Slaney Street: Birmingham’s new co-operative media project

Sean Farmelo looks at the growth of a local, independent voice in Birmingham

May 30, 2014 · 5 min read

slaney-streetSlaney Street is a new Birmingham-based co-operative media organisation. Initially starting as a modest blog last year, it has just held its official founding conference and is gearing up for its fourth print edition to be distributed free across the city.

It aims to uncover the stories that go unreported by mainstream news corporations and correct the institutional racism and classism inherent in publications like the Birmingham Mail. Its mission statement is to ‘inform and educate’ and ‘move people to action’. The editorial board is keen to promote the voices of those involved in struggles which don’t often reach the pages of the Mail.

We distribute the papers for free across the city, not only because we are keen to move away from the caricature of the left-wing newspaper as a niche thing touted at the doors of conferences to people who are already involved, but because we believe our membership-supported funding model gives people ownership of the organisation. Instead of a consumer relationship, the news is free but people pay membership dues to support the organisation itself.

Why Birmingham needs Slaney Street

In its early days, the internet was touted as a ‘free’ force that would decentralise media and make it accessible to everyone. There have been some successful experiments using the internet, and it has now become the main organ through which people get their daily news. Sadly though it hasn’t quite been democratised in the way people hoped it would be.

Much as Murdoch and his ilk control the world of print, the web has been policed, censored and distorted by existing power structures. News on the web, in print and on the radio is not democratic, and on the whole propagates the views the elite want the rest of us to hear.

As co-editor Kelly Rogers says, one of the key reasons Slaney Street is of such benefit to the wider community in Birmingham is because of its ability to support community and activist groups. ‘The people working in these organisations are often too engaged in their struggles to have effective media outlets; they often suffer a heavy workload; they are run primarily by volunteers who have jobs, families, personal lives and the weight of the world to cater for.

‘Individuals volunteering for these groups fighting for vulnerable people, disabled people, the poor, survivors of violence, etc, tend to come from those groups themselves, bringing a whole new set of challenges.’ We aim to act as a megaphone for groups to get their news out to the wider populace and relieve them of the onerous task of self-promotion.

How it worksslaney-confSlaney Street’s conference

Membership of the co-op allows people to participate in the democratic processes of the meeting and attend training sessions such as community media. Payment is made on a sliding scale beginning at £3/month. Most importantly, membership ensures Slaney Street’s can be distributed throughout Birmingham. The paper also devotes a portion of its pages to cheap advertising for ethical groups. Advertising is ten times cheaper than our ‘competitors’, enabling us to act as a mouthpiece for campaigning groups without the capacity to print and distribute leaflets city-wide.

All members of Slaney Street have equal decision-making power: they can run for editor, write articles and vote on policy. Minutes of our board meetings are published online and people have space to publish their disagreements if a decision does not go their way or, in serious cases, call for a re-election of the editorial board. We aim to include a variety of political ideologies, believing that the best way to create an inquisitive, engaged and knowledgeable community is if people are able to see a plurality of viewpoints being debated and discussed in one place.

Where next for democratic media?

Slaney Street is one of a growing array of co-operatively run community newspapers such as the Bristol Cable and the Manchester Mule. A direction for the future could be syndication of local news stories into a national homepage dedicated to promoting commonly undocumented local news. A successful example of this model is the smoothly oiled Media Co-op in Canada, which provides high quality news and analysis covering indigenous, community and cultural issues that aren’t normally heard in mainstream Canadian media. Although it is a long way off yet, this is what we in the UK should be looking to create in the longer term.

Local co-op publications have lots to do to cultivate membership and put out regular press runs, but we are positive that we are fulfilling a growing need within our community. Our readership, authors and subscribers are increasing, because there is a need for the coverage we provide. So if you are fed up with being spoon-fed news by the corporate elite, sign up as a member of Slaney Street. And if you aren’t in Birmingham, sign up to your local news co-op – or help start a new one!, Facebook page, Twitter @Slaney_Street

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