If it works, starve it

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The Salford Star …with attitude and love xxx

By Stephen Kingston

In some `less enlightened’ countries they don’t mess about with meddling journalists – they just shoot them or blow up their offices. Here in England they censor and execute you economically. It has the same affect. Hence the winter issue of Salford Star didn’t appear.

It was a real shame because had the Star appeared, people would have read about how Salford Council managed to spend £175,000 on its own magazine, how the Council is giving wage rises of over ten grand to its execs while cutting the wages of its low paid workers, and why current voting on the future of the city is, basically, rigged.We would argue that this sort of stuff is vital to the democratic process. But it never appeared. We couldn’t afford to print it. Economically censored and executed.

It’s fair to say that the Salford Star is like no other publication in the country.The aim has been to take the concept of community magazines to a different planet, one where a big, bold, glossy independent magazine that gives a voice to the working class, that does hard core investigative features and seriously holds public bodies up to account can compete in the current media world.

The fact that demand outstrips supply every time we print 15,000 copies, and that our collection tins get filled three times over between issues, tells us that the community overwhelmingly likes and trusts the Star. The growing collection of awards we’re winning, and the financial and moral support from other professional journalists, tells us that we’ve won approval in the media world.We seem to be doing everything right. Yet the Salford Star is currently sprawled on its deathbed, waiting for someone to give it the kiss of economic life.

Donations are brilliant and we get loads, but never enough to sustain the Star. Its health lies in advertising and public funding. Every issue half the print costs are covered by ads from small businesses and community organisations that have the budget.But the big advertising spenders in Salford are the very people we’re investigating – property developers, the Council, the University, the Lowry arts palace et al – who won’t touch us with a barge pole.And neither will anyone who has any dealings with the Council, scared stiff that their contracts might be stopped. They tell us this in whispered phone calls.

And then Hazel Blears, Minister for Communities and Salford MP, came along with her BIG IDEA about devolving power to `community committees’ which would decide where to spend a big wad of money. The first time we applied for this funding we were successful.Er, that was before the Salford Star was launched. When we went back a year later, after the magazine was on the streets, the application never even got to the community committees. Salford Council held the application back, re-wrote its own constitution (just for `publications’) and decided we didn’t meet the criteria. They ripped it up.

And now Hazel’s reappeared with her `Communities In Control: Real People:Real Power’ white paper, going on about empowerment and giving people a voice and lots of other chest beating stuff about the Chartists, the Suffragettes and all. We wrote her an open letter…

“Surely you should be singing our praises from the rooftops? You have the top community magazine in the country, empowering people and giving them a voice, in your own constituency – how cool is that?…We’ve ticked all your boxes…can you show me any government fund that supports community magazines like the Salford Star?”

We’re still waiting for a reply. The only funding we can see is for online projects – which is useless considering that only one fifth of Salford’s community has access to the net. The digital divide mirrors the wealth divide in the so-called ‘media city’.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of pounds are being poured into what we regard as `safe’ community media projects in Salford where councillors sit on the board.And, of course, public money is being sunk into the Council’s own magazine, where an opposition councillor has just resigned from its editorial board saying that it was a “propaganda vehicle for the Cabinet…an often misleading and relentlessly and unjustifiably upbeat publication”.

Which all leaves the Salford Star with no funding to get the next issue out and Hazel’s words ringing in our ears…“A strong independent media is a vital part of any democracy”.

It does your head in…


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