. Our mapping of various powerful local institutions, companies and people shed some light on the intertwined political and economic elite that run our town, usually for their own gain.
Exposing the Manchester College
Our coverage of staff and students of the Manchester College fighting back against sackings and slashed courses played to our strengths. It’s a massive organisation, one of the largest colleges in Europe. Yet despite accusations of, for example, bullying of staff and questions over funding, it receives only sporadic negative coverage in the national press because the stakes aren’t enough to interest them – and none whatsoever in the local media, because they’re unwilling or unable to hold it to account.
From Mule to co-editor of New Internationalist, by Hazel Healey
After a spate of one-off spoof papers like Hate Mail and Manchester Evening Newt, I decided to make the jump into full-time journalism. The editorial team was horizontal from the start, with all the challenges which come with that – fights to the death over coverlines in Tim’s girlfriend’s back yard. Our early editions suffered from heroic but amateur layout and a hazy sense of what we wanted from the paper.
It quickly became clear that unless we were saying something new and our material was unique in some way, we may as well not bother. But slowly a group was coming together with the right skills, vision and, importantly, determination to make the paper work.
I ended up moving to Madrid but kept working on Mule through Skype. Sweating it out in public internet shops with greasy keyboards justifying edits was heavy going, but I soldiered stubbornly on until a baby gave me the ultimate get-out clause. By then we were playing to our strengths as a local paper, breaking small-time investigative stories, and I’d bowed out on the international focus.
After working freelance for the mainstream media in Spain I came back for a co-editor’s job at New Internationalist magazine. It’s a co-op and so I find myself arguing over cover lines once more but in a stable 30-year-old organisation – oh, and with a salary too. I got my international focus back, but the lessons I learnt from Mule – ways to keep content fresh, value young, sharp writers with political nous and making sure readers learn something unique from your paper – are ones I draw on every day.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi