Proposal - An independent journal for Bristol.
Provisional Name: News and Views (NAV On-line and NAV Weekly)
By Stephen Petter, 10/12/03., 2nd draft 18/12/03 File:navprop2.rtf
Focussing on the interests, needs and concerns of everyone in Bristol (but readable throughout the UK and of interest world-wide as an insight into British concerns and attitudes) this is to be an independent, lively, middle-brow, centre-left source of information, news, and views.
It will be low cost by being published primarily through the internet.
In addition to text and graphics the internet version will carry audio reports.
A printed weekly version will summarise the week's stories, and will be sold cheaply and also distributed free.
Independence from the influence of government, pressure groups, advertisers and big business is paramount.
Is there a market?
This has not been tested yet but it is felt that the existing local papers are too right wing, too selective in what news is carried, and found to be too expensive by readers and advertisers. Informally many informed people have expressed a need for better local information.
We will conduct some market research at an early stage in the development of this proposal.
Minimising production costs.
Production costs will met from advertising.
The cost of producing copy will be kept low by employing few full time specialists, and by utilising the services of freelance writers and reporters. Even full timers may be home-workers.
Use of Open Source computer software and the internet will keep the cost of copy low.
The cost of producing the printed version will met from advertising. It will be free to main distributors in the Bristol area. It will display a low cover price (perhaps 15p) which will accrue to distributors and retailers. In addition to newsagents we will use part-time freelance salespeople.
How will it work?
After initial stages the way of working will be:
Semi-amateur and part-time professional journalists, some allotted a sphere of interest, will submit copy by email to a small number of editors. News will be provided by commercial suppliers and from local journalists. Much of the information content (e.g. What's On?, and local sports results) will be provided free by event organisers. Local organisations will provide press releases.
Most writers will work from home but there may be a few hot desks.
The editors will be full-time, and will cover such departments as news, sports, entertainment, and features. Initially some will control more than one department. Using the software their functions will include sub-editing, page makeup, graphic design, and web site updating.
On-line pages will be updated daily at night so that the news and comment is fresh each morning.
Many stories will include references and links to related articles published on previous days.
Past days' copy will be archived and there will be an on-site search engine so that old articles can be retrieved. Subject indices may be provided.
There will also be a column of 'Hot News' that will be updated during the day, and incorporated into the next day's edition. While there is no hot news then all it will show is the weather forecast. In this column links with short intros will be held in reverse chronological order, with the time and dateline made clear. This material will be created by the relevant editor based on stories coming in or from reporters, such as court reports, council meetings, sports events and major incidents.
For instance within 10 minutes of the end of Bristol Rovers and Bristol City matches the result will appear in the Hot News column.
Weekly the editors will rehash their best stories (possibly using different software) to create the printed version.
The software will facilitate editors authorising an accounts department to pay the freelance providers.
Portions of the computer pages and of the printed pages will be pre-allocated for advertising, and relevant staff will be filling these spaces entirely independent of the editorial providers.
Content, style and stance.
Local, regional, national and international news, political, economic, arts, sport, media, and travel comment and analysis, radio, TV, cinema, theatre etc times and production summaries, sports fixtures and results. Local and regional maps, directories, statistics (i.e. as a handbook). Local transport routes and times. Local and regional history, geography. Travel and outdoor pursuits. Parenting. Wrinklies' issues. Teenagers' interests. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (GLB) issues. Good comparative (Which? style) reports and advice on personal finances. Jokes and puzzles. Religious organisations, clubs and societies news, venues, dates and times. Plenty of readers' letters, including a moderated online bulletin board. Results from objective local opinion surveys. Features for teachers. Consumer law. Citizens rights and welfare benefits. It will examine from a balanced, objective stance such issues as abortion, gay marriage, genetic engineering, soft drug liberalisation. Reviews of local theatre productions, concerts, poetry reading, art exhibitions, etc.
There will be plenty of good news a la "Positive News", and news from organisations such as Greenpeace, FOE, Avon Wildlife Trust, etc.
The tone will be positive, concerned, not negative, carping, antagonistic.
Local voluntary associations, faith groups and campaign groups may have their own pages, acting as their newsletters.
For information such as entertainment (what's on, where and when) NAV (especially NAV WEEK) should be comprehensive and very reliable.
There should be positive links to Bristol Indy Media.
What it will not cover significantly will include consumerism (e.g. life style), fashion, celebrity news, 'beauty'. Despite Bristol's many armaments workers it will be anti-war and anti-arms sales. Not pro-military, not royalist. Not pro-motoring. Minimalist on boxing. Anti-blood sports.
The broad areas of content will be launched in the following sequence:
1. features, comment and analysis making it initially a journal rather than a newspaper;
2. information such as what's on, weather, sports fixtures;
3. News commencing with local sports, courts, City Council, extending to local and national news;
4. Interactive pages including space for voluntary and faith organistions…
We will make an effort to attain high standards of sub-editing. The style of English will be good middle-brow, light but serious and correct, with short sentences, terse reports, lively commentary. Made for the hurried reader. Avoiding (or explaining) jargon and abbreviations. Conservative in spelling, punctuation, etc. It should be in the tradition of and include allusions to the glorious history of journalism, even to some use of old fonts and style. It should contain plenty of photos, cartoons, and drawings, and have a pleasant, easy general appearance. No flashing captions. i.e. rather unexciting - let the content provide the interest, not the technology!
The political position will be centre left and environmentalist. It should appeal to far left radicals and to the many liberals in this creative university city. However it should aim not to alienate (infuriate) moderate right wing readers, e.g. Conservatives.
On international news it must differentiate between the people however misguided and their government, for instance in respect to the USA. Similarly the line should be pro Palestinian but not anti-Israeli, and certainly not anti-Jewish. It should be pro UN, sceptical of the EU, worried about Britain's militarism and our role as a leading war-monger and arms-seller. Anti-nukes and Trident. It should question the validity of the term 'War on Terrorism'.
It will include news and comment on political extremes from anarchy and far left to just short of fascism. However the predominant political stance will be centre left, liberal or socialist. On local matters a strong environmental, sustainable line will prevail regardless of political parties. The Green Party will not be ignored.
Ownership and profits.
Legally the enterprise will be a Company Limited by Guarantee (i.e. non-profit-seeking). The company's membership, entitled to attend the AGM and elect the Management Committee or Board, shall be the employees themselves, making it a workers' co-operative. The Board will appoint all the officers and staff (or delegate). The Board will be constrained by the 'constitution' of the Company, which will be in line with what is agreed in this proposal as eventually finalised.
Advice and a model 'constitution' for this setup will be obtained from the Co-operative Development Agency (CDA). The CDA Bristol office have already advised us on this setup and have also suggested a possible source for some startup funding.
Members of the initial steering committee will become members of the Company, and they will be members of the Board until the first AGM.
The 'constitution' will define what length of service shall entitle an employee to become a member of the co-operative, and whether freelancers regularly engaged may become members.
Any financial surplus will be ploughed back into the concern. If very wealthy the organisation might decide to set up a Foundation to encourage similar independent journalism and would contribute to worthy organisations including the co-operative movement.
The cost of producing NAV will be met mainly from advertising, though other sources may be used such as grants from Foundations (especially for startup costs) and appeals to readers. The enterprise will expand at a rate determined primarily by its advertising revenue. A treasurer and a fundraiser (possibly one individual) will need to be appointed at an early stage in the development of this proposal.
An accounts or finance manager will play a key role in day to day operations, including the payment of writers on the instruction of Department Editors.
The policy will be to keep advertising salespeople and staff at arms length, e.g. in a separate location, from the editorial, news- and information-gathering, and features departments. There will be a fiercely maintained policy of non-interference by advertisers on any content providers. Collusion between editorial staff on the one hand and advertising staff, current or possible advertisers on the other will be a sackable offence, especially for senior staff. Advertisers and readers will be fully informed of this policy.
There will be an advertising banner on every online page, with all pages displaying the same ad for a specified time. Also on some departments' pages there may be ads relevant to the department's subject area. There may also be boxes or icons on the Home page and other pages linking to advertising features (styled to make this clear) or whole-page ads. There will be pages of classified ads and easy ways to send in ads. Ad sales people will be rewarded mainly by results.
What's been done?.
1. This proposal written by Stephen Petter. Meeting between Tony Gosling and SP, contact with CDA, amendment and extension of this proposal, posting it on SP's blog. Done, 18/12/03
2. TG and SP to invite relevant people to read this proposal, comment, and possibly offer to join the steering group. Possible revisions to this proposal. Email discussion on name (Bristol Independent? Bristol News/Times/Mirror/Journal? ZAPP!!?)
3. Meeting to be held on Wed 24 March 2004 at 1930. Location (in Bristol) to be announced. This to set up a steering committee, ideally including people with the following specialisms: journalism, organisation development, finance and fundraising, marketing and advertising, software, management esp personnel recruitment. All to be on email. Further meetings monthly (on 2nd Wednesday of each month) until this proposal as amended is agreed or rejected.
4. Initial market research and obtaining startup funding.
5. Agreement on 'constitution' i.e. objects of the organisation, and acceptance of an editorial policy statement (possibly modelled on that of the Guardian, or Red Pepper). Setting up a (non-profit-seeking) Company Limited by Guarantee, with employees (plus initial Board) as sole members.
6. Business planning. Obtaining major startup funding.
7. Appointment of Editor and of Operations Manager.
8. Further business planning. Selection and installation of online software.
9. Acquire premises. More appointments: Advertising, Marketing/Promotion/Distribution, Department Editors starting with information sections, , … (All appointments to be on short contracts, as more experienced staff will be required as the organisation expands.)
10. Initial Launch. (There will be several launches as more sections are added.)
11. After news pages are in production, launch the weekly printed version.
12. Fee-paying service for advising readers whenever topics of interest to them are published.
Please send comments (whether negative or positive) and suggestions and offers to contribute to this exciting initiative, to SP by email.
See my blog at http://sp37.info